Hidary, the actress, solo performer, poet and director known as the “Hebrew Mamita,” and her cast of 4 men and 8 women explore what it means to be Jewish through multiple, shifting lenses. Their compelling monologues in English with notes of French, Hebrew, English, Spanish, Ladino, Amharic and Turkish, highlight pride and joy as well as discomfort with inequalities and, for many, the bittersweet moments when grandparents and grandchildren cannot communicate easily.
Avi Amon — white, male, Jewish, Turkish, Sephardi, American — articulates the fundamental dilemma: How can we check any one box on a survey form? No one box can capture all that we are. We are forced to “shape shift.”
Raised an Episcopalian in the Bronx, Malaika Martin converted to Judaism and lived in Israel for many years. She thinks she was the only black in Beersheva in the 90s and later reigned as the “Black Queen Bee” of Tel Aviv, dispatching any competitors with contempt — to Jerusalem.
Another performer, who goes by the name Ahuva, grew up in the Ethiopian community in Ashdod and recalls that the Ethiopians walked at night and hid by day during their long journey to Israel. Her pride in Israel and having served in the IDF is evident. At the same time, her fury at the derogatory “Cushi” being hurled at members of her community is palpable.
A common thread among these monologues was “don’t tell me how to be Jewish.” As Corey Hennig who closes the evening said, as a Black and as a Jew, “the nice Jewish boy with a little more flavor,” he feels caught in the crossfire too often.
On a personal note, I witnessed a close friend grapple with this question for a long time. She was a black South African, drawn strongly to Judaism. Rabbis here in New York were willing to convert her but counseled against it as she was planning to return to South Africa — they felt that her Jewishness might be hard for her family there to digest. She lived as a Jew but died a Christian.
"Kaleidoscope" opened on Wednesday evening to an enthusiastic reception and the final performance at the 14th St Y is July 19th.
Sharon Anstey is a writer and business consultant. This piece is dedicated to the memory of Nomgcobo Sangweni.