36 Under 36 2009: Michelle Citrin, 28
Friday, April 24, 2009

After college she started touring as a musician, and she visited Israel on a Birthright trip, which she credits for the Jewish themes that began to seep into her folk music. Back in America and on the road, she visited places like Nebraska and South Dakota, where many people had never met Jews. "People gasped when I said I was Jewish; they were looking for the horns," she says. Ultimately, though, she was happy to be open about her Judaism: "I was a reference point for people, and I welcomed it."

Last year, Birthright called on her to do a Rosh Hashannah greeting video. She and her video partner, William Levin, decided to do a spoof of the "Obama Girl," video, featuring a sexy girl singing about her crush on the then-candidate. When "Rosh Hashannah Girl" was posted on YouTube, it got thousands of hits in the first week, then thousands more, eventually garnering more than 550,000 views and catapulting Citrin into a new stratosphere of fame. "People came up to me on the subway pointing their fingers – you’re Rosh Hashannah girl! I’d only ever been Michelle," she says, still clearly overwhelmed.

They followed it up with "20 Things to Do with Matzah," "bridging the gap between my music life over here and my Jewish life over here," says Citrin, gesturing with her hands in a Prospect Heights coffee shop near her home.

Citrin wears a thumb ring with the famous quotation from Pirkei Avot in Hebrew: "if not now, when?" Though her music and audience are thoroughly Jewish, she is reluctant to put herself in any one box. "Am I a Jewish musician?" she asks rhetorically. "I’m still figuring that out."

Claim to Fame: She has only nine adult teeth, a phenomenon that landed her in dental journals. Next project: An album, titled "Left Brain, Right Hearted," about the struggle between logic and heart.

 

Staff Writer

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