By Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic
Like much of the Jewish world, we were excited by last year’s hit show, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” We enjoy a good period piece, especially one set in the 1950s. All those pink wool dresses with matching hats! The old V8 luxury coupes! B. Altman’s cosmetics! We loved seeing Jewish family life portrayed on screen and getting the inside jokes and cultural references. Much of Season 1 rang true.
Season 2? Not so much. When we tried to pin down exactly what was bugging us, we realized it was the Jewish aspect of the show that had gone off the rails.
We love to see Jewish culture, holidays and family life depicted authentically in books, movies and on TV. When writers poke fun at members of the tribe we usually laugh right along.
We’re not easily offended; we love a good fight over babka as much as the next guy (see “Seinfeld,” The Dinner Party). But when Jewish culture is exaggerated to the point of caricature and stereotypes, it makes us mad. Here are 10 ways Mrs. Maisel is doing just that. (There are spoilers for those who haven’t finished the show.)
10. That’s not funny.
When Abe Weissman inadvertently sees Midge’s stand-up act at the Concord in August, he orders her not to tell her mother that she’s a comedian. He’ll decide when the time is right, and it won’t be after Labor Day. “You don’t want to ruin to your mother’s Chanukah,” he says.
No Jewish adult would ever say such a thing. We know that Chanukah is a holiday for the kids. It’s the outside world that equates the emotional importance of Christmas with Chanukah.
If Abe had said, “Don’t upset your mom right before Passover,” we would have agreed, because Passover demands more than buying presents and frying latkes. Passover is the holiday that makes housewives crazy; it means cleaning the chometz out of the kitchen, finding a bottle of Manischewitz Concord Grape before the shelves are bare, and deciding whether to invite Uncle Lou’s lady friend to the seder.
9. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
Moishe Maisel (Midge’s ex-father-in-law) owns a ladies dress factory. He’s in the rag trade like many of his landsmen. He’s participated in some less-than-honest business practices. But is the scene where he is holding a phone to each ear and screaming “You shmuck” and “You putz” into each receiver really necessary? His mother would have washed his mouth out with soap.
8. Minks gave their lives for this?
Shirley Maisel (Midge’s ex-mother-in-law) wears her mink coat 24/7 in August in the Catskills. Sure, fur coats were a status symbol for Jewish women in the ’50s; they’d wear a mink stole out to dinner on Saturday night even if the restaurant wasn’t fancy. We have aunts who would wear their fur coat to High Holiday services in September — even in the midst of a heat wave. But these women would never wear a fur coat poolside. Nor would they exclaim, “Oy, I’m shvitzing in this mink coat” while refusing to take it off. Their fur coats spent the summer season in cold storage, not in the Catskills.
7. Step away from the buffet.
Most Jews we know fast one day a year — on Yom Kippur. So when Midge’s sister-in-law Astrid, a convert to Judaism, announced that she wasn’t eating because it’s Tisha b’Av, we were surprised. How did she even know about this holiday that less religious Jews don’t often observe? Astrid sat at breakfast with an empty plate, watching everyone else eat from the enormous buffet. She complained that she was going to faint from hunger. If someone were truly observant and fasting, wouldn’t they attend services, take a walk by the lake or at least get away from the buffet?
6. Going back for thirds?
And that breakfast buffet! Bubbes beg their kids to take another helping of brisket and kugel because a child with chubby pulkes is cute and healthy. But Moishe, a grown-up, should know better. His overflowing plate was just cartoonish: Eggs piled on waffles piled on bacon piled on pancakes balanced on bread. If he actually tried to eat from his leaning tower of food, it would collapse. Serves him right for being such a chazer (glutton) at the buffet.
5. How do you say that?
Mispronouncing and misusing Yiddish words is one of our pet peeves. The one that stuck out most this season is when Abe asked, “Are you going to KEH-vetch about it?” Oy! Kvetch (to complain) is one syllable, pronounced almost like “fetch.” The initial “k” just slides in. There are other instances of this in the show, but if you made us search through the episodes again, we’d kvetch.
4. Do you have a cough drop?
In Season 1, we discovered that Shirley carries matzah meal in her purse; she pulled it out when she went to Midge and Joel’s for Yom Kippur dinner. In Season 2, Rose Weissman reveals that she carries matzah ball soup in her purse. Whaaat? We’ve known a lot of Jewish mothers who cram their purse with essentials, but matzah products are not on the list. A real Jewish grandmother would carry an embroidered hanky, hard candies, cough drops, a clear plastic rain bonnet, a mirrored lipstick case and a pill bottle stuffed with and assortment of Bufferin, Dristan and antacids.
3. The Rabbi RSVPed.
Inviting the rabbi to Yom Kippur breakfast? Again, oy! There is a grain of truth in that many families would be honored if their rabbi came to dinner, but not at the end of Yom Kippur. On this day, everyone is grumpy and stressed from going without coffee and lunch. Inviting the rabbi to join your family is just asking for something to go wrong. And Rose Weismann bragging about her coup of snagging the rabbi? It’s not very kosher. In real life, the rabbis we know break the fast with a quick bite in their office with their family, because it’s 8 p.m. by the time they’re done. They’re exhausted and want to go home.
2. Where’s the bagels and lox?
And while we’re on the breakfast meal — who chose leg of lamb? When we fast for the holiday, the evening meal is our “first” meal of the day, and breakfast foods like bagels and lox, eggs, blintzes and juice are what we look forward to. It’s traditional to eat these milchig foods, which are easier on the tummy. And these days, with vegans, clean eating and free-range everything, the only lamb we’ve seen people eat is the broiled, bite-sized chops that make the rounds during fancy-shmancy cocktail hours.
1. Midge, who’s minding the kids?
And our No. 1 problem with Midge Maisel? Her invisible children! How does a Jewish mother forget that she has children? A real Jewish mother — and we should know — would be handing out snacks and fastening seat belts right and left. Our kids are the center of our lives. Yes, we know Midge is immature — she’s a married woman who lives at home rent free with her family’s maid cooking her dinner every night. Yes, we realize the invisible children are a plot device, but it still bothers us. Midge Maisel never walks her kids to school. She never plays a game, watches TV or eats a meal with her kids. She never kvells about their accomplishments. Why were they written into the script in the first place?
Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic write together as the Word Mavens. They are the authors of the “Dictionary of Jewish Words” and “The Whole Spiel: Funny essays about digital nudniks, seder selfies and chicken soup memories.” They can be reached via thewordmavens.com.