Celebrating the Best Writing From Hey Alma’s 2023-2024 College Fellows

We can’t fully express how amazed we’ve been by our fellows’ empathy, resilience, openness and commitment to both tikkun olam and Jewish joy.

In September 2023, we announced the cohort for our fourth year of the Hey Alma College Fellows writing program. Less than a month later, October 7 happened. Our 21 college fellows were forced to reckon with the loss of loved ones in both Israel and Gaza and the full spectrum of emotion as their college campuses became spaces of intense tension and protest. For us, the Hey Alma staff, it quickly became apparent that the main goal of our fellowship needed to shift from discussing the ins and outs of Jewish digital media to being a space of support.

Now, as this academic year has come to a close, we can’t fully express how amazed we’ve been by our fellows’ empathy, resilience, openness and commitment to both tikkun olam and Jewish joy. We are grateful for all they’ve taught us about what it means to be Jewish on campus today and everything they’ve shared with us about their unique Jewish identities.

Below is one article from each of our fellows who wrote for us this year. Though they range in subject, from cultural commentary to essays on personal identity, all of these pieces are written with nuance, poise and journalistic integrity.

You can click on any name to see the author’s page and all of the fantastic pieces they’ve worked on all year.

Jess Clayton‘s reflection on remembering her German Holocaust survivor grandmother through reclaiming her Jewish identity:

Courtesy of Jess Clayton

“I miss my Oma, I do every day, but increasingly I find her in the culture my family is beginning to reclaim. In 2021 our family had our German citizenship restored, 80 years after my grandmother’s was taken away from her. I know that the lessons she taught me, lessons of resilience and perseverance, have helped me get to where I am.”

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Yael Crupnicoff on finding comfort in returning to the Polish village her ancestors were once forced to flee:

Sarnaki, Poland
Photo by Yael Crupnicoff

“It’s strange. It is difficult to converse cheerfully about the trivialities of Jewish life in Sarnaki without banging your head against the fact that this life no longer exists. That many Polish people did nothing, or worse. That every story I’ve heard about this village ends in heartbreak. How can I explain this to these kind, lovely people, without seeming offensive? Our bond with them is built on a precarious balance. Being in Poland is like that, all of it. You can walk across all of Sarnaki, across the entire country, with your heart in your throat.”

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Tamara Doiny on embracing the full meaning of the Hebrew word “chai”:

Design by Avital Dayanim

“Eighteen was a year of life, and part of my learning in the past year was that life includes death. And life includes mourning. But upon reflecting on my Zeide’s death, I also know that life includes… well, life, and that I want to strive to live as fully as him, in honor of my grief.”

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Helene Erlbaum‘s call for patrilineal Jews to celebrate themselves:

Design by Avital Dayanim; Assets via Canva

“Patrilineal Jews, like all Jews, are the product of radical Jewish joy — they are loved by their Jewish families and congregations; they hold generations of history and culture; and, most importantly, they could and should cherish themselves fully. I feel this in the room with my Jewish friends with whom, in the face of celebration and in tragedy, we hold and are held. We encompass in all forms the best hopes of our Jewish ancestors, and the pride and meaning I find in my background is something I keep within me, given to me by all who came before me, and it is non-negotiable. Patrilineal Jews didn’t spring into existence following the Reform movement’s 1983 declaration on patrilineal recognition or the earlier affirmation of this by Reconstructionist Judaism. We have existed forever, and we will exist forever.”

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Sylvie Koenigsberger‘s review of “Children of Peace,” a documentary which tells the complex history of Israeli-Palestinian peace village Neve Shalom:

Photo by Haward Shippin

“When I attended a screening of the film as part of the Israeli Film Center’s Festival in Manhattan, my own expectations were widely surpassed. Schwartz’s film is unafraid to explore all of the issues that inevitably come with the question of co-existence, and he is not interested in glossing over the messier parts that may arise. “Children of Peace,” while necessarily political, is crucially human-centric, and that is one of its greatest strengths.”

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Emory Marks on being inspired by Marc Chagall to preserve Jewish traditions through art:

Photo by Lee Lockwood/Getty Images

“For our next class project we each had to make a piece that was heavily inspired by our chosen artist’s style, yet also had our own elements. I chose to make a piece that was inspired by “America Windows.” In each panel I saw my own family history being played out. I saw my family celebrating the Jewish holidays, singing, dancing and lighting a menorah. I saw long journeys, one taken by my ancestors that fled the Spanish Inquisition, one taken by my great-grandfather fleeing Germany, one taken by my family fleeing Poland, Turkey, Ukraine, you name it. I saw the journey that my mother took from Israel to America. I saw my childhood, family dinners and my dreams.

Chagall made the windows to celebrate America’s second century of existence and featured iconic American landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Chicago skyline. I made my work to celebrate my family’s existence with our own landmarks.”

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Rachel Pakan on her relationship to Bukhori, the Bukharian Jewish language.

Design by Avital Dayanim; Assets via Getty Images and Wikimedia Commons

“Growing up as an American-born Bukharian Jew, my primary exposure to Bukhori was through my grandmother. Despite her upbringing in Soviet-controlled Uzbekistan, she always reverted to Bukhori while on the phone with her sisters, venting her frustrations or recounting her triumphs in her native tongue rather than in the Russian she had been educated in. My parents, belonging to a significantly more Russified generation of Soviet-born Bukharians, can only somewhat understand Bukhori. And I, a member of the first generation of Bukharians born in America, cannot speak or understand Bukhori at all.”

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Rachel Rosenfield‘s love letter to Shoshanna Shapiro from “Girls”:

Shoshana Shapiro in a white dress with a pink halo around her
Photo via HBO

“Shoshanna, played by Zosia Mamet, starts the show as a business student at NYU. She is brought into the core friend group — comprised of Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and her cousin Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke), all girls who are slightly older than she is — by Jessa. Shoshanna worships her cousin, calling her “painfully pretty” and “so fucking classy,” which is why she wants to join the friend group in the first place and which establishes an uneven social dynamic between Shoshanna and the rest of the gang from the very beginning. Even a day where the girls sit in a waiting room while Jessa is supposed to get an abortion is a fun time for Shoshanna. She was probably the best character of the group and it is time that we fully recognize our Jewish hero.”

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Ava Sharahy on their complex Jewish-Muslim identity:

Design by Avital Dayanim

“My mother is Russian-Jewish, born and raised in the former Soviet Union, while my father was born in Syria and was raised Muslim. I never questioned my background until others started doing it for me; for a while, I had fun exploring the two sides of my family. My parents never bothered trying to assimilate my sister and I into American culture, so I was able to dip my toe into whatever aspect of their lives they brought to the States. My father threw parties where old Arabic festive songs played loudly and my aunts and uncles laughed louder. My grandmother peddled Russian old wives’ tales to stop me from sitting on the radiator. It was like getting a glimpse into their hidden worlds, into the places they were from before they came here.”

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Mazel tov to the 2023-2024 Hey Alma college writing fellows! We are so proud of you.

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