Strictly Kosher: Fun, and strictly true to life


When a Jewish mother walked into a packed Brackman's, north Manchester's most well-known kosher bakery, on Tuesday, she received celebrity treatment. Dozens of people stopped to stare at Bernette Clarke who, the previous evening, had earned the admiration of Boy George among 3.5 million viewers of ITV's Strictly Kosher documentary, which profiled Manchester's Jewish community.

But most onlookers in the bakery also took the opportunity to accost Mrs Clarke and tell her just what they thought of the programme. It featured a Holocaust survivor, a secular fashion boutique owner, and what it claimed was an average middle-class modern Orthodox Jewish mother.

A beaming Mrs Clarke, 46, a mother of three from Prestwich, said: "Everyone's been recognising me. I think most enjoyed the programme. Where I work, at a Manchester hospital, theatre staff, doctors and nurses came down to ENT to tell me how fab it was. People have been saying they want more Strictly Kosher. I think we need more."

She said she felt the importance of breaking some of the myths about Jewish lifestyle and practices. When ITV approached her at the beauty salon she attends to allow filming in her house, Mrs Clarke first sent the crew out to film circumcisions, weddings, barmitzvot, kosher shops and synagogues.

She declared: "Most people have no idea what we do on a Shabbat. Many of my work colleagues think we drink alcohol on a Friday night, but now they've been asking me for my kosher recipes. One girl told me she wished she could be part of a community with that family connection - she only sees her family once a year at Christmas."

Laughing, Mrs Clarke said: "Apparently Boy George loves me and liked my chicken soup and kneidlach. I'll have him around for a meal if he wants." In fact Boy George had tweeted, while watching the programme: "Loving Strictly Kosher, especially the main mum, she's proper cute! The old guy with the Nazi flag, I cried!"

The "old guy" referred to 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Jack Aizenberg, who also starred in the hour-long programme. He revealed a great deal, from the Nazi flag he had kept from the war, to telling his 13-year-old grandson that he felt he was like his brother, Ben, who had perished along with the rest of Jack's family in the Belzec extermination camp.

Mrs Clarke reflected: "I think this programme showed something new for a lot of non-Jewish people who think of us as the Holocaust people. It showed we are a new generation. They heard Jack's story and they understood why he had a lavish barmitzvah for his grandson, and didn't care.

"I find it funny that Jewish people picked up strongly on what we said, but non-Jewish people seemed to like the colour and fun of our community. Many people are ignorant of the Jewish community and don't know what we do. They watch Friends and think we eat foreskins, but now their eyes have been opened. People will start to like us if they know more."

On the streets of manchester...

Juliette Lewis

● "I loved this programme. I thought Bernette should be on TV every night of the week, she's a scream. I cried at Jack, the old man. I took it for what it was. I think it showed us as family orientated, community spirited and overall pleasant people. I'd rather be portrayed as a fun-loving people than fundamentalist."

Bernard Shneck

● "I'm not sure about a fair representation. All it seemed to show was us dancing and eating. Jack was good as a Holocaust survivor in order to show people what we went through. It was positive to show what we do on a Friday night, the importance of family, but it didn't show all the charitable work we do. They could have showed more."

Sarah Moise

● "It was reasonably cringeworthy. I think Bernette came across well. I was uncomfortable with the extravagance that was shown, but there was no harm in it. It wasn't meant to be highbrow and there were some inaccuracies – there aren't as many as 40,000 Jews in Manchester."

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