DiversifYA: KK Hendin

Today, we welcome KK Hendin to the blog! KK writes amazing YA and NA*, fangirls over people (there is no better pastime!) and reviews MG for Bookalicious.

In KK’s Twitter profile, as you can see, she is quite mysterious, all invisible in front of a gorgeous bookcase. That doesn stop her from being awesome though, so make sure to follow her!

*I’m still waiting for that ms. *stares meaningfully*

1. How do you identify yourself?

How do I identify myself? Pardon me while I go have an identity crisis…okay, I’m back. How I identify myself may be different than how others identify me- because I identify myself as a person, but that’s not much of an answer for someone who’s trying to figure out who I am, and to shelve me into some category into their head.

When I was younger, I hated the concept of categories. “I don’t fit into ANY categories!” I would stubbornly insist, because how lame was that if you were so easily fit into a box? With *gasp* OTHER PEOPLE? I mean, what happens to all the specialness that you’re so convinced is you?

And then I grew up.

When I ‘categorize’ people, it’s not to slap a label on them, along with all the vast stereotypes that come with whatever is on that label, it’s merely to organize the people in my life into something more neat than a vast jumble of people.

So how do I identify myself, to the vast and wonderful audience at DiversifYA?

I’m a person. A female, Orthodox Jewish, tall, loud person. A person who writes. Who takes lots of pictures, who believes in hugs, loves kale and nutella with almost equal passion, who has a weird sense of humor, and who snorts when she laughs. A person who is fascinated by other persons, probably at a level that isn’t so healthy.

Hi. Pleasure to meet y’all. :)

2. What did it feel like growing up Orthodox Jewish?

Well, I’ve never grown up another way, so it’s a bit hard for me to answer. It felt regular to me, I suppose. The neighborhood I grew up with has a pretty large Orthodox Jewish community, and I was in Jewish schools, so being Orthodox seemed pretty normal to me when I was young- because most of the people I knew were Jewish also.

How did it feel? I suppose the same way childhood feels for a lot of people- loud, fun and entirely too complicated :)

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Finding the balance between my religious life and community and everything else. I didn’t realize how ‘Jewish’ I was until I started working after graduating high school- how many words were part of my vocabulary that just were not English, no matter how much I thought they were :) There is a lot of Hebrew and some Yiddish too, that is unconsciously thrown into conversation, and becoming aware of that took a lot of puzzled expressions on other people’s parts. And then on the other hand, I was surprised that people weren’t aware of my religiousness. (It was August and I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long skirt. Although I have been asked if I was a nun, more than once.)

A lot of it was realizing that not everyone grew up with the same pair of eyes as I did- I can spot a religious Jew in a crowd, and I can tell you if someone is wearing a wig (Married women cover their hair, usually with a wig). Not because I have supersonic eyesight or anything, but because those are things I learned to look out for when I was younger. Every culture and community has its own identifying symbols, and realizing that not everyone knew mine made me aware of the lack of intimate knowledge I have with other cultures.

Family and community. There is a certain feeling of family that you find any time you meet another Jew. Jewish geography is hilariously wonderful- because without fail, you put two Jews together and you can find someone that they both know. It’s a small world takes on a whole different meaning. The sense of family carries over to virtual strangers too- I lived in Israel for two years, and would literally go away to complete strangers for the weekends. And it was completely normal. It may also explain part of the in your face and in your business mentality of Israelis- them giving you advice (regardless of if you want it or not) is because in their head, you’re a cousin- and they’d tell it to their cousin, so why not to you too?

Being Sabbath-observant. It’s funny, because recently I’ve been hearing people go on and on about the benefits of a day off of technology- a day to just relax and spend time with your loved ones. Which is what I do every Friday night and Saturday, so I guess we were pretty ahead of the curve when it came to that. Saturday really is the only reason that I am still sane, and can function during the week. It’s a day of rest- not just physical rest, but emotional and mental vacation, too. I’m really sure how I would function without it.

Religious life in general is very grounding for me. While I am plagued with the usual existential questions, Judaism has given me an incredible perspective for looking at life. I can’t really separate my religion from who I am. (Which makes answering these questions slightly difficult.)

4. What do you wish people knew about being Orthodox Jewish?

Well, first of all, it’s a spectrum. Not all Orthodox Jews are the same. At all. In terms of religiousness, and in terms of background. Even within Orthodox Judaism, there are HUGE cultural differences, depending where a person’s family is from. Which is why you will find Jews of every nationality and race. So while the basics are the same, there is a huge variety of customs, which makes life infinitely more fun.

We aren’t out to convert you, or to try to make you exactly like us. But if you want to come over for a Friday night meal, we’d be more than happy to have you over. (And yes, that is a cliché that is true. All Jewish mothers want to feed you.)

You don’t have to understand to be respectful. There are things about other Orthodox communities that I don’t understand- and that I would never be able to do. But them doing things differently than I do is not a reason for me to be disrespectful of their ideas and lifestyle.

5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Well, not all Orthodox Jews are Hasidim. We don’t all have families with fifteen kids (although I know people who do). We don’t have sex through a sheet (even the Hasidim. Nobody has sex through a sheet). There are no horns. Anywhere. We have a definite say in who we marry (although the matchmaking process is different for each community). Not everyone speaks Yiddish. Not everyone with a yarmulke and a beard is a rabbi. I know absolutely nobody whose life resembles Fiddler on the Roof, or Yentel. So there’s that, too.

Honestly, I don’t really know any other clichés or stereotypes off hand- but if YOU have one, please ask and I’ll let you know if it’s true or not.

-If you’re curious, ask. Chances are they won’t mind answering. I don’t mind answering anything at all. Feel free to email me (kkhendinwrites at gmail dot com) if you have any questions. Aish.com is also a great resource for all things Jewish.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Do your research. Do so much research your brain explodes, you start speaking Klingon, and your friends and family think you’ve lost your mind. Then do some more research.
Talk to people who similar to your characters. Have them beta read- you’d be surprised by the small things they’ll pick up.

But most of all, realize that your character is just one person. There will be people who will read your book and say that you didn’t do an accurate portrayal of whatever it is. You won’t make everyone happy. But even when it boils down to the most specific, everyone’s life is different. Everyone’s perceptions are different. All you can do is write the best story you can, be respectful of the fact that not everyone is the same as you are, and hope for the best.

Actually, CELEBRATE the fact that not everyone is the same as you- makes the world a heck of a lot more interesting this way.

4 Responses to DiversifYA: KK Hendin

  1. *applauds* This is exaaaactly what my own DiversifYA would’ve read like, with one year spent in Israel instead of two. Just, ALL OF THESE THINGS YES THESE THINGS.

  2. A whole lot of awesomeness in this post

  3. “how many words were part of my vocabulary that just were not English, no matter how much I thought they were” I know that feeling when I was younger throwing in Arabic words.

    And great advice, thanks!! Salaam/shalom (-:

  4. Kale – love it!

    Great interview – thank you for sharing!