If you enjoyed last year’s first instalment of ITV1’s prime-time documentary about the Manchester Jewish community, you will probably have enjoyed this two-parter, screened on successive nights this week, as it was identical to the first programme in most respects.
The same cast of characters had been reassembled, mostly saying the same things. There was bouncy, bubbly Bernette Clarke, talking animatedly and rather quickly about how she loved her friends, the community, her family, her work… yada, yada, yada.
Then there was Joel Lever, the shmatter man, who also carried on where he left off in the previous show. His particular shtick is telling us what Jews like. “Jews like food, Jews like fashion, Jews like a good price…” Joel clearly has a high embarrassment threshold — he allowed a peak-time ITV audience to watch him being subjected to a machine which made his bottom wobble alarmingly. He apparently preferred this to exercise. My embarrassment threshold was not as high as Joel’s. By the time he announced that “the kerching of the cash register is like music”, I was cringeing behind the sofa.
There was a new character rolled out for this series. Zevi Saunders was a rabbi who combined checking lettuce for bugs in a care-home kitchen with taking services at Southport Synagogue and doing a little part-time shlepping in order to make ends meet. He was engaging, bubbly and funny much in the way of his friend, Bernette. Asked if he was undertaking any sex education in advance of his upcoming nuptials, he replied that he was expected to do his learning “on the job”.
There was much talk of Jewish festivals and practices — most of it flippant. At Succot, we were told, etrogs could sell for up to £500. At Purim, we saw strictly Orthodox people dressed up and dancing amusingly (the strictly Orthodox were shown dancing at regular intervals).
Ultimately, Strictly Kosher had the feel of the second series of a ’70s sitcom, filled with eccentric, quirky characters — Joel, for one, would have been a natural on Are You Being Served?
The only thing which saved it from being an utterly forgettable docusoap was Jack Aizenberg. We met Jack — a Holocaust survivor, who arrived in Manchester as a penniless refugee and made a fortune in the luggage business — in the previous show. This time, he was taken back to Poland where he revisited the town of his birth and ventured into the death camps. His enduring agony over his treatment and the brutal deaths of his family were touching and painful to watch — he really belonged in a different programme, particularly as his testimony was interspersed with Joel in a Paris restaurant informing the waitress that he was a “breast man”.
What the general population made of it all was anyone’s guess. But if the intention was to break stereotypes and avoid clichés, Strictly Kosher failed miserably.