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I remember standing with a few friends after my oldest son was born. We were talking, as new mothers do, about how hard parenting can be, how scary. We were comparing neurotic-helicopter-mom moments, laughing at ourselves.
I shared a story about taking my son to the doctor when he seemed to have a fever. âHis temperature is high!â Iâd cried to the pediatrician, who only chuckled knowingly and said, âWell, maybe you want to unwrap some of these blankets when heâs indoors.â Of course my son was fine, just overheated.
I blushed telling this story. My friends grinned. They had the same stories, of course.Â About cutting food up (choking hazards!) into tiny bits too small for the kids to actually pick up. About perceived rare (thanks, WebMD!) skin conditions that turned out to only be heat rash.
But I remember, in the middle of all the laughter that day, someone said, âWell, who can blame us? Itâs the âJewish Mother Thing.â Weâre supposed to be anxious and neurotic!Â Itâs in our DNA!â The laughter continued, and then we probably all had some coffee, or wine.
As the years have passed (10 of them), Iâve gone back to that moment a lot. Because it turns out that as a parent, Iâm not especially neurotic. Iâm the mom who often shows up with junky snacks, when other people have baked gluten-free, organic muffins. Iâm the mom whose kids shower once a week. My boys walk around the neighborhood unattended, own pocketknives and occasionally we forget to eat dinner.
Do these things mean Iâm not a Jewish mother? Of course stereotypes are flawed, inexact, problematic. But when I joined a Jewish Mom group on Facebook and saw the effort other Jewish parents put into the details of summer camp selection, perfect birthday cupcakes and finding the best specialists, I found myself wondering, and feeling a littleâŚ different. Outside the norm.
It never occurred to me until I saw so many Jewish Mothers all in one place that I might not be one, in the traditional sense. But of course this is absolutely logical, because I never had a Jewish Mother. My own overworked mom, raised Catholic in Californiaâregularly left me at the library until after the doors were locked (it was fine, I sat and read on the steps). She didnât make kugel and she didnât speak in Yiddishisms. I rode public buses and did my homework (or didnât) without anyone ever looking at it. I survived, and learned, I guess, how to parent a little haphazardly, with spit and tape. I learned how fine things usually are, in the end. I learned to avoid stress whenever possible.
But does this mode of parenting make me somehow less Jewish?
Hereâs the thingâI am a Jewish mother. I know I am. Because Iâm raising Jewish sons. And maybe what the rising intermarriage rates suggest is that weâre going to see a shift in the âJewish Mother Thingâ in the near future. Maybe the next generation of Jewish mothers, raised themselves by women from a more diverse array of religions, regions and cultures, will be less similar, less careful, a little less neurotic. Because they donât have this âJewish Motherâ stereotype in their heads.
Or maybe not! Maybe all mothers are anxious sometimes and the âJewish Mother Thingâ is a fiction, a narrative weâve crafted as a culture, a way of embracing and forgiving ourselves for our neurotic maternal impulses; a myth we perpetuate.
In any case, I want to take a moment today to honor us all.. This week, for Mothersâ Day, I want to say to ALL the Jewish Mothers of the world, Yasher Koach! Good job on your perfectionism, or your relaxed attitude. Good job on the homemade cupcakes, or the Ho-Ho you stuck a candle in at the last minute. Good job on remembering the dental appointment, or forgetting and rescheduling it because you took the kids for a hike that day instead. Good job on raising a diverse world of wonderful Jewish kids who will strengthen and alter and carry on our tradition. Iâm proud of us all.
Since the new Bravo reality show Princesses: Long Island began a few weeks ago, many blogs have popped up in the Jewish and secular media berating the show and the network for its portrayal of Long Island Jewish women. The bloggersâ responses range from horror to amused disgust to acceptance. JTA has a whole guide to blogs about the show.
If you havenât seen the show, itâs about six twenty-something Jewish Long Islanders who live with their parents, agonize over finding a husband to take care of them, and for the most part, do not work. They seem to have been encouraged to make Judaism a big part of the show, as they are constantly touting how Jewish their lifestyle is and making a scene over drinking Manischewitz and eating Shabbat dinner.
This all might sound harmless and hardly cause for alarm, if it werenât for the fact that the women on the show are so horribly over the top in their dependency on their parents, men and money. More than that, they actively promote stereotypes about Judaism, and explicitly say that their lifestyle is typically âJewishâ and âLong Island,â when thereâs nothing typical about anything they say or do.
When one cast member says that sheâs a Reform Jew, which means âWeâre not that Jewish,â what is someone who doesnât know the difference supposed to think?
You may ask, if thereâs so much already out there about this nonsense, why bother adding to the mix? Because I learned this lesson well: When something is happening that is damaging to Jews, or any ethnic/religious group, I have a responsibility to speak out. Am I being melodramatic? I donât think New York Congressman Steve Israel (who represents the part of Long Island where the show is filmed) would think so. Yup, heâs blogged about it too:
âMuch to my dismay, the characters on the show spewed gross generalizations about the living and dating habits of unmarried Jewish women. And the stereotyping didn’t stop there. In the latest episode, the characters get together for a Shabbat dinner, an important tradition in the Jewish faith and culture. As a Jew, I can say with confidence that this dinner was exactly the opposite of what the sacred Sabbath dinner is supposed to be. But for those watching unfamiliar with the holy meaning of the Jewish Sabbath, it is shown in the worst way possible, with excessive drinking and fighting.â
Thank you, Steve. Because I found the response of Emily Shire, on The Forwardâs Sisterhood blog more than a little offensive. Maybe because she says sheâs familiar with the types of girls portrayed on the show from her own Long Island youth, sheâs now desensitized to their behavior. But I canât really accept her passivity on the subject: âI wish I could rally more ire for this show and be more outraged, but I can only shrug and watch with the same curiosity I approach other reality shows.â
While I can understand Shire does not find the show shocking, she has to imagine the repercussions it has on viewers with less familiarity with this small, not-at-all representative group of Jewish Long Islanders. Shire admits that she worries that people will think of the cast as models of Jewish women, but then she refers to Jersey Shore and says: âEven when I thought little of the cast, I never thought of it as an overall reflection of Italian-Americans, and anyone who thought six twenty-somethings on MTV spoke for an entire ethnic group was probably already going to be unfairly judgmental and somewhat racist.â
Does that make it OK?
What Shire is missing is the large population of our country (never mind the population of viewers in other countries who have access to the show) who know nothing about Judaism. Whether the viewer is judgmental or not, this is not the first glimpse of my religion I want them to see.
Imagine if you are a Jew dating someone who is not Jewish, who perhaps knows very little about your religion. I for one would feel embarrassed if he or his parents watched this show. And while you have probably introduced your wife who is not Jewish to your culture, does it help you to welcome her into your faith when the stereotype that stands out about Jewish women is that theyâre spoiled, ignorant gold-diggers?
To give you a taste, in the very first episode, one cast member asks to be carried to her car after a mani/pedi (by someone who works at the shop) because she refuses to walk in shoes without heels.
Of course the other side of the argument is that all of this buzz weâre creating around the show is only bringing it attention, and probably more viewers. Joe Winkler suggests on JTA that âMaybe, instead of taking up arms in boycott, we could do a lot more by just looking the other way and waiting for them to shrivel into obscurity.â And while that might be true, Iâm with Israel, who says:
âI will not silently tolerate a show that paints Jewish women on Long Island with all-too-familiar and painful stereotypesâmoney-hungry, superficial, Jewish-American Princesses.â
Because I want Bravo to think again before airing another season of this show, or producing any other show that promotes such a negative stereotype of any religion or ethnicity.
I’m curious what other people think? Did you watch the show? If you are less familiar with Judaism, what did you think of how the cast portrayed the religion?