Man in the street interviews are a staple of the news business. Every day, just about every newspaper or broadcast is stopping somebody, somewhere, for his or her point of view on anything at all. Random wisdom is so respected that William F. Buckley once quipped that, when it comes to government, heíd prefer taking his chances with an America led by the first 2,000 names in the telephone book.
One late night, here at The Jewish Week, Ariela Dworetsky, a high school girl from North Woodmere, L.I., turned the tables. If writers can stop a complete stranger on the street and ask a question, she could stop a writer whom sheíd never met and ask questions of her own. She had a homework assignment and needed help. In her thank-you note, there was a P.S. ó ìIf you ever need someone to interview, you can interview me.î
Why not? Every person, according to the Talmud, is a universe, an Adam or Eve in a garden all their own. What did a high school senior think about? How well was this random Jewish girl, on the cusp of adulthood, immunized against assimilation or fortified in her Jewishness?Ariela, 17, lives on a street of private homes, with a basketball hoop on her driveway. There are mezuzahs on the door and a menorah near windows frosted in the winter chill. A petite 4-foot-11 with deep hazel eyes, sheís laughs easily with a charm thatís carbonated.
In many ways sheís in sync with high school seniors from Long Island to Oklahoma to Oregon: She wakes up in the morning to ìMorning Zooî radio, and has seen ìTitanicî nine times.ìI loved Titanic,î says Ariela. ìI saw it with my friends, twice with my brother, once with my boyfriend, and once with my cleaning lady.î
Most teenagers, however, donít have an Israeli flag in the kitchen. ìThatís me,î says Ariela. ìIsraelís my whole life. I want to make aliyah the second Iím allowed. I want to go to law school there, maybe even getting involved with Israeli politics.î
The living room is lined with books of the Bible, sets of Mishna, Talmud, with an occasional Hemingway and Fitzgerald near a Rav Kook anthology.In her bedroom, a display board of her favorite things includes a color photo scissored out of The New York Times depicting Israelis dancing with a rippling blue and white flag in front of the Western Wall.
A poster of Adam and Eve looms on one bedroom wall; Tweety Bird on the other. Ariela points out her Hebrew copy of Israelís Declaration of Independence, and a document, from an arcade, explaining her name: ìAriela… lioness of God. Personality: She has an optimistic view of life.î
In her CD-tape player is the latest recording from Kol Achai, ìthree Jewish guys who sing Israeli music. Itís amazing. Gorgeous. When I was in Israel, everyone was singing Kol Achaiís ëAnim Zemirot.í îUnlike most Jews, let alone Jewish teens, sheís already been to Israel three times, and plans to study there after graduation.
Ariela soaks up information from The Jewish Week, The Jerusalem Post, The Long Island Jewish World, The Jewish Press, The Young Israel Viewpoint, and Agudahís Jewish Observer. She monitors the web site of Arutz Sheva, the West Bank settlersí news outlet. Ariela can intelligently discuss the nuanced differences between Prime Minister Netanyahu, Benny Begin (her favorite candidate in the upcoming elections), and Jerusalemís Mayor Ehud Olmert.ìI love Ehud Olmert. But heís not running [for prime minister] anymore. Iím so mad at him.î
She attributes her passion to her grandparents. ìTheyíd go to Israel every year,î says Ariela, ìand then told me all about it. I became so addicted! I loved it. Theyíd show me pictures and tell me about the history ó everything from 1948 on, the bringing in of immigrants, the establishment of the state, the War of Independence. I learned Hatikvah from my grandmother. Isnít Hatikvah amazing? I love it. The very idea of it, the hope. I took my yearbook quote from Hatikvah, ëAyin LíZion Zofia,í the eye looks eastward to Zion.î
She attends the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, affiliated with her primary school, the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach.
Any senioritis? ìNo,î she laughs. ìWe donít get senior privileges.î
Is there a lot of dating? ìSome do, some donít.î Ariela says that she, and about half of her class, follows the modesty laws of negiah, which preclude even pre-marital hand-holding. The kids date, but modestly. There are no teenage pregnancies or drop-outs in Arielaís world.Where do religious high school seniors hang out on a Saturday night?ì
A lot of them baby-sit,î says Ariela. ìOnly about 15 kids out of 60 do the hang-out thing,î but nothing seedy: ìMaybe, theyíd go to a kosher pizza store on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst.î
Sheís staying faithful to her boyfriend whoís spending the year at an Israeli yeshiva. They met on an outing with the Orthodox Unionís youth group to New Jerseyís Great Adventure amusement park. They solidified their relationship while on the debating teams of their respective schools, and on long talks after trips to the movies.Ariela was in Israel last April, with March of the Living, the group that organizes youth tours of the Nazi death camps followed by a trip to Israel. She learned as much about herself as anything else.ì
I went with a very closed mind. I came back really open-minded. I was never so exposed to Reform and Conservative Jews before. I guess I had a negative feeling toward them. But many my friends now are Reform and Conservative Jews I met on March of the Living. I may not agree with them religiously, but at least I understand them. Weíre all Jews. I felt some pressure with being negiah when some guys wanted to hug or hold hands, but then it was fine.îSheís studying for some big tests. She has weekly quizzes in preparation for a six-hour Jewish literacy test that could earn her up to 12 credits from Hebrew University. The test comprises everything from Psalms to Talmud to Yehuda Haleviís ìKuzariî to modern Hebrew writers Bialik and Agnon.Sheís a senior, ìhaving a blastî in the last days of high school, a time, as the Talmud puts it, ìbetween the suns,î poised twixt home and the world beyond. Israelís menorah symbol sparkles on the key chain with her car keys. Sheís old enough to drive. She knows where sheís going.