HEBREW NAME: Nechama Sifra
CURRENT SCHOOL: Newburyport High, ‘21
FAVORITE JEWISH FOOD: Nammy’s matzo ball soup
FAVORITE JEWISH PERSON: Menash (My Israeli tour guide)
FAVORITE JEWISH HOLIDAY:Rosh Hashanah
How is school going this year during the coronavirus pandemic, as far as attending either in-person, hybrid, or remote?
I never pictured the trek to school would be the five steps between my bed and my desk. It certainly wasn’t the senior year I envisioned, but we’re all just trying to make the best of it. School itself is going smoothly with the exception of sporadic Internet crashes. Within my school district, I’m especially thankful for our athletic department and coaches for their tireless work in making sure our sports season could take place. If nothing else, I was hoping for a somewhat normal senior season as a cross country captain, which I got. I have also taken leadership roles as the president of the National Art Honors Society and the secretary of my school’s Environmental Club, which meet regularly via Zoom thanks to the dedication of faculty advisers. I’ve found that the fluster of school hasn’t stopped, we’ve just found creative ways to engage in the things we normally would in order to work around the pandemic.
Do you have any college plans, and if so, what you would like to study?
I guess the one positive part of the pandemic was avoiding this question at family gatherings! I’m 17, and choosing a major that will potentially lay the ground for the rest of my life terrifies me. However, I am interested in writing. In my opinion, whether it’s black and white print or the virtual illumination from our 21st century devices, literature never fails to shine through. The words migrate to our minds and send us to new places, silently scream at us, and allow us to grow in the sequence of turning pages. This is what great literature has done for me, and it’s exactly what I want to do for others. My love for writing unintentionally translated into a collection of business plans piling up on my desk. I found the creativity that is present in literature stretches past merely reading and writing and fostered my passion for business, specifically entrepreneurship. I fell in love with the imaginative, innovative process that falls behind designing a business. I’ve grown up in an environment where everything has been thought out in a business perspective. For example, when my sister and I used to ask my father for ice cream money, he morphed a light summer treat into a lesson of price analysis and comparisons on grocery store quantities versus smaller proprietors. Additionally, Sundays were for learning how the stock market works, poker was played for money management strategies, and “Shark Tank” took the place of what would count in most households as “family movie nights.” As for colleges, I have no idea where I will end up. The biggest question currently is, will it be an American university, a Canadian one, or a Scottish one?
Briefly describe your Jewish background growing up? What temple do you attend? Where did your bat mitzvah take place, who officiated, and how did that go?
I’ve been raised in a household where my mother is Jewish and my father is not religious but grew up in a Protestant household. I’m thankful to have grown up with “Christmakkah” [Christmas + Hanukkah] and “Jeaster” [Jewish Easter]. It was fun growing up in an environment where I felt equally connected to both sides of my family, but when asked what my religion is, without hesitation I would reply Jewish. My temple is Ahavas Achim in downtown Newburyport. I got bat mitzvahed there with my sister since we are only a year apart, and I was thrilled to share the attention with someone else. Ironically, the reception was held down the street at the Greek Orthodox Church, which I still find comical. Looking back, I wish I took the whole experience more seriously. I thought memorizing each line of Hebrew through an audio recording on Google Translate during my bus rides to school would be my smartest bet when approaching the Torah portion. Unfortunately for me, memorization is not one of my strengths. I ended up writing the phonetic pronunciation on the backs of my hands.
You went on the Lappin Foundation’s Y2I trip in 2019, and you were “welcomed home” in Israel when you arrived. How was that trip life changing?
To understand the importance of Y2I in my life, I think it is important to note my relationship with Judaism when I was younger. Every Tuesday, I put up my best argument to get out of Hebrew school, and I joined a youth soccer team to avoid going on Saturdays. I think of my teachers and the rabbi in the highest regard but I never had much of an interest in Hebrew school and I hated that I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Since going to temple was never my choice, it became an uncomfortable experience. This made me feel less Jewish. Going to Israel altered my entire perspective of Judaism. I realized that not wanting to go to temple didn’t make me any less Jewish. It was the culture that accentuated a love for my religion. Additionally, being surrounded by other kids who were Jewish was an entirely new experience. I am one of four Jewish students in my grade. Because of this, I never had any close Jewish friends, and I’m particularly thankful to Y2I for changing that.
A poem you wrote was published in The Forward as part of a youth essay contest. Can you share a line or two from it and tell us why you wrote about Ben Yehuda Street?
My favorite lines in the poem are: “The world around me becomes a blur, and my sea of chocolate curls begin to defy gravity. The corners of my mouth climb, like my ancestors hiking up Mt. Masada, reaching so high they push my eyes into two thin half-crescent moons … My feet thwap the ground in a stupid American-teen-jumping-bean kind of way. My neck thrown back, eyes locked on the stars glistening above me, I dance in the glimmering light of the moon, connected to people I will likely never encounter again.” I wrote this poem months after the trip as an assignment for my creative writing at night class. I think the lines I chose prove that Israel is truly a country of contagious happiness. This moment would never have happened where I live. I can’t speak for America as a whole, but I’m confident in the fact that if anyone from my hometown started to dance in a public area, they would not be joined, but would receive looks of secondhand embarrassment. Everything about Israel was exceptional, but when I daydream about returning, this memory is the first that replays in my mind.
Here is the link to the entire published poem: forward.com/culture/443731/to-be-free-is-to-dance-on-ben-yehuda-street/