When I was in second grade, I was invited to a friend’s end-of-year pool party. This was, undoubtedly, the coolest gathering I had ever been to. As we were leaving, her mother handed each girl in attendance a couple of teen gossip magazines. You know the ones—filled with “juicy gossip,” “lifestyle quizzes,” and full size wall posters. I’d never been so excited about a party favor in my life. When I got home, I couldn’t wait to plaster my walls with photos of Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale and whoever else. Giddy, I informed my mom of my plans for redecoration. However, it seemed like she had other plans for the magazines, and told me I was absolutely not allowed to hang them on my wall.
I hated her for it. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just be cool for once! And they were just posters! I was a seven year old with conviction, and it was clear to me that this was a serious injustice. Many tears were shed before I could even begin considering to forgive her.
Fast forward a few years and I’m eleven years old, spending the summer with my family in Israel. Kochav Nolad, the Israeli version of American Idol, is my favorite TV show of all time. I’m obsessed with every contestant. Suddenly, posters begin to go up around town, that say:
אלחי רפואה, הנציג שלנו מירושלים
Elchai Refuah, Our Representative from Jerusalem.
Elchai was one of the many contestants I’d been watching religiously on the show, and I could not believe that someone so famous and talented could possibly be in my midst. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Elchai got voted off the show. This meant that I might get to see him around town! My eleven-year-old self was filled with glee at the prospect.
One day, my dad came home and told me that he had heard that the Judaica shop in town was actually owned by Elchai’s father, and that now that Elchai was off the show, he was working there. This was my chance. One night after dinner I went to the Judaica shop, and, as promised, there stood Elchai. I was starstruck. He seemed a little unexcited, but that didn’t phase me. He signed a poster and sent me on my way. I was in heaven.
Timidly, I asked my mother if I could hang the poster on my wall. She said yes.
I was dumbfounded. I remembered the gossip magazine incident like it was only yesterday, and I couldn’t understand what made this any different. But as she always seems to, my mother had an answer. I was excited about Elchai, she said, for a substantive reason. He wasn’t just a pretty face in a magazine, he was someone who worked hard on something he was passionate about, and successful or not, that was something worth celebrating.
I don’t think I fully understood the importance of my mother's words at the time. But looking back, this lesson, and being raised in a household that constantly preached passion and hard work over vanity, are some of the things that have shaped me most into who I am today. I can’t get into the Kardashians. Their whole image doesn’t seem to do it for me. I can’t even get myself to follow them on twitter. Lin Manuel-Miranda, on the other hand, is doing fantastic work. His writing has changed how all of us, and young people in particular, see history. Emma Watson and her HeForShe campaign? Now that’s something I can get behind. And currently, my absolute favorite celebrity is Barack Obama.
As of late, strong, competent, independent women have become some of my most important role-models and friends. From my teachers to Chimimanda Ngozie Adichie, it’s the intellect, the work-ethic, the kindness, and the righteousness of these women that I look up to, and that I wish to one day emulate. I look up to them as a feminist because they seem to so gracefully navigate a still male-dominated world, and I look up to them as a teen struggling to find my place. No matter how original we may feel, a significant part of adolescence involves modeling oneself on those around you. The real struggle is deciding whose images are worthy of our walls, both physically and metaphorically, and whose model will best help us fulfill our dreams, and shape a world we’d like to live in.
My mom taught me to hold people accountable, to judge people not necessarily on their successes, and certainly not on vanity, but on their hard work. My role-models, the people in my life who reach ‘celebrity status,’ are the ones whose strength of character is something I aspire to. For this and so much more, I have my mother, my greatest role model, to thank.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Fish-Bieler, Hani. "Celebrity Status." 27 June 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 25, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/celebrity-status>.