Chana Shapiro doesn’t blend easily into a crowd. From the hippie multicolored petals and dots covering her 23-year-old station wagon to her red curls and I-never-met-a-stranger attitude, she’s no wallflower.
But if it wasn’t for her parents and teachers, she probably wouldn’t be as creative and hands-on as she is.
As a child growing up in the Midwest, including small towns, she won writing and art contests. Among them, she won $10 for a “Letter to Santa” contest sponsored by an Effingham, Ill., radio station.
Her English and arts teachers recognized her talent and pushed her. “It was always a teacher who said you need to do more, so I tried. I probably became a teacher because I knew that a teacher can make a big difference.”
Shapiro taught middle school English and art in New York, earning two master’s degrees in English and education before moving to Atlanta in 1976. She taught English at The Epstein School for six years. Later, she became program director at the Atlanta Jewish Community Center and then filled the same role at Congregation Beth Jacob.
Her longevity in Atlanta’s Jewish community, combined with her knack for writing, (often humorously and tongue-in-cheek), about her life’s adventures, makes her one of AJT’s go-to sources. Not to mention her annual Purim spoof, a reader favorite.
Shapiro started writing for the AJT in the 1980s. Before the internet, she hand-delivered her first article about a local artist to then-editor Vida Goldgar, who greeted her with feet propped on her desk smoking a cigarette.
Shapiro has been writing her column once a month for some 30 years, and the Purim spoof for about a decade. Similar to the classic “Seinfeld” sketch based on a TV show about nothing, Shapiro’s columns present a slice of life. When she experiences or hears something interesting, it becomes a column topic. “Really funny and surprising things happen to everybody,” she said.
Her columns have exposed her tendency to stockpile arts and crafts items, collect versions of the Statue of Liberty and her hobby as a flea market junkie. “If you need anything, I’ve got it.” But don’t make the mistake of labeling Shapiro a packrat. Just to set the record straight, “My house is not a mess. I’m very organized with everything.”
She credits her parents for her DIY attitude. “I grew up with the mantra, ‘If you can do it yourself, why pay someone else to do it?’ and ‘If something needs to be done, and you are the only one who can do it, leap to do it.’”
Her parents also instilled in her a love of reading. “I probably memorized the books they read me. I basically taught myself how to read.” She also developed a penchant for drawing by sketching in the books she read. “My fastidious mother never said, ‘Don’t draw in books.’ I was always reading and writing and making things.”
Once upon a time, Shapiro also illustrated her columns. One of her most popular ones, picked up by several publications, was the slumber party to celebrate her 40th birthday. “We watched the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and ate junk food. It struck people as an unusual thing to do.”
In addition to her columns, Shapiro and co-author, Meta Miller, recently finished “The Rabbi’s in Trouble,” the sequel to their 2015 “Fruitfly Rabbi,” (available on Amazon), previously featured at the Book Festival of the MJCCA. The question remains: Will we see a book of her columns in the future? Anything’s possible.