Maya Savin Miller, 17, is a junior at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, CA. Her mother, Jody Savin, is an author, filmmaker and app developer.
Listen to an excerpt of Maya and Jody’s conversation:
What makes you most afraid and what makes you most hopeful in thinking about the future?
Jody: I am terrified of a world in which the top levels of the United States government condone the mass incarceration of immigrants at our borders. I am terrified that the hypocrisy that has infected our national thinking and that has veritably cleaved our government right down the middle leaves us with little official, if any, moral ground. Our forefathers left too much of our government regulation to an assumed civility that is being tested right now to the extreme.
Maya: I am terrified to be living on a dying planet, in a society that tends to prioritize self-interest over the well-being of the collective, governed by a ruling class so comfortable denying the hard science warning us of the looming/imminent menace of climate change. I am afraid of a society that dissociates from the fallout of its actions so easily that it is able to justify mass pollution, the destruction of our natural world, the predations of the meat and dairy industry and the exploitation of human beings.
On a more personal note, I am afraid of the narrowing of societal expectations as I get older. I don’t see myself filling the formulas that are commonly set forth for women. Sure, the recipes have loosened, but there are still so many battles for women to fight before we can achieve any semblance of equality in a world that for so long relegated us to back seats. I want to be part of an expectation-busting, front-seat generation of women.
Jody: I clearly share all of your concerns and yet, I am prone to hunt for the silver lining. And perhaps that silver lining is the empowerment of your generation, today’s youth who are mindful and concerned about the compromised, intolerant and broken world they will inherit, a world doomed by its blind self-interest, wanton mass consumerism and environmental neglect. I see you and your peers all around the country speaking up, protesting, initiating projects, demanding change. Soon the world will be yours and therein lies my hope.
What are ways in which we are similar and ways in which we are different?
Maya: We both really like to write.
Jody: On the other hand, you are pretty quiet.
Maya: And you are really loud.
Jody: Just making up for my lack of height.
Maya: I’m not that much taller.
Jody: Four inches is a lot from where I stand.
Maya: O.K., so in addition to our height difference, we have very different relationships with Judaism.
Jody: I am a secular Jew.
Maya: I had to beg to go to Hebrew school.
Jody: I did not have a bat mitzvah.
Maya: I was determined to have a bat mitzvah. It was really important to me, and it changed my life in so many ways.
Jody: So many incredibly positive ways.
Maya: I had two strong, Jewish, female mentors to guide me through the process: Rabbi Arielle Hanien and my teacher and gabbai, Ye’ela Rosenfeld. I learned so much from them, not only about analyzing text and the mechanics of reading Torah but mostly about thinking and interpreting for myself.
Jody: You should mention A Life in Tapestry.
Maya: In the course of preparing for my bat mitzvah, the Remember Us b’nai mitzvah project introduced me to Holocaust survivor and tapestry artist Trudie Strobel, who lives in a nearby town.
Jody: Who is now a member of our family.
Maya: Yes, she is. Trudie shared with me the memory of Chana Zgierski, a young girl who was murdered in Auschwitz, so that I could carry her memory forward and share my bat mitzvah with her.
Jody: When we first entered Trudie’s home, we were treated to a treasure trove of breathtaking tapestries that had not been seen by the public.
Maya: These intricately woven, large-scale works depict Trudie’s history in the Holocaust as well as the history of the Jewish people. And we knew they had to be shared with the world, but neither of us had any idea how to make that happen.
Jody: Until Maya heard about the Dragon Kim Foundation, which gives service grants to youths with a project to improve their communities.
Maya: And until my mom wrote the book Stitched & Sewn: The Life-Saving Art of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel, which has just been published.
How has Judaism informed the path of your life, the choices you have made and the ethos you live by?
Jody: Judaism is an integral part of the fabric of my identity. It is family and song and tradition; it is the quality of a matzah ball and the sound of the shofar. Holiday prayers make me cry because they are infused with visceral and vividly sensorial memories of my great-grandparents and my grandparents and my parents.
Maya: For me, it’s tikkun olam. We live in a world that needs so much repairing, and I believe it is my Jewishly guided mission to do whatever I can, big or small, to live by the mandate of tikkun olam.
Jody: Yes. And it is also a commitment to a lifetime of study and self-improvement.
Maya: And along with that, I think it is also quite Jewish—the concept that we must question all things and that all things should be open and subject to questioning.
Jody: Which can be exhausting, of course, to the parents.
Maya: Well, I recommend that you learn from me and take a few naps now and then.
This article was originally published as part of a series in Hadassah Magazine, May/June 2020. You can read about the collaboration and all six conversations here.
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