Last week, JWA led the first online learning program of the year, “Hanukkah: Ignite and Inspire.” We spoke to almost 20 educators from across the country, covering topics from incorporating lessons of Jewish heroines to the challenges of creating a refreshing and relevant Hanukkah curriculum. I was most excited to talk about Judith, a Jewish, Biblical era woman whose story is not included in the Jewish scriptural canon.
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Miriam Cantor-Stone graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in Religion and Gender Studies. During college, she sang in two choirs and was often found in theatrical productions, in both on and off stage roles. In the recent past, she worked for Lilith Magazine and the Museum Department of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum in New York. In her spare time, Miriam knits, cooks and bakes with her friends, and contemplates her next adventures.
This morning, upon my arrival to JWA’s office, I walked over to Jordyn’s office to say good morning.
She greeted me with a question: “I know you’re a nerd… But, are you a gamer?”
Jordyn continued her line of questioning by asking me if I knew anything about the new Grand Theft Auto game that was just released. While I haven’t devotedly played video games in over ten years, I appreciate the world of gaming and have many friends—and two brothers—who certainly identify as gamers.
What is it about being Texan and Jewish that fills me with such pride? I think it’s the unexpectedness of it. I enthusiastically say, “Howdy y’all!” to friends and receive strange stares and sudden cases of the giggles. When I tell people where I’m from they reply, “You don’t sound Texan…or look Texan.” In the same way, people are often told they don’t “look” or “sound” Jewish. What does this even mean? Why are people still bogged down by stereotypes of cowboys and yentas and all other characters associated with Texas and Judaism? Why do I need to prove my Texan-ness or Jewish-ness with how I speak or act or look?
I love my legs. There, I said it! While I don’t have any serious self-esteem problems, I have always had trouble taking compliments and pinpointing the parts of myself I most appreciate. At the same time though, I’m not shy about expressing my opinion and standing up for what I believe is right. Friends who have argued with me about subjects ranging from books to movies to politics will surely agree.
But lately I’ve been noticing that while there are campaigns out there telling me I’m beautiful no matter what, society doesn’t actually allow people to feel that in a truly positive way. I’ve heard one too many stories about friends being hurt (emotionally and physically) by street harassment. I’m sick of people thinking they have the right to shout out whatever they like to others without any thought for their feelings.
When I was 15 years old, I was about to go on vacation with my grandparents and I needed a book. I picked up a collection of three of your plays (The Heidi Chronicles, Uncommon Women and Others, & Isn't It Romantic) that I’d been assigned to read for my ninth grade English class, but never gotten around to studying. I didn’t know anything about you or the plays before opening the book, but I was soon transported to a world of women who didn’t necessarily know exactly what they wanted out of their educations, careers, and relationships, but did know they wanted a great deal. Suffice to say, it greatly appealed to me.
Abby Mohr lives a stone's throw away from Boston, but her take on education is global. Barely even in her teenage years, and she cares deeply about making sure girls all over the world can get an education. “I really like school,” she says. “Boys get to go to school all over the world, and girls should too.” Most teenagers probably do not realize just how lucky they are to be educated, but Abby is not one of them.
It’s been two weeks since our New York Educator’s Workshop, and I am still amazed at the places we visited and all that was taught by Etta, Ellen, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, and all the participants and presenters in attendance. It occurred to me recently how connected I feel to the labor rights movement, which we discussed as we stood in the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Of course there’s the Jewish connection: Jews made up a large percentage of the population of advocates and protesters in the fight for labor rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America. Jewish teachings and Yiddish phrases were often incorporated into the battle cries of the rioters. For me personally, there is much more to it than that.
The young actors learn about each other’s cultures (through a Passover seder, Spanish lessons, and more) while learning about themselves. I am constantly amazed by the power of theatre, even after experiencing it personally throughout my education. Watching Liz Swados and her production team interact with the teens reminded me of all the incredible teachers and directors I had the pleasure of working with in high school and college. Theatre gave me self-confidence and taught me the importance of community, and it’s clear that the teens involved in Sosúa learned the same. This fascinating movie provides great insight into the magic of theater as well as into a little known aspect of Shoah history.