“People have said to me, ‘Why did you kill Jesus?’”
Tell me about your heritage.
Ok, so, I’m Jewish, I’m Polish, but, it’s the part of Poland from when the borders were iffy. There’s different pieces: I’m 1/8 Hungarian and slightly Russian. But, that’s basically my heritage.
Are your parents from there? Or your grandparents?
No. Neither. Both of my parents are from Long Island. My grandpa on one side is from the Bronx; everyone’s all from New York. And then, the next generation, my great grandparents, are who are directly from there.
Did you grow up in a very Jewish area?
Not at all. My identity is pretty weird. I’ve grown up in Jacksonville, Florida my whole life, and it’s very Southern, even though people don’t think of Florida as the South. It’s so close to Georgia that it felt almost like Georgia. And so, I’ve grown up both watching SEC Football and drinking sweet tea, and where I live, people have Confederate flags on their trucks. These are things that I’ve grown up with, and some of them I obviously hate. But, my dad does not view me as a Southerner at all. We go on vacations and he’s like ‘Oh, we’re from New York,’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve never lived in New York in my life!’ They lived there for 20 years; it’s time to let go. There are a lot of cultural components of Northern Florida that my parents and I both don’t love. I embrace the Southern environment that I’ve grown up in, but, it’s weird because my identity is a Southern Jew. That’s not an oxymoron, but, sometimes it feels like it.
Did you face any stereotyping/discrimination/racism growing up?
I’ve faced some weird things. No intense prejudice, but a lot of awkward comments that sort of build up over time. Like, people have said to me, “Why did you kill Jesus?” That’s something I’ve heard! Or, sometimes, people are just really unaware and will ask honest questions that they don’t know, like, “Do you Jewish people believe in God?” It’s one of those things where they’re not even trying to offend you; they just don’t know. The other awkward thing that’s sort of difficult is that, where I grew up, all the Jewish people know each other, because there are like 20 of us, literally. On Jewish holidays, there’s always all of these things we have to do, like search for bagels. We can never find really good bagels. Or having to navigate Jewish holidays and coordinate with my teachers because I’m the only person leaving school.
How did you get involved with Indian dance?
It’s pretty random. There’s literally no Indian dance where I’m from. There’s not much but Conservative white people where I’m from. When I was looking into colleges, my mom was really obsessed with Bollywood. She was like, “You need to look at the Bollywood teams at all the schools you apply to,” and I’m like, why mom? Please just stop. She was fixated! It was really random and annoying. But then I would throw it into some college essays, because it’s kind of fun.
The best thing about Dhoom [Indian dance team] is that I would not be friends with these people if I wasn’t on Dhoom. There’s no other way I could have known them. It exposes me to a completely new culture. I’m also really interested in Cultural Anthropology, so I get to do my own little work here! Indian food, I’ve gotten to mix with that, and I’ve never eaten that. There’s no Indian food where I’m from. Also Bollywood movies, Bollywood music, and the language, because the girls on the team are really familiar with all of this stuff. It’s common sense; they know the Bollywood actors and everything, so there’s this fun cultural component in addition to all of the new cultural stuff.
So, Jewish, Southern Bollywood Dancer and proud of it all. There’s not a lot of overlap, even with just two of those, nonetheless three of those, and oftentimes there are not a lot of Southern Jews, there’s not a lot of Jewish Bollywood dancers, there’s not a lot of Bollywood Southerners. And, if I’m in one environment, sometimes I’ll feel weird about one of the other components. In the South, sometimes I feel weird about being Jewish. Or, if I’m at home and I’m telling my friends about Bollywood dance in the South, they’ve never been exposed to it. Or, there are no Jewish people on the Bollywood team, so they might schedule a practice on a Jewish holiday or something. So, I’m just happy to be all of those things, and happy to bring them together in my life, and have fun and embrace all of them.