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Debunking the Jewish Mother Stereotype

The only thing they're guilty of is loving you too much.

by
Susan L.M. Goldberg

Bio

May 11, 2014 - 8:00 am

bevgoldbergsmother

What is wrong with my children? Why won’t they let me completely immerse myself in their lives?!

Beverly Goldberg, The Goldbergs

Last week, my husband and I fell over laughing at the best line in the entire first season of ABC’s The GoldbergsJust renewed for a second season, the autobiographical series created by Adam F. Goldberg (no relation) features, in his own words, “the orginial sMother” Beverly Goldberg, archetype of Jewish moms the world over. In his comic genius (complemented by Wendi McLendon-Covey’s masterful performance) Goldberg has managed to take a figure much-maligned over the past few decades and craft her into a clan leader who is as lovable as she is obnoxious.  With her ballsy, brash bravado, Beverly is the living, breathing Jewishness in a show otherwise lacking in Jewish culture. For The Goldbergs, Jewish is not about kashrut, holidays or simchas; it is about a mother who smothers her children with equal parts love, confidence, and overprotection.

Thanks to Freud and Friedan, Jewish moms have taken a beating over the past few decades. Friedan used her own mother’s discontent with being a housewife as the impetus for her brutal criticisms of motherhood and housewifery, going so far as to describe the latter using Holocaust imagery. What Friedan failed to note early on was the antisemitic influence on her mother’s behavior. Not only was her educated mother forced to become a housewife the minute she married, she was also the victim of lifelong antisemitic prejudice. This attitude, something internalized by both mother and daughter, would later come out in brute force through Friedan’s feminist critiques of the Jewish mother. It was a position that Friedan would eventually come to regret. According to historian Joyce Antler:

…in later life [Friedan] has joined the modern aspirations of feminism with the popular emblems of her Jewish heritage, understanding that the myth of a controlling, aggressive Jewish mother has been as dangerous to the self-esteem of Jewish women (including her own) as the earlier “feminine mystique” was to all women.

The real-life Beverly Goldberg views her son’s television show as a “validation of everything she’s ever done.” I’d take her observation a step further; I believe Adam F. Goldberg’s seemingly simple, humorous portrayal of “the original sMother”  is a much-needed cultural validation of the Jewish mother figure at large. Beverly Goldberg may not have the zaftig figure of her televisual predecessor Molly, but she has a zaftig heart, one that infuses the kind of family love into a sitcom setting that hasn’t existed since the Huxtables went off the air. In the midst of intense cultural debates on the value and future of motherhood, Beverly Goldberg’s intense devotion, undivided attention, and proclivity for jaws-of-life hugs are refreshing.

Happy sMother’s Day to Jewish moms around the globe. Just please remember to let your kids come up for air once in a while.

bevgoldberglocket

Susan L.M. Goldberg is a writer with a Master's in Radio, Television & Film and a PhD in Life who would be happy roaming the fields of Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables, were it not for her strong belief in the axiom "all that is required for evil to prevail is for good women to do nothing." She prefers the career title "Renaissance Woman" and would happily be bar mates with Ann Coulter, Camille Paglia and Dorothy Parker. Her writing tends towards the intersection of culture, politics and faith with the interest in starting, not stopping the discussion. Follow her on Twitter @SLMGoldberg and @winegirlblog.

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All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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Back in the day, comedians laughed with us. Now they laugh at us.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I tried to watch the show a couple of months ago and got through maybe 10 minutes. Either I've gotten unbelievably cranky in my old age (entirely possible) or the humor is simply not in my universe. I found the stereotypes obnoxious and the humor simply stupid. I haven't been back since.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
The ugliest, most obnoxious Jewish mother stereotype I have ever encountered is Howard's mother in the TV sitcom "The Big Bang Theory". She is always off stage and is never seen, but is always heard shrieking and complaining, and the audience is always laughing. I like "The Big Bang Theory" (my wife loves it), but I think that this character is disgraceful and unnecessary. It would be nice if the producers of the show would put her in front of the cameras and let us see a real person with some redeeming qualities.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Howdy dubrovnov
"The Big Bang Theory" is a sitcom of stereotypes, cartoons brought to life. It's true that some of the geek stuff is very real -- at least it's very close to my own experience as a life-long geek. But Howard's mother as a caricature is hilarious. And much of her cartoonishness relates to overwhelming mothers of many walks of life.
I've often wondered if Melissa Rausch (Bernadette) actually does the voice for Howard's mother. Perhaps not but she can sure dish it out when she needs to!
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
My beloved wife is an all-in Jewish mother, a Niagara Falls of love, wit, insight, concern and advice. Yes, others must have the fortitude to draw lines on occasion. It is not as easy as it sounds when leaving to turn down the fourth or fifth food item or small gift, but sometimes it must be done.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Better to be a loving, over-involved Jewish mother who produces accomplished children than to be a baby mama who doesn't know who fathered her children, depends of welfare, raises wild, criminal offspring who go on to do the very same thing as did she.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
My Dad always hated the stereotype. He points out that in the early part of the last century, Jewish women (and their husbands) worked very hard - even in the US - to keep their children from starving. (BTW, don't Italian mothers have a similar stereotype?)

They were lucky if they were homemakers. Heck, they were lucky if they weren't forced to work on the Sabbath (see: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire). My Dad's Mom was always proud that she never worked on the Sabbath, and my Mom's Mom was fired (by a Jewish company, natch) for refusing to do so. Which is one reason we were one of the few families of the time to stay observant. (Many people felt they would die of starvation if they did not work then.)
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
My brother-in-law is Jewish, and his mother is the embodiment of every single stereotype about Jewish mothers. Remember, stereotypes are based on reality.

Likewise, my mom's side of the family is the living embodiment of every single stereotype about Italians. They're loud, they think they're right about everything, they drink like fish, and wave their hands around when they speak (i.e. shout at the top of their lungs).
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
My Mom was very Jewish - sacrificed a great deal to get us a Jewish education, in fact - but I never thought of her as the Jewish Mother type. Her Mom, although born in the US, was.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
My mother was always on our side, no matter what. She was a dragon when facing uncaring schools and neighbours; and she really really cared about our academic levels. She loved us always, no matter our failures. She knew we were very superior people. And so, we are.



20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Many years ago David Frost asked Moshe Dayan's son a question about Jewish mothers. Dayan replied " I don't know. I have only one Jewish mother." I loved his answer and have found it to be true in my own family. The women in my family were different from one another and very different in their parenting styles. I have no problem with Adam Goldberg's TV tribute to his mother except in so far as it may contribute to the inane stereotype of Jewish women.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
He wasn't counting his boss, Prime Minister Golda Meir (formerly Golda Myerson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin)?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
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