Mara Kleinberg ’22 became enamored with the arts when she was very little. At age 5, she bragged to her parents that she saw actor Michael Richards on a busy New York City street. She remembers loving Disney Channel programming such as “Hannah Montana” “High School Musical” and “Camp Rock” so much that her teachers literally wrote home about it.
“At my elementary school, which specialized in teaching neurodivergent children, my teachers once wrote a report about how I would not stop talking about pop culture, specifically the Disney Channel,” she said.
In some ways, Kleinberg, a Brooklyn native, said it seemed like she was born to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. She and her father, a pop culture fiend whose love for music and entertainment impressed those interests upon her at an early age, had been participating in school musicals, plays and theater camps for most of her life. It was in these spaces that she found community and felt seen, she said.
When Kleinberg entered Mount Holyoke as a first-year student, she hoped to continue to build upon that community. She was excited to be around individuals who shared her interests and also took their academics seriously.
“Mount Holyoke is a really special place,” Kleinberg said. “I’ve been able to find true community here through Mount Holyoke jazz vocals, radio and even by working with a local theater company.” In addition to her cocurricular activities , Kleinberg found her footing in the Film Media Theater department and declared her major with a goal of joining the entertainment industry.
As she began contemplating life after college, she considered other ways of making her voice heard, specifically her writing. Enter Alma, a Jewish feminist website that publishes articles about pop culture, news, identity and faith through a Jewish lens.
This year Kleinberg was selected to be one of Alma’s 19 writing fellows, a 10-month program that is open to Jewish college students around the world.
“We meet once a month and get opportunities to connect with other people in the Jewish writing sector. Having a Jewish community of writers is interesting because it shows that we’re everywhere,” Kleinberg said. “There’s a fellow that goes to Oxford and someone from Australia. It offers another perspective on what it means to be Jewish in these different parts of the world.”
So far Kleinberg’s writing for the outlet has focused on highlighting pop culture icons in Hollywood who identify as Jewish or have Jewish ancestry, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Timothée Chalamet and Zoë Kravitz.
In addition to connecting with other Jewish writers, Kleinberg has found that writing for Alma has given her an opportunity to explore her faith more deeply.
“It’s been a great way to connect with off-campus support because as Jewish college students, it can be difficult to deal with so much antisemitism on campuses,” she said. Mount Holyoke College isn’t immune to the rise of antisemitism on college campuses. Recently Patriot Front stickers were found on campus, and a Nazi swastika was carved into a mirror in a residence hall.
“It’s been nice to share our experiences about facing antisemitism at our own universities and how we process that. It’s helped me realize I’m not the only one,” Kleinberg said.
When she’s not writing for Alma or working toward finishing her film degree, Kleinberg is often drafting interview questions and sourcing musical talent for Mount Holyoke’s Live at Five Radio hour. A spin-off of her winter 2021 show Manischewitz with Mara, the Live at Five show on 91.5 FM is a platform for her to spotlight musical artists and to bring their work to her audience.
Cass Sever, visiting instructor in sociology, remembers Kleinberg as particularly focused on bringing her studies into the studio.
“Mara often returned to class excited to express how she applied her sociological knowledge in her radio show or in an interview with a guest on her show,” Sever said. “She is so interested in how the world works, and constantly focuses on marginalized communities, and how she might integrate and consider diverse perspectives.”
Kleinberg says the support she’s received from professors such as Sever while attending Mount Holyoke has been paramount to her success and willingness to step outside her comfort zone. She remembers how she had been nervous about how she might fit in at the college and if the size would be the right fit for her.
Now Kleinberg has replaced her worries with newfound confidence and belief in herself, which she brings to her work at Alma. “I think about how different I was when coming here versus who I am now. I’ve been able to open up, meet new people and try new things,” she said. “As somebody with a language-based learning disability and ADHD, it’s been awesome coming here and seeing how far I’ve come. Mount Holyoke’s tight-knit, encouraging community has allowed me to come out of my shell and realize I do deserve to be here and go after anything I want.”