You can catch Molly Kaye, 23, drawing your hands as you wait at Penn Station.
The Long Island native lives downtown, working at Beth Am Synagogue’s Jewish Discovery Lab. She hopes to start a full-time teaching job in Baltimore City Public Schools, while maintaining her current responsibilities. She volunteers with Jewish Volunteer Connection and Repair the World Baltimore.
Her goals right now include becoming an art teacher, getting her books published, making more art, and adopting a dog from a rescue shelter as soon as she can financially support one.
What does your Jewish identity mean to you?
It is my first connection to something bigger. It’s my first connection to community and its values of togetherness, a shared history, really good-yet-fattening food, and everyone knowing different versions of the same song. It’s diversity within a commonality — more so in Baltimore than any community I have ever been in.
Starting in Baltimore, I came to study illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I found Beth Am by walking around the block. I went to their Purim [party] and there were so many Jews of color. There was so much diversity.
Why do you like art?
Growing up, I saw the power of stories. About a year ago, it dawned on me that not everyone likes listening to hours of historical podcasts or documentaries, so I decided to try to make history fun. Now I am working on my third kids book in my Young Archeology
Society series, about the Byzantine Empire. The first book is a find-it book, like “Where’s Waldo?” but it’s where is Cleopatra’s home? [My character designs are] heavily influenced by late ‘90s PBS kids shows, like “Cyberchase” or “Mythquest.”
I’ve also been working on the “Wondering Doodle,” which is a visual journalism experience, based on how I see the world through interviews with people on the street, to explore the world in more detailed ways, and just show how beautiful walking down a street is.
One really fun conversation I had was when I worked in an archaeology museum in Jerusalem. After work, me and my American friend would walk with our sketchbooks, until 2 a.m. some days. One day we were sitting in the Old City and we saw a Palestinian and a Hasidic Jew talking. We could only pick up on a few things, but it looked like they were angry. Maybe foolishly, we decided to draw them in their poses. After a few minutes, they recognized there were two crazy American girls. They started screaming at us, “What are you doing?” but [we could only] understand elementary Hebrew. I went, “I’m sorry, we’re artists, you both looked so beautiful in your discussion,” and after being mildly annoyed with us, they looked at our sketchbook and went from being angry to focused on the art. It felt so great and terrifying at the same time.
Why do you teach?
I love the connections I can make with my students.
One of my favorite moments has to be when we were doing a sketchbook project with fifth graders. I was trying to let them in on the idea of visual journalism, also on the idea that art can be just a sketchbook, it doesn’t have to be a Mona Lisa. So when we were doing that, I had one student who was deadset on drawing himself as a ninja. At first, I was trying to push him to observational drawing skill. So first, he drew himself as he was going to school. And next to him in the same way he drew himself but in ninja clothes. So we learned how to go with expectations and then branch off and justify them. That is a necessary skill set — being able to fit into expectations but then use your own voice. If your voice is a ninja, more power to you!
Another memory was my first year teaching at the Beth Am discovery lab. … I had two brothers who completely fell in love with photography. One kid was in second grade and the other was in like fourth grade. They both fell in love with it so much that the older brother got a job and saved up for a DSLR [camera]. Today, they’ve been taking photos of the marches in Baltimore. They’re still really into photography. This was my first time teaching and on day two, I had two students who already fell in love with it.