Pure Poetry #16: Vanessa Hidary, The Hebrew Mamita

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/28/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Intern Lily & Guest
#10 – 2/28/2011 – Michelle Tea, by Laneia
#11 – 2/28/2011 – Saul Williams, by Katrina Chicklett Danger
#12 – 3/2/2011 – Maya Angelou, by Laneia
#13 – 3/4/2011 – Jack Spicer, by Riese
#14 – 3/6/2011 – Diane DiPrima, by Sady Doyle
#15 – 3/6/2011 – Pablo Neruda, by Intern Laura
#16 – 2/7/2011 – Vanessa Hidary


‘Should I fiddle on a fucking roof for you?’

In ‘The Hebrew Mamita,’ NYC poet and performance artist Vanessa Hidary asks this question while recounting the story of a man who tries to pick her up at a bar and then tells her she ‘doesn’t look Jewish’/’doesn’t act Jewish.’ As someone who’s been ‘the Token Jew’ in several different circles of friends/organizations/other situations, I immediately recognized the sentiment.

image via hebrewmamita.com

Vanessa, who performs as ‘The Hebrew Mamita,’ was inspired to write her one-woman show, Culture Bandit Soul, based on her experiences as a Syrian Jew living in NYC and growing up with a very diverse group of friends. Her work is full of cultural juxtapositions that reflect this: in her poem ‘Culture Bandit,’ she talks about ‘eating matzah in Harlem’ and being ‘thrown out of Hebrew school because I spent Rosh Hashanah at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.’  Her first published collection of poems and stories, a work in progress, has even been given the title ‘The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega.’ She is fierce, she is funny and she will make you think, not only about your identity or hers, but about how you relate to others.

In addition to writing and performing, Vanessa works to help other young writers understand their identities and bring about cross-cultural understanding through her work with Jewish organizations and conferences, including conducting poetry against racism workshops with the B’nai Brith, a Jewish youth organization.

But Vanessa’s poems don’t just resonate with the nice Jewish girls in the audience. Hardly. They’re for anyone who’s ever been ‘the only (insert marginalized group here)’ in a group of friends or a work or living environment, people who have been told they ‘don’t act like a/an (insert marginalized group here)’ or anyone who is just totally fucking fed up with being marginalized at all, or labeled, or expected to be/act a certain way because of someone else’s silly assumptions related to identity.

As she declares in ‘Wild Women’:

Let us shine.

Let others enjoy a glimpse.
Get excited
Knowing we go home
Only with you.
To you.
We want

Our capacity to socialize is nothing you’ve ever seen the likes of.
Don’t be alarmed by our tolerance to liquor, coffee, smoking, food,
We are made of some other shit.
We carry grown ass men out of bars
And kick amateur girls to the curb;
But if you get drunky girl one night, don’t be surprised…
Sometimes we slip.

That’s all for now.

We appreciate your patience and passion.
We know it’s complicated,
But you seem like a quick study.

My wild, crazy, unruly, arty, fiery, sweet, smart, talented sisters…

I am you.
You are me.

We are not for everyone
But we live

Carry on.

Watch her signature poem, ‘The Hebrew Mamita,’ below:

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Lindsay Eanet

Lindsay Eanet (@lindsayeanet) is a Chicago-based writer, editor and performer. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Paste, Howler, Chicago Magazine and others. She is the host & producer of I’ll Be There for You, a biweekly podcast about pop culture and coping. But enough about her, let’s talk about you.

Lindsay has written 34 articles for us.


  1. As someone who has been called an oreo all her life, who is “pretty…for a black girl” and who “doesn’t ACT black,” this entry made me feel validated and understood.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • definitely heard that one before… someone once told my friend she doesn’t usually find chinese people pretty but [i] am. um, thanks, is that supposed to be a compliment or something.

  2. <3 <3 <3

    Thank you for posting this. I just got "You're Jewish?!" last week loud enough to be heard across an entire store – from a fellow queer person, no less – and stood there and said nothing, and hated it. I hate when people who should theoretically know better, do better, don't.

    I'll definitely be checking out the rest of her work.

  3. I get the same reaction when I tell people that I’m a Christian. I’m falling in love again with poetry this week, Autostraddle, and I thank you for it.

    • That’s a shitty thing for them to do, but your member link says you’re from the US. Christians aren’t a marginalized group in the US.

      • ummm i kind of get the feeling that people being way too surprised when you express your identity still sucks regardless of whether or not that identity is part of a marginalized group

        • True statement. I probably should have made that clearer — after all, marginalization/perceptions of identity are subjective and in this case can be very specific to one person’s situation, etc. etc. But yes, the ‘you don’t look/act like (x)’ reaction sucks regardless of your identity/whether or not it is typically seen as marginalized.

    • Yes, I really dig love Vanessa Hidary. I know ‘PhD in Him’ and ‘Fling Gone Awry’ by heart!!! Nice one AS!

  4. people never believe me when i say i’m jewish because i’m also chinese. but you can be both you know.

  5. she is awesome. her “PhD in him” piece is fierce for real.

    thanks for sharing this one. i’d never seen it and now i love it.

    off subject, i think i’m having a rainy outside/cozy inside Autostraddle morning…

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