Living in Los Angeles, I don’t read books the way I used to. I’m no longer riding the train to my parent’s home in New Jersey, keeping my nose in a book to avoid that awkward kid I went to high school with who will surely talk my ear off the entire 45-minute journey. I’m not sitting on the subway to and from work everyday, my head in a book, using it as a way to divert my attention from the overt stench of collective BO. The lack of public transportation has really downgraded my reading abilities so much so that when not too long ago, a friend lent me the first book of Game of Thrones, I had a panic attack after reading page one. It’s so big. So many characters. Me no understand. However, I have always loved reading and recently decided it was time to give it another go. I was thrilled to come across Rachel Ament’s book The Jewish Daughter Diaries. It is filled with short stories from various Jewish daughters — just like me, and maybe just like you — who have Jewish mothers — hey, me too! It was the perfect parlay back into the world of books. An easy, pleasurable read.
Even though the stories are all different, the underlying messages are also very much the same. After reading stories from comedy writers, actresses, comedians and journalists — basically a group of women I’d love to get drinks with — you can see that all of our mothers are an integral part of our lives. Nothing is off limits, our mothers are involved in our social lives, our sex lives, our careers — their advice, admonishments, and ever-present voices are in our heads as much as we try to quiet them.
Reading this book, I felt like I was sitting amongst friends, all one-upping each other with our “you won’t believe what my Mom did” stories. I could relate to author Lauren Greenberg, whose mother not only created a JDate account for her daughter, but also went on it and impersonated her. While my mom has never done that, the closer I get towards turning 30, the more open-minded towards men she encourages me to be. “But mom, I know nothing about this guy! He has a gun in his picture and according to his profile could possibly be a terrorist!” “So, what’s wrong with a free drink. Ya never know!” I read the words Rachel Ament’s mother said to her and wondered if all our mothers have the same one-sheet on what to say to your single daughter. “Rachel, you don’t like anyone. You are not allowed to judge a guy unless you have gone on at least one date with him!” Sub in your daughter’s name and say…
Then, there were those stories that made me want to call up my mother immediately and thank her for never being that insane. To thank her for not embodying the unfavorable stereotypes of the Jewish mother. You know, the gossipy, neurotic, food-pushing, guilt-inducing ones. My mother never made me feel guilty for not calling (although, I haven’t really given her the chance), or badgered me that if I don’t call her when I arrive from point A to point B, she’ll assume my body was mutilated and left for the rats in a dumpster outside of Jersey City. Some of these authors however, have these types of mothers. The story Gaby Dunn told about her mother’s plan for the apocalypse made me laugh out loud as well as cringe. “The plan she devised was to rent a helicopter way in advance and fly around until the flood waters subsided. Then, we’d float inside the helicopter until we found land or other refugees…” Leonora Ariella Nonni Epstein laid out just how much her mother did fit the typical Jewish role. “She’s very good at telling people what to do, asking if you’re any closer to meeting your future husband, or making it clear that she doesn’t care if you’re gay, just raise the children Jewish.” But for every story about what we picture the typical Jewish mother, there was a story in which the author made it a point to let us know that their mother didn’t exhibit those traits. As Rachel Shukert wrote, “My mother doesn’t push food on you or ask you how much your house cost.”
Another reoccurring theme amongst these women was the fear/realization that they either already were, or were going to, turn into their mothers. Cue the “womp, womp” sound effects. Deep down though, all of us Jewish daughters know that there are much worse things that could happen. How could we not turn into the women who have consistently expressed their viewpoints, taught us their beliefs and shown us their attitudes towards the world we live in? Personally, I would be thrilled to grow into the woman my mother is and I know I’m well on my way. We already think so much alike which makes eating out easy — we always want to share — or when I call for advice, I often know what I’m going to hear. It happens too often that she’ll come visit me in California and I’ll realize the sweater I was planning to wear that night is the very same one she is pulling out of her suitcase.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I think Jewish mothers, daughters, or any women at all who share a mother/daughter bond, will find something that resonates with them. The compilation of all these stories result in a giant a love letter. While on the surface, some of these stories may read as complaints or grievances about our mothers’ sometimes crazy and hilarious antics, the subtext is full of love and gratitude. All of our Jewish mothers want one thing: for us to be happy. It’s just how they go about expressing that desire, which makes for such comedic tales in the process.