A young person’s sexual and/or emotional awakening is a standard narrative. What makes one stand out from another is not just the specific character detail, but the culture that this young person has grown up in.
The Awakening of Mottie Wolkenbruch (based on the book of the same name by Thomas Meyer)was released on Netflix in 2018. The title character, Mottie Woldenbruch (Joel Basman) is a young man from an Orthodox Jewish family. Having followed the prescribed life path so far, the next step is to get married and have children. While his mother, Judith (Inge Maux) is more than eager to see her son become a husband, Mottie is not so sure. His preference would be to have a say in his future wife. Things become more complicated when he becomes friends with a perceived shiska (a woman who is not Jewish), Laura (Noémie Schmidt). As their relationship grows, Mottie finds himself torn between his mother and Laura.
Warning: The video above is only partially in English. Subtleties may be required.
There are two ways to use cultural or religious stereotypes when developing characters. One way to use them as-is and not give these people room to grow. The second is to use specific traits or personal history as a baseline and use that as an opportunity to expand someone’s full humanity, warts, and all.
Having never read the book, I can only speak of what I saw. To be perfectly frank, after sitting through all of 30 minutes, I had to turn it off. I could have waited until next year to write about it on a Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday post, but I could not wait until 2023. This movie is beyond bad. The book’s author (who is also the screenwriter) doesn’t even try to break away from Jewish stereotypes. The mother is overbearing, Laura is the shiska goddess and Motti has no redeeming value as our protagonist.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely not.
The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch is available for streaming on Netflix.
After watching a few episodes, I can understand why some Orthodox Jewish women are annoyed by how their community is portrayed, I think the viewer has to take into account that this is Haart’s perspective. I like the mental health aspect of the series, addressing how many women in conservative or fundamentalist may feel trapped by the constraints of their gender and the rules of their gender. I also liked how positively Judaism is portrayed. Though Haart is no longer Orthodox, she is still Jewish and not afraid to be open about it. It is educational without hitting the audience over the head.
It has the gloss of a Bravo reality show, but it is slightly less trashy and not as much of a brain drain as other programs in the genre.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
My Unorthodox Life is available for streaming on Netflix.
Food is more than the physical nourishment our body needs to function. It can also be stand in for something else in our life that has not been entirely dealt with.
In the new Melissa Broder novel published earlier this year, Milk Fed: A Novel, Los Angeles transplant Rachel was raised Jewish, but those days are long gone. Outside of her job at a talent agency, the most important thing is her physical appearance. She counts calories like the world is ending and can be found after work at the gym, furiously working off whatever she eat earlier that day. Following up on her therapist’s recommendation, she cuts of all communication with her mother for 90 days. Since she was little, Rachel has been constantly reminded to watch what she eat.
Shortly after, she meets Miriam, the zaftig employee behind the counter of one of Rachel’s favorite frozen yogurt places. Miriam is more orthodox in her practice of their mutual faith and intent on making sure that her soon to be new friend is well fed. Taken by Miriam, Rachel goes on a journey of family, faith, sex, and learning to love yourself.
I loved this book. Instead of being one of those obnoxious skinny women who makes the rest of us feel unattractive, Rachel is human, complicated, and completely relatable. I loved her emotional trek as she opened herself up to eating, Miriam (and everything Miriam represented), and learning to let go of the parental criticism that makes itself too comfortable in our consciousness.
Dating, as we know it to be, is not as simple as it appears. Though some may find their potential love/spouse/life partner early on, others have to go through several relationships before finding that person.
Soon By You premiered in 2016. Taking place in New York City, it is sort of an Modern Orthodox Jewish version of Friends. The series follows a group of twenty somethings who are trying to find their bashert (soulmate) while juggling every other aspect of life.
Written by Leah Gottfried (who is also the series’ director), Danny Hoffman, and Uri Westrich, this YouTube web series is charming and entertaining. While it uses the rom-com narrative tropes and characters are used as the backbone, they are flipped in a way that does not feel predictable or boring.
If we have learned nothing else about Covid-19 since March, it is that the virus neither knows or cares about the labels and boundaries that human beings have created.
In New York City, there are about a dozen zip codes in both Brooklyn and Queens in which there is a rise in Covid-19 cases. Most of these neighborhoods have a large population of Orthodox Jews. Some have claimed that the city’s response is anti-Semitic.
My personal reaction is the claim is mixed. If I felt it was truly anti-Semitic response, I would be direct in saying so. But it is not antisemitism, it is common sense. If anything, their reactions only amplify the anti-Semitic lies and imagery. Being learned in the text and customs of any religion does not stop this disease. Wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands frequently will stop this disease.
However, the residents of these zip codes are not completely to blame. If the news reports are true, there are not enough Yiddish speaking tracers to reach out to the community. That failure falls firmly on the shoulders of the Mayor and other officials.
The problem with Covid-19 is that common sense and logic are replaced by fear and anxiety. While those responses are normal, given the circumstances, they will not help us in the long run. We need a clear head and a well constructed plan if we are able to return to some sense of normalcy.
Mental illness and it’s various forms affect countless people around the world. But unlike physical illness and it’s many variations, mental illness does not get the respect it deserves.
Back in 2008, Malka Leifer was accused of sexually abusing several students at the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, Australia, where she worked as a teacher. But before she could be brought into the courtroom to face her accusers, Ms. Leifer left Australia for Israel. Twelve years later, she faces extradition back to Australia. Her lawyers and supporters claim that she is mentally ill.
I have a huge problem with this claim. The problem is that her claim (if it is not true) is not only foolish, but it could also have life-shattering consequences. Millions of us wake up every day with mental illness. I wake every day with depression hanging around my neck. Does that mean I will commit such a heinous crime as sexual assault on a minor?
It’s hard enough to admit that one is living with mental illness and needs help. The last thing those of us who live with this disease need is for someone to use it as an excuse for moral failings.
Mental illness is NOT an excuse for sexual assault and never will be.
In a time of crisis, logic often secedes into emotion and chaos. While this secession is completely and understandably normal, it can lead to actions that would not otherwise be taken.
As many of my regular readers know, I live in New York City. Anyone who does not have their head in the sand is aware that NYC is one of the Covid-19 hot spots in the United States. Since March, those of us who live in the city have heard the same three words countless time: stay at home.
Unfortunately, there are some fools who are putting their lives and the lives of others at risk. Over the last few days, there were three incidents in which I have to question if the participants truly understand what we are going through.
Incident #1: In Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Yeshiva (religious school for Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews) was still open in spite of the order from the city to close all schools. Neighbors contacted the local police precinct when they saw students and teachers exiting the building. I am all for education and religious instruction (especially from my coreligionists), but would it hurt to use a little common sense?
Incident #2: A party in Canarsie was broken up by police. After two months of staying home nearly 24/7, I am more than eager to see another set of four walls and my friends. However, there is a little thing going around called Covid-19. This virus attacks and kills its hosts indiscriminately. That last thing I would ever want on my conscious is knowing that I may have been the one to give Covid-19 to someone else.
Incident #3: The weather this past Saturday was perfect. Last year at this time, I would have gone out for a drink without question. But not this year. According to news reports, several bars on the Upper West Side had a full house. Some patrons hung out on the sidewalk, unable to find seats inside. I am all for meeting my friends at a bar to relax after a long week, but not with the threat of Covid-19 hanging above us.
What the f*ck don’t they understand about staying at home?
For the last two months or so, social distancing has been the norm.
Last week, I wrote about the antisemitic accusation that New York City Bill de Blasio leveled at the entire Jewish community of New York City for breaking the social distancing rules. While the specific synagogue at the center of the brouhaha has apologized for their lack of forethought, this does nothing to nullify the Mayor’s statement.
This past weekend was absolutely perfect weather-wise in the city. It was everything one would ask for a weekend in May. If we were not living through the Covid-19 pandemic, no one would be thinking twice about getting out. But we are living through a pandemic and that requires us to think twice about leaving the house for anything but basic necessities.
Across the city, many took advantage of the warm weather.
I don’t have a problem with people getting out. If I had not already had plans, I would have done so myself. What I do have a problem with is the lack of sweeping prejudicial generalizations of those who were outside on Sunday. Where was the literal nagging finger, accusing city residents of ignoring the social distancing rules?
I think it is fair to say that anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence these days would say that Covid-19 has forced all of us to adjust how we live. I think that it is also fair to say that given the current crisis, it would behoove those in the halls of power to work together.
Last night was the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who according to press reports, died from complications from Covid-19. As is the custom in Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism, the funeral was public with thousands of mourners crowding the streets in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. In normal times, this would be a non-news issue for all but the local community. But we are not living in normal times.
According to an article in Gothamist, the Police department knew about this before hand. But yet, Mayor Bill de Blasio accused the entire Jewish community of New York City of breaking the social distancing rules.
The problem that I have with his accusation is that instead of specifically pointing the finger at those in attendance, he blamed every Jew in New York City. I am a Jew and I live in New York City. Was I at this funeral? No. He should be putting the blame on those who were there, not on all practitioners of that particular religious identity. He should have also spoken to his police officials before making this kind of accusations.
Last week was Yom Hashoah. Given our current political climate, the recent climactic (and bloody) events in Jewish history and the extreme rise in antisemitism, I would think twice before making such a comment.
Which is why I did not vote for this man and will be more than happy to see him out of office when his term ends.
We live in a world which demands that we conform. If we do not conform, the consequences are numerous.
Unorthodox recently premiered on Netflix. Based on the book, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman, the four part series follows Esther “Esty” Shapiro (nee Schwartz, played by Shira Haas). Married at 19 to Yanky Shapiro (Amit Rahav), Esty is unprepared for the pressures that come with being a married woman in the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
When the pressure becomes too much, Esty escapes to Berlin where her estranged mother, Leah (Alex Reid) lives. Taken in and befriended by music students, she begins to see that there is life outside of the world that she was born into. But when her husband and his cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch) arrive in Berlin to find her and bring her home, it becomes a game of cat and mouse.
I found this series to be fascinating and human. Its easy to live within the confines and the rules of the community, especially if you are a woman. It is infinitely more difficult to make your own way in the world. Two things stuck out to me as I was watching. The first was that although we see the world through Esty’s eyes, the judgement is not as harsh as it appears to be. The second is the relationships between the characters. Regardless of the societal, cultural and religious beliefs that the audience member holds, there is a universal quality to the the story being told.
I'm a retiree in his seventies. That may not be significant to many, since there is a bunch of us Baby Boomers around. However, in the year 2,000, when I received a diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, I expected to be dead in three to five years.