Relax, 'Jewish Mum of the Year' is just entertainment

By Natalie Samuel, October 19, 2012
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Even before the first episode of Jewish Mum of the Year was broadcast, my Twitter and Facebook pages were awash with angry Jews, criticising Channel 4 for reinforcing stereotypes, while frantically reassuring non-Jews that "we're not all like this".

I watched with an open mind. Having taken part in BBC3's Strictly Soulmates last summer, a documentary on Jewish dating, I know more than most how sensitive our community can be, and how reluctant communal figures are to facilitate media intrusion into our lifestyles.

It's not hard to understand the caution. Jewish history is traumatic, and scapegoating has played a major part in this. In the UK, we make up such a tiny part of the population and many in this country have never met a Jew before. When I agreed to go on television this weighed heavily on my mind; I was aware of how detrimental a negative portrayal could be. That said, there is a pattern of hysteria in reaction to any attempt to televise modern Jewish life that I find very uncomfortable. From last year's Wonderland: A Hasidic Guide to Love, Marriage and Finding a Bride, to Strictly Kosher and now Jewish Mum, we seem to be perpetually unable to concentrate on the positives of these shows.

Wonderland focused on the Strictly Orthodox. It certainly wasn't representative of my lifestyle or approach to Judaism but that doesn't mean it was an inaccurate portrayal, or that it was damaging to the community.

I don't have time for subtlety,' my mum says

Sure, some parts were a tad embarrassing, but I also cringe at The Jeremy Kyle Show. Why should I feel any more uncomfortable just because they share my religion? As it happened, the wider audience enjoyed it so much that the BBC commissioned a sequel - Two Jews on a Cruise.

Watching those programmes, I did not feel ashamed, a word that was being bandied about plenty during the transmission of Jewish Mum. People weren't just "embarrassed," they felt "ashamed of being Jewish". I found that sentiment far more offensive than anything Channel 4 could produce.

The danger in these shows lies not in how people view British Jews but how we regard ourselves.

Overwhelmingly, the programme generated positive reaction. "Good to see different levels of religion and the nuances between modern and traditional Jewish practice," said one person on Twitter. "Undeniably good fun," said the Guardian. "Fabulous." The negativity came largely from Jews.

If this was a programme about Jewish bankers, I'd expect there to be reservations. But it was about Jewish mothers; hardly the most controversial aspect of our community.

My mother is the essence of a Jewish mum. Her warmth, her humour, her love for her children and, yes, her chicken soup.

Just after Rosh Hashanah, as she dropped me off at Glasgow International airport, she waited until I was almost through the car park, surrounded by people, before shouting: "Pull your skirt down."

Laden with two bagels, apple juice, a banana, an orange and a Kit Kat, I smiled. As she says: "I don't have time for subtlety."

My bond with my personal Jewish mum of the year is unbreakable, and that's a stereotype that no one should complain about. The Channel 4 show may not be brilliant - the essence of a Jewish mother is her relationship with her family, which was not touched on in the first episode - but, as a concept, what's there to worry about?

As a community, we need to be proud and accept our quirks. And stop rushing to condemn. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Natalie Samuel is a recent law school graduate

Last updated: 9:45am, October 19 2012