Please welcome today's honored guest poster, author Jane Isenberg. Jane wrote the prize winning memoir Going by the Book (Bergin & Garvey) and The Bel Barrett Mystery Series (Avon/HarperCollins). She earned degrees from Vassar College, Southern Connecticut State College, and New York University and taught English for nearly forty years, first in high school and later in community college. Now retired from teaching, she writes in Issaquah, Washington where she lives with her husband Phil Tompkins. Visit her web site www.JaneIsenberg.com and her blog www.notestomymuses.wordpress.com.
I know from Jewish mothers. I had one. I am one, and my daughter is one. And, like other moms, we're all different. And we're different from the stereotypical portrayals of Jewish moms as monomaniacal, over-protective, overbearing, and manipulative that I read about and saw on TV in the Forties and Fifties. Lest you think that tired stereotype went the way of the felt poodle skirt, listen to the gravely rasp of Mrs. Wolowitz, Howard Wolowitz’s constipated and controlling mom on The Big Bang Theory. Today this time-worn trope seems wrong, an outdated “oops” which I point out in the spirit of this week’s theme.
Resolved to avoid perpetuating this stereotype myself, I invented Rachel Mazursky, a Jewish mother who is an individual in her own right as well as a creature of her time. A recent widow, Rachel is one of the narrators of The Bones and the Book. She translates and shares with the reader the Yiddish diary found with the bones of a long-dead immigrant woman in 1965 Seattle. Moved by the murdered diarist’s story, Rachel works hard to figure out who killed her.
At 45 and with her daughter Marsha far away at college, Rachel is no Sophie Portnoy. Rather, she’s an empty nester with an empty bed and a prescription for The Pill. She’s also smart, resourceful, college educated, and eager to return to the classroom where she used to teach history to high school students. Unlike the stereotypical force-feeding Jewish mother, Rachel’s not much of a cook and seldom foists food on anyone. She’s not overprotective either although her husband was. When he argued against his “baby girl” going to an eastern college, Rachel fought him and won. But although she’s not over-protective, Rachel is sensible and makes sure Marsha knows about The Pill before the girl leaves home. In another blow to the stereotype, mother and daughter reverse roles when Marsha discovers that Rachel has a lover. The daughter lays a full-blown guilt trip on her mom for what Marsha sees as a terrible betrayal of her father’s memory.
And unlike the much mocked Jewish mom who threatens to self-destruct if her progeny dates a non-Jew, when Rachel learns that Marsha is involved with a Protestant, she doesn't present any obstacles to the relationship. But although she often works on the Sabbath and eats non-kosher food, Rachel is still close to god whom she questions, prays to, nags, and thanks at her convenience. Living in a time and place where assimilation is a popular option, Rachel is conscious of her family’s gradual departure from the strictures of Orthodox Judaism. As a historian, she’s aware that she’s not an immigrant like her own mother. Rachel is an insider, an American Jew and a modern American woman with a life of her own that includes but is not limited to her family and her faith. She’s got choices. No wonder she doesn't feel like kvetching anymore.