Mattie Kahn, 31, is a writer whose work has been published in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Vogue, Elle, Glamour and more. She’s won two Front Page Awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York, most recently for her feature in the Atlantic on Arthur Kahn, the first Jewish person killed in the Holocaust, who was also her great-uncle. Kahn’s first book, “Young and Restless: The Girls Who Sparked America’s Revolutions” will be out in June; recently, the Upper West Sider generated a lot of buzz for her Vogue piece on what she’s dubbed the “Torah-teacher aesthetic.”
For the full list of this year’s “36ers” — which honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community — click here.
Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?
I was educated at Ramaz in New York for over a decade. It doesn’t get much more formative than that. But also: I am the daughter of a mother and father who have hosted between 15 and 30 people for Shabbat lunch each week for their entire adult lives. South of The Kosher Marketplace [at 90th Street and Broadway] and north of the train station on 72nd, it feels safe to estimate that around 30% of residents have attended one at some point or another. That culture of hosting and eating together and spending long hours talking about art and literature and the contents of People magazine (our other Torah) shaped me.
How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?
The two are inseparable. Jews are natural reporters: We love asking questions, pestering, never taking no for an answer. I don’t think all Jews love gossip (we’re not supposed to, I know), but I do, and being a yenta has served me well as a writer and a chronicler of ideas and movements. I have increasingly written about my own Jewish identity, from exploring the divergent memory cultures in America and Germany for Vox, to writing about my great-uncle Arthur Kahn and the Holocaust for the Atlantic, to setting the world of Jewish educators aflutter with my ode to what I call “Torah-teacher aesthetic” for Vogue.
Who is your New York Jewish hero?
She died in 1998, but Bella Abzug forever. A pioneering New Yorker, Jew and feminist, with a great sense of humor and powerful accessories collection.
What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?
Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side, but nothing will ever replace the Ratner’s-sized hole in my heart.
What is your favorite book about New York?
Vivian Gornick’s “Fierce Attachments.” A top-five book of all time.
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In one sentence, what was your best experience as a Jewish New Yorker?
Once, at a restaurant downtown, I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal finishing her meal with a friend when Jake Gyllenhaal, her brother, happened to walk in for his own dinner. When the two saw each other and hugged, the entire restaurant clapped. He was wearing a Russ & Daughters shirt. Jewish parents the world over were kvelling.
How can people follow you online?
mattiekahn.com has all the book links. I’m also @matkahn on Instagram and @mattiekahn on Twitter.
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