The main reason I attended the event was to support Allison Josephs, the one-woman-show behind Jew In the City, and the amazing work she is doing for the Jewish world. I was determined not to be a groupie. I am embarrassed to admit that prior to the event I had never watched Mayim on The Big Bang Theory. I have been privileged to spend most of my life meeting and speaking with prominent, people for one reason or another (none of which have anything to do with me). I don’t fawn, and have always prided myself on relating to the famous just like everyone else. (*Margaret Thatcher was the exception to that. I don’t consider her a real person; she is history and larger-than-life, right? )
But this scenario was different. I spent my entire childhood dreaming of a life on stage. I performed from age eight. I took singing lessons, dance lessons, acting lessons and spent summers at BU Theater Conservatory. When I was a junior in high school and the hobby wasn’t going away, I was told by all of the well-meaning adults in my life that I was ”too Jewish” to make it in “the business”. It wasn’t just my parents who discouraged me, telling me that Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand were the exceptions to the rule, but all of the professionals in show business who I came into contact with as well….
… And then the movie Beaches came out. And Mayim Bialik was literally playing a young Bette Midler. And her movie role led to her own TV show. So she became a hero to me, and a symbol that all of those adults were wrong. (Somehow I drew that conclusion a lot at 17.) I continued to pursue a career on the stage for many years after. I subsequently dropped that plan for my own reasons, almost all of which had to do with my religious growth and shift in priorities.
So here is the very same Mayim Bialik talking about her religious growth with me in the center of the second row, hanging on her words like a full-blown groupie. It didn’t help that we are both into attachment parenting and healthy eating (“both into” as in she has written a book on holistic parenting and I do what I can when I can.) Or that the first thing Mayim said to me when I walked in was: ”Oh my gosh, I almost wore that dress tonight!”.
I tried not to gush, or to tell her all of this background which would have sounded ridiculous to her, but to instead maintain my customary non-groupie-like composure. Since I fell out somewhere between polite and out-right gushing, I think I came across as a complete weirdo. I also think she must be really used to it.
More than anything else, I really appreciated learning from her that evening. Much more than an actress she is a true thinker. A PhD in Neurology, she is intellectual and deliberate in her approach to just about everything, including her faith. One of the things she said that struck me the most is that she knew she was on a ladder of personal growth. But she needed to understand the shape and structure of the ladder, i.e. Jewish law, philosophy and theology, before being able to reach her hand off of it and safely out to Hashem. I have used the analogy of a ladder often in describing my own personal Jewish reality and I found her description so apt.
I left the evening sure that if we just had some time together Mayim and I would just be great friends. This woman who had the career that I tried not to covet as a teenager is now in the arduous process of melding her love of acting with her growing love of Judaism. I feel for her, relating so strongly to the many choices and changes that I made along the way. Okay, so I didn’t exactly have to contend with being on a PRIME TIME SITCOM, but I made my own sacrifices.
I think it is to Mayim Bialik’s credit that she left me with that impression that we would be buddies if only… as well as no doubt 90% of the other people in that room, and 90% of the women all over the country who watch her and have met her.
One other comment she made that stayed with me was her retelling of a fundamental question Allison asked her when they began learning together many years ago as chevrutot, or study partners: “Why do you think G-d gave you this amazing success and what do you think he wants you to do with it?” She didn’ t have any answers then, but it was a life-changing reference point that she said Allison has stuck with and revisits with her. She is taking a lot of composed, rational middle-aged women like myself and turning us into groupies, and getting an increasing amount of attention about her Jewish growth and her holistic parenting choices.
So she is doing much with her notoriety, and I think she is at least part of the way towards figuring out an answer.