Overprotective or loving? Daughters reflect on Jewish mothers in new anthology

By Debra Rubin/JNS.org

Click photo to download. Caption: The cover of  “The Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much by Our Moms,” by Rachel Ament. Credit: Sourcebook.

Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love.

That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.”

A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years ago that it would be fun to invite Jewish women writers she admires—mostly bloggers, standup comics, and actors—to contribute stories about their mothers for an anthology.

The result—“The Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much by Our Moms”—features 27 essays and is set for a May 6 release by Sourcebook, in time for Mother’s Day (May 11). The youngest contributor is writer and BuzzFeed senior editor Lauren Yapalater, 24; the oldest is stand-up comedian Wendy Liebman, 53. 

In putting the collection together, Ament contacted about 40 writers. Mayim Bialik, actor from “The Big Bang Theory” and blogger for Kveller; Jena Friedman, a producer with “The Daily Show;” and Deb Margolin, a playwright and actor, said “yes.” Foul-mouthed comedian Sarah Silverman and essayist Sloane Cosley said “no”—they’re too busy, their publicists told Ament.

More than one writer mentions her “Jewish nose,” including Bialik. “If Barbra Streisand could be so famous and amazing and wonderful with her nose, why should mine be any problem?” the former child actress from “Blossom” writes.

Many of the essays focus on dating and a Jewish mother’s strong desire to see her daughter married. That includes Ament’s chapter, “Seth Cohen Is the One for You,” in which she states her certainty that all Jewish women carry a “particular chromosome for matchmaking—a trait that surfaces with a particular strength of spirit in my mom.”

Click photo to download. Caption: Rachel Ament. Credit: Rachel Ament.

Ament was in second grade, she writes, when her mother “would point out different snot-drenched boys in the carpool lane at my school insisting that they were meant for me.” No matter that at the time, Ament believed boys had cooties and by the time she liked boys, they were “rarely of the Semitic kind.” That didn’t stop her mom from declaring that the fictional Seth Cohen from the TV series “The O.C.” would be her match. “I swear, if that guy wasn’t designed by God Himself to be your soul mate, then I don’t know who was,” Ament writes.

Yet after meeting a Jewish guy at a “Matzo Ball” dance who was ready on a first date to bring her home to meet his mother, Ament texted her own mother to say she was ready to meet Seth. “I figured that even fictional characters from Fox TV programs would be more promising than the eligible young men you meet at the Matzo Ball,” she writes.

Among Ament’s favorite essays is one by Lauren Greenberg, who wrote for Whitney Cummings’s “Love You, Mean It” E! TV show. When Greenberg turned 30, her mother created a JDate profile for her. “Why would I want to date some guy who hung around to talk to a girl’s mother?” Greenberg writes. “Like, I’d be all, ‘Glad you and my mom hit it off. Let’s make out!’ Ew. No. Ew.”

She didn’t follow up with any of the men her mother had prescreened, although she concedes that it is “something I now regret. My mother put a lot of effort into screening potential sons-in-law and all I did was roll my eyes at her.”

Greenberg, however, figures she might have a second chance. “Maybe this year, she’ll send a video to ABC, explaining why I would be the next Bachelorette,” she writes.

Ament doesn’t worry about perpetuating stereotypes with her book. “I don’t think as a culture we should ever be scared to talk about ourselves, to talk about our identity, but I do think we should be careful about how we talk about it, and talk about it in a very full, multidimensional way,” she tells JNS.org. While Jewish mothers in the past were often ridiculed and demonized, Ament says the writers in her book portray their moms “in a very loving, heartfelt, affectionate way.”

Not all the essays focus on mothers. Sometimes it’s a grandmother, such as blogger Almie Rose’s 5-foot-1, feisty Oma, a Holocaust survivor and “slip of a thing” who was “bawdy, blunt” and sarcastic.

“But on the opposite side of that fire and sarcasm was a fierce love for her children and grandchildren,” Rose writes. “Oma’s love was immense and unconditional.”

Then there’s Kerry Cohen, a child of bitter divorce, who looks to her grandmother as a model for relationships. “My grandmother could teach me things when it came to men,” Cohen, whose books include “Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity,” writes. “It wasn’t just because she’d been married for fifty-seven years to a man who adored her until the end. It’s that her standards were so much higher than mine.”

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Posted on April 13, 2014 and filed under Arts, Features, U.S..