This blog mentions tv a lot, I’m starting to realize. There are a couple of reasons for that. First is that I currently can’t work due to visa restrictions, so I spend a lot of time with the tv during the day, because when you’re alone in a house, tv is good company. But also, I love tv. Living in England is about a billion times easier than living in France was, if only because I can have my comfort tv, and I can understand it all. I get to see the shows I love best from America, and experience the awesomeness that is British television (cue laughter from the Brits reading this blog). Also, I get to watch the new season of Downton Abbey months earlier than I would in the States.
The newest British reality offering that has caught my attention is a reality show called “Jewish Mum of the Year.” Like most reality shows, it does what it says on the box–Mums show off their Jewishness, and presumably get crowned for having the most chutzpah. This show makes me homesick, but also puzzled.
I have to admit, the accents throw me. Obviously, as this show is produced in Britain, the ‘Mums’ all have British accents, which makes me realize that to me, if you’re showing stereotypically Jewish people, they have really thick New York accents, the kind where people pronounce things as gawgeous. To hear such very British accents seems very inherently bizarre.
I should point out that I know full well not every Jew has a super thick New York accent. I have plenty of Jewish friends who were born and bred in New York City, and plenty of them have very light accents or none at all. I’m referring more to the stereotype, the Mike Myers’ Linda Richman of “Cawfee Tawk.” By the same token, I also know plenty of New Yorkers who are not Jewish but who have that accent, like my mother. In reality, the culture does not necessarily go in the accent, but when you’re talking about a very stereotypical show, that’s what you’d expect after all.
Which really is the point of it–I’m not exactly sure why being a Jewish Mum is worthy of a reality show. To me, being Jewish is no source of novelty. I can’t even count the Jewish people I know, there are so many. I’m not Jewish myself, but I have Jewish relatives. I know Orthodox Jews who are careful to keep kosher and obey all the laws of the sabbath and cultural Jews who I’ve gone out with on Yom Kippur after they’ve eaten a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich (at least the eggs were parve). Even typing the word ‘Jewish’ so much seems weird to me, because it’s not something remarkable to me in the least.
I have long said that being a born and bred New Yorker means that you are a little bit Jewish, no matter your race or creed. My family will toss Yiddish phrases into our conversation on a daily basis, recounting our schlep on the subway and the putz who insisted on standing in front of the doors. Even my very vanilla white father uses it–when he took me and MR (who is the husband; I can’t think of a nickname, so initials it is) just after we got engaged, he ordered cognac after dinner and announced that he was going to see if MR was ‘mensch.’ I’m not exactly sure why being a good and admirable person is connected with drinking strong digestifs, but my father has a weak grasp of any foreign words–he used to call fajitas ‘frijatas’ for years. The point is more that he even thought to use the word.
My family hails from Italy four generations ago. Those four generations have created enough of a gulf that I feel much more comfortable with Jewish culture in New York than I do with modern Italian culture. I’ve been to temple and Passover seder; I know the traditions of a Jewish wedding and a bris, and I’ve been to a whole bunch of bar and bat mitzvahs. I’ve eaten Kosher; I’ve eaten kugel and chopped liver and snacked on matzoh. The numbers say this isn’t just my experience. Wikipedia tells me (using some strong sources), that New York City has a Jewish population of between 1.7 and 2.0 million, depending on whose statistics you use. That makes it the second biggest “Jewish population center” in the world, following only Tel Aviv. It’s also 9.1% of New York’s population. How could such a large group not leave a mark on nearly all the inhabitants of the city.
I love “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” because the culture of it is so completely foreign to me, and I blink in amazement as I learn about the values of this culture and what it’s about. I can’t quite understand why being a Jewish mother should get the same treatment. I haven’t lived in England long enough to say anything at all about the influence of Jews in this country. All I can say is that for me the reality show is meant to showcase the ‘other.’ Those Real Housewives, for example. I’ve never encountered anyone who lives like that. A Jewish mother? That’s just life.