Since Judy Gold forgot to interview me for her explosively successful Broadway-and-all-over-da-place one woman show and book, I thought I’d answer her 25 Questions for A Jewish Mother anyway, just ’cause.
You can tag any other Jewish mother with this meme, too! But make sure they link back here so I can see what an aberrance I am!
1. What makes a Jewish mother different from a non-Jewish mother?
I can only speak for myself, but after eating out several times recently it appears that what makes me different than non-Jewish mothers is the insistence that my children use table manners.
2. Who is your favorite famous Jewish woman?
Amy Winehouse. Just kidding! No, I’ve always adored Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand because they wear their Jewishness so proudly and glamorously; it gave me nachas as a little girl to know I could be loud, proud and successful.
3. Do you approve of your children’s choices?
Since they’re only 4 and almost 8, they rarely make choices that I can’t correct with the threat of no dessert for a week. But as far as life choices, I don’t care what they do as long as they support themselves.
4. Would your life have taken a different turn if your hadn’t had kids?
Well, isn’t this a silly question? I would be a famous novelist with a fat Manhattan apartment and closet full of expensive shoes – der.
5. What’s your biggest regret?
There’s still time to accumulate bigger ones, but mostly that we cannot seem to get a sukkah up in the backyard year after year.
6. What’s the best piece of advice your mother ever gave you?
Never go into business with friends.
7. Who is your favorite woman in the Bible?
Miriam. She could smell water and she could shake her timbrel like nobody’s business.
8. Who did you name your children after and why?
Abraham Lightning was supposedly named after my husband’s grandfather whose name was Herman so I’m still unclear on the connection, but there’s no question this child needed this name. His middle name came from a similarly strange situation going on in my beloved’s brain: It was supposed to be “Barack”, which is Hebrew for “lightning,” but El Yenta Man decided to write the English down on the birth certificate and it stuck.
Liberty Ruth was named after my great-grandmother Lillian as well as our wish to reclaim the term “liberty” from the schmucks who have tainted it with their neo-con nonsense. Since her brother has a biblical-hippie moniker, we wanted to balance her hippie name with a Torah reference, and since there are grandmothers on both sides named Ruth, her middle name was easy.
9. How important is it for your children and/or grandchildren to be raised Jewish?
Very, very important, though the level of observance isn’t as important as them learn to value family, education, humor, art and a personal relationship with the Divine. The hardest part of this is that I feel deeply responsible for helping my children and my future grandchildren develop a strong, positive Jewish identity. I always tell the kids in my Sunday School class: Being Jewish makes you special, but not any more special than anyone else.
I may be taking the reinforcing a tad too much: Some random person at the mall told my little girl last week that she was pretty and she said, “Yes, I am pretty. Pretty AND Jewish.”
10. Are you kosher?
It depends on who’s asking, but I don’t think I’d make a good stew, even if I was slaughtered halachically. Heh.
I don’t eat pork but El Yenta Man will gleefully eat anything outside the home. And every Savannah Jew knows the Torah has a misprint when it comes to shrimp.
11. What do you think about men and women being separated at shul?
Even though I’ve never experienced it, I kind of like the idea since El Yenta Man is forever trying to feel me up during Rabbi Belzer’s sermons.
12. Do you find Judaism limiting or empowering?
My own personal, DIY Judaism allows me all the power I like – my relationship with God doesn’t need a synagogue or even the Torah – but I recognize the limits of my Jewish education. However, shaving my head and not shaking hands with any other men ain’t ever gonna be my bag. I don’t judge anyone’s choices, but from the outside, orthodoxy seems suffocating by its very definition.
13. Did you raise your sons differently from your daughters?
I have one of each, and the boy likes to wear his bubbe’s clip-on earrings occasionally and the girl can deliver a karate chop that could fell a professional wrestler. Of course I have to raise them differently – because they’re different people, not because they’re different genders.
14. What do you think of Bat Mitzvahs?
More tradition, less trashy party.
15. What do you think of women rabbis?
They f’kn rock, yo!
16. Why do you think Jewish mothers are the butt of so many jokes?
Because men are so intimidated by our strength and tenacity, they can only deflect their inferiority into stand-up comedy.
17. Would you sit shiva if your child married a non-Jew?
I would sit on the couch eating fried chicken and feeling sorry for myself for the ass-kicking I would be getting from my own mother, but shiva? Life’s too short. If my children love someone enough to marry them, I’ll come around eventually. And show up every Sabbath with challah.
18. What is Jewish mother guilt?
There are two kinds: The kind she gives and the kind she holds. I try not to give too much because I don’t find it an effective manipulative tool; threats work much better. The guilt we hold could be an extra chromosome that allows us to tap into the collective unconscious belief that the world is a really awful place and that somehow it’s our fault.
19. Do you have any stories from your mother or grandmother that you would like to share with us?
Well, there’s this one from my bubbe (may she rest in peace.) She used to make fabulous blintzes when I was very small, but I could never get the recipe out of her. She was born in Poland and spoke fluent Yiddish, but she never, ever went to shul and considered art her religion.
My mother is my dearest friend and someone I admire very much. She does more in one day than many people do in a lifetime – writes books, makes money, manages by father, shops for my kids. And she became a bat mitzvah at 60!
20. What is God to you?
I shall refer y’all to this poem I wrote on that very subject.
21. Were you or any of your relatives affected by the Holocaust?
My mother’s grandparents came to New York in the late 30’s, but the rest of my greatgrandmother’s wealthy Warsaw family was killed at Auschwitz. With all the older Jewish folks I hang around these days, I am surprised that there aren’t more Holocaust survivors among them. Sometimes I experience great sadness that mine will be the last generation to speak to survivors firsthand and I am grateful for all the work people have done to preserve their stories.
22. Are you a Zionist and what do you think about the situation in Israel?
I don’t know if I can call myself a Zionist and I’m always embarrassed that I don’t know more about “the situation” in Israel. I was more informed when I worked at a Jewish newspaper; now that I work at a women’s magazine, it’s mostly fashion info and Hillary Clinton that leak into my cranial periphery.
I visited for a summer in 1992 and have not been back, and I find many Israelis so “foreign” in their brashness and the way they take Judaism for granted. But anyone who says a critical word about Israel around me better be prepared to feel the wrath.
I don’t “think” so much about Israel as I feel protective of it.
23. Have you ever experienced anti-Semitism?
Not so much out-and-out hatred, but mostly in the form of ignorance. Last week I ran into some dipshit mother of one of Abe’s classmates who was talking about something and then stopped and said “Oh that’s right, you people don’t believe in God.”
And of course, there’s the Kike Cake.
24. How many times a day do you call your children/mother?
My kids call me at work or on my cell a few times a day and I talk to my mom every day in spite of a three-hour time difference, y’know, just to kibbitz. I LOVE UNLIMITED LONG DISTANCE.
25. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do as a mother?
The bris wasn’t exactly a good time, and I breastfed them both until they were way past 2. And lately handling their dirty socks requires a gas mask. Mostly I’ve been blessed with situations that I can handle (except when there’s even a drop of blood involved; then I faint and El Yenta Man takes over.)
My children aren’t teenagers yet; ask me again when Abe learns to drive.