Vanessa Hidary, better known by her stage name, The Hebrew Mamita, performed Thursday evening, Feb. 6, at the Union Project in East Liberty, to some 100 people as part of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s Meet the Artist series.
“Tonight was great,” said Hidary after the show. “Really passionate and fun. I felt good.”
“I’m impressed,” said Temple Sinai’s Rabbi James Gibson. “She has a very, very broad range and she comes from a diverse culture.”
Through her spoken word performance, Hidary explores her culturally diverse upbringing, what it means to her to be a Jew, and the importance of accepting all cultures. In her namesake poem “Hebrew Mamita,” she recounts an anti-Semitic encounter she had at a bar and forces the audience to consider and question: “What does Jewish look like?”
“[The performance] did live up to my expectations,” said Sasha King, who found out about the performance through Facebook. As someone who has done Jew of Color activism, she was excited that Hidary would be coming to the city.
“Maybe it’s opened a few minds,” King said.
Hidary describes herself as: “Half-Sephardic, half-Syrian, and half-Russian.” In her act, she shares stories of the different cultures and religions she has gotten to know through friends and old boyfriends, and how those experiences have helped her discover more about herself and her own identity.
The crowd Thursday night cheered Hidary on as she performed samples of her slam poetry and an excerpt from her book “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega.”
“I think it was fabulous,” said Joy Braunstein, director of the Holocaust Center, after Hidary’s performance. “The point of the series originally was to reach out to a young adult Jewish audience.”
Although Braunstein says the crowds have tended to be more intergenerational, Hidary drew a relatively young audience.
The event was co-sponsored by J’Burgh and Shalom Pittsburgh. Wednesday evening, Hidary put on an event for an even younger audience of local teenagers who were not invited to the 21 and over main show.
The teen event, which the Agency for Jewish Learning helped organize, gave Hidary the opportunity to speak with around 45 teenagers and to help them write their own slam poetry.
“They were really open,” said Hidary, who has done projects like this with teens in other cities. “Sometimes teens can be really closed and they were really open and fantastic.”
“She talked to them about what being Jewish means and also about inter-Jewish prejudice, which I think was really evocative for them,” said Braunstein.
“It was cathartic for them to stop and think about not only how does the world perceive me, how do I perceive myself as being Jewish, but how do other Jews perceive me and how do I perceive other Jews?”
(Ilana Yergin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)