JFN’s New Central Metrowest Connector
by Julie Wolf, JFN Newsletter Editor
JFN is thrilled to welcome Nissa Weiss as our new connector to the Central area of Metrowest (Framingham, Natick, Ashland and Southboro). After traveling the globe and calling numerous places home, Nissa and her husband, Ken, decided to put down roots in Framingham, where they live with their three children, Annais, Kiyan, and Kyla. Here, Nissa — teacher, musician, writer, and current stay-at-home mom — talks about her background and her personal connection to Judaism, the importance of Hebrew in her life and her home, and the hazards of transliteration.
You were born in Argentina, but you moved to Israel as a child, correct? And then Ireland also figures into the picture somehow. Details, please!
My mother, a good Jewish girl, and my father, a Catholic Italian, met in the theater cathedral of Cordoba’s university. Those were the ’60s, and being bohemian was part of the game. So they fell in love and had [me and] my brother, and a private theater — yes, with a stage and shows and all that — in the city of Cordoba, Argentina. I guess the bohemian style was “mother’s milk” for me, hence the gypsy need to travel and meet people.
I was lucky enough to find a partner that shares the same fascination. We love the world, and we love traveling it! So once in a while, Ken, my husband, who gets work offers regularly from around the world (high tech — what else?), will tell me about a nice place which can be interesting to live in, and there we go — an adventure! We managed to see India, Ireland, New York, Israel, England, and more. But we actually lived in Israel, New York, Ireland, and here. Funny enough, we had a child in every continent. …
How would you describe your experience of living in a country like Ireland, which has such a tiny Jewish population? Was “feeling Jewish” important to you at the time?
We had the Chabad community (with the amazing Rabbi Zalman Lent!) and a tiny Israeli community to turn to when Jewish holidays came around. … But in regard to “feeling Jewish,” I must say, we never felt the need to have Jewish people surrounding us in order to feel Jewish. it is a very intimate thing, that relationship we have with the tradition. We always regarded it as an internal family feature, especially due to the fact that we make our own tradition as we go because of the beauty in Jewish life, which is ever-changing. That gives it the ability to mold itself back into family life rather than being [solely] a religious notion. Oh, and just to compliment the Irish, we always felt at home; they are wonderful people that, [in our experience], adore anything to do with Israel!
When did you move to the States, and why? How long have you lived in Framingham? Do you still like the idea of moving around a lot, or now that you’re a parent, do you prefer the idea of staying in one place, in one community, for a while?
Moving to the States came due to a great opportunity for Ken to work at MathWorks. We feel very blessed to have come to Framingham. The community here has been amazing. So has the Jewish community. We found an education system that is nothing short of excellent, people that are welcoming and always around to lend a helping hand, and that is more than enough to stay for a while. Of course, having three kids in school also affects our choice, and as any parents, we feel that kids thrive when in a consistent environment. Having said that, I also believe in educating for resilience, and moving as much as we did surely has made our kids masters of adaptation.
Your family is trilingual. Many of us can barely manage one language! What language do you speak most at home, and what language do the kids speak most?
At home we try to speak only Hebrew, as it’s a hard language and we feel it’s crucial to have the spoken foundation for it. At school the kids learn 80 percent of the time in Spanish. … At home we also speak English, but my kids know that if I turn to Hebrew, they’d better listen!
How did you become involved in Jewish Family Network? I remember meeting you and your family after Mitzvah Day last year, in May of 2010, but then I didn’t see you again for several months. What made you come to playgroup? This is something I’ve always wondered: What makes people decide one day, “I think I’m going to try out JFN and see what it’s about”?
We arrived in Framingham knowing nothing of the Jewish community or, for that matter, other communities. So, like every 21st-century [family], we Google! We came across wonderful people like Risa Werblin at the MWJDS [MetroWest Jewish Day School], Rabbi Don Splansky at [Temple] Beth Am, and Cantor Scott Sokol of [Temple] Beth Sholom, who referred us to the Jewish resources in the Metrowest.
One of those is JFN, which I think is the largest community base for everybody, including interfaith couples and nonreligious people. … JFN offers a real fun and no-strings-attached kind of relationship, which appeals to the highly active (not to say overactive…) family life that a normal modern family conducts. I feel that the true meaning of JFN is to connect and, through that, offer the resources all of us need as a family.
I think that JFN is accessible to people like me, and that is what made me come. After that first time, it was easy to connect, because of you (don’t blush!) and the other wonderful people I met through the playgroup. That made me very involved to a point [where] I feel the need to share and spread the word.
And now the burning question: What is the correct spelling of your name?! Have you adopted different spellings to make it easier to pronounce for your American friends?
Oh!!! So, my real name is Niza Diantina, which you pronounce “Nissa Diantina.” At the time, while immigrating to Israel, the authorities used to [Hebraicize] all names, so my first name became Nitza, pronounced like “pizza.” As for the “Diantina,” my parents decided to change their last name into “Segal,” because it is a derivative of “purple,” which was close to my [grandmother’s] name, “Violet.” So I became Nitza Segal, but in all legal documentation had my name still spelled N-I-Z-A in Latin letters. So when I arrived in the States for the first time, I realized people called me “Ny-za,” like “Liza,” and that made me nuts. So I just spelled it “Nissa” and dropped the “Nitza” altogether, going back to my Argentinian roots….