NJP (Nice Jewish Person)
Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual. The Well has agreed to share its Q & As with these amazing singles with the JN. This month, The Well has a conversation with NJP Jen Lipson.
Q: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?
JL: I was born and raised here. Growing up, I basically lived within the same square mile as my mom’s side of the family. Family dinners, complete with grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins, were a normal occurrence because everybody lived so close. Aside from going to college in Kalamazoo at Western Michigan University, I pretty much have spent my whole life here. I considered going elsewhere after college, but the fact that my family is here kept me here.
Q: You spend your days teaching Spanish. Tell us more!
JL: I knew that I wanted to teach since I was 5, and I realized in high school that Spanish was my passion. I had the same teacher for junior and senior year and seeing her passion and the creative projects she had us do made me realize that I wanted to teach Spanish. I love my job teaching eighth-graders. When I tell people I teach middle school, their general reaction is “Why!?” Once you get past all the drama, they’re really cool kids. They’re still figuring out who they are and who they want to be. They frustrate me sometimes, but I really love them and love working with them.
Q: What is a hobby that you are really into? How did that passion come about?
JL: I have a handful of hobbies I do for fun. The first one is playing the violin. I started in fourth grade and went all through school and into college and was a music major until sophomore year. I took a break for a while, but recently got back into it and play with a local civic symphony orchestra. I love playing in groups.
Another hobby I have is capoeira. Most people have never heard of it. It’s an Afro-Brazilian martial art mixed with dance. It combines a bunch of my interests: music, language, culture and dance. How I found out about it is actually kind of funny. One of my friends came to our friend group and said “I have this Groupon for this thing called capoeira. Who wants to try it with me?” Everyone else was like, “Nope.” But I decided to try it out. And that was almost six years ago. I love it!
Q: What’s your favorite book and what about it moves you?
JL: I hardly read for fun anymore, but some of my favorite books include Memoirs of a Geisha, The Red Tent and Shores Beyond Shores by Irene Butter. I just really like any good story that includes history or characters that are relatable. I enjoyed learning about the life of a geisha in Memoirs of a Geisha. The Red Tent spoke to me because it was interesting to have these biblical characters that were sort of personalized. You don’t hear much about the female characters in the Torah, and visualizing this story was super interesting to me.
Irene Butter is a Holocaust survivor and a personal friend of my grandma’s. She has spoken at the school where I work year after year, and I have also heard her speak at the public library in the community where I teach. How she continues to have such a positive attitude is beyond me. The book is interesting because it focuses on her childhood and her perspective on what happened to her from a child’s point of view. She even had a connection to Anne Frank for a brief time. I just feel like it is interesting to hear about and to keep those stories alive.
Q: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven’t visited?
JL: My ultimate goal is to see the world. The list of where I don’t want to go is shorter. One of the places that is on my bucket list is Vetibsk, Belarus. This is where my great-grandma was born, and I would love to see what it looks like now. I realize that where she was born and places she frequented probably don’t exist anymore, but I still want to see it to have that connection with her.
Q: How do you like to give back to the community/others?
JL: My parents really instilled in me the importance of giving back. When I was younger, we would always do Mitzvah Day as a family. As I got older, I looked for other opportunities to give back. I would participate in Mitzvah Day on my own. I have played violin at a church for Palm Sunday. I also am involved with the NEXTGen Detroit PRIDE committee. I want to help other gay Jews find their place in the Jewish community.
Q: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday and why?
JL: Wow. This is a tough one. I really like any holiday where my family gets together. I think my favorite one is Chanukah because we have our family Chanukah party. I love getting together with my family and seeing all my cousins who mostly live out of town.
Q: Fav Jewish food?
JL: I love what I call “Jewish Soul Food.” I love a good bagel and schmear with lox and matzah ball soup. Those would have to be my favorites.
Q: If you could compete in any Olympic sport, what would you choose?
JL: Aside from capoeira, I’m not super athletically inclined. In some alternate universe, though, I would love to be a gymnast. I love all the cool tricks they do and would put together a killer floor routine.
Q: If you could be a contestant on any reality/game show, what would it be?
JL: I would like to think that I would do decently on Jeopardy. But I also think that it would be cool to go on The Price is Right.
Q: How about a fun fact?
JL: I have a 4-year-old nephew that everyone thinks is my son. As he gets older, though, he’s starting to look more like my brother and sister-in-law.
Q: Best movie ever made, hands down?
JL: I have so many favorite movies. Off the top of my head, I love The Sandlot and Keeping the Faith. My students know how much I love The Sandlot; I have a “You’re Killing Me, Smalls!” poster in my classroom and I quote it all the time. I also like Keeping the Faith because Jenna Elfman is hilarious, and I love all the new methods that Ben Stiller’s character uses to infuse Judaism with some energy and connect with his congregation’s younger members.
Q: What would you put on your “family crest” if you were asked to design one?
JL: Obviously I would have to include the Star of David to represent our Jewish heritage. I would also include a Canadian flag and a Russian flag to represent where my grandparents and great-grandparents came from. I feel like a laughing emoji would also have to be included because my family has an awesome sense of humor. And, of course, a heart, because we’re all full of love.
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Read more at meetyouatthewell.org. Want to meet Jen? Email Rabbi Dan Horwitz at firstname.lastname@example.org for an introduction.
Special to the Jewish News