Rachel Ament with her mom // Courtesy of Rachel Ament
Mayim Bialik’s mom thinks you’re jealous of her.
If Barbra Streisand could be so famous and amazing and wonderful with her nose, why should mine be any problem Actually, the way my mother told it, I was indeed a fantastic, gorgeous person and I am surprised I did not become jealous of myself.
So writes the “Big Bang Theory” star in “The Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved By Our Moms,” a new collection of essays released just in time for Mother’s Day.
Edited by Rachel Ament, the book is comprised of 27 essays by Jewish female comedians and writers.
Some are funny (Lauren Greenberg’s mom signs her up for JDate without telling her, Anna Breslaw’s is a “Seinfeld” trivia queen).
Some are sad (Nadine Friedman writes movingly about her own miscarriage and her late mother’s multiple sclerosis; Meredith Hoffa about the impulse to “parent with my parent” — never to be now that her mother has passed away).
Some will make you roll your eyes (Iris Behr’s mom gets a major I told you so moment after her daughter dates a Palestinian; A simple request for her mom’s chocolate cookie recipe turns into a stream of consciousness on how Jena Friedman needs to find a nice Jewish boy, needs to get in shape, needs to, needs to, needs to…).
But all are recognizable.
As Ament writes in the book’s introduction:
What makes a Jewish mom stand out is not the degree of her love but how her love materializes. Love suffuses a Jewish mom’s every thought, her every behavior. She cannot rein any of it in. And when so much love blares so forcefully out into the world, the sentiment can’t help but be returned. America loves Jewish moms because they show us their entire selves. Honesty is infectious. Honesty combined with pluck and gumption is intoxicating.
Many of the essays focus on the typical Jewish mother tropes — they push food on everyone, they meddle in their daughters’ (and everyone else’s) personal lives, they worry, they want grandchildren, they worry again — which, as Sarah Ivry at Tablet points out, can get a little tiresome. But the strength of Ament’s book is that she (and her writers) manages to tease out the kernel of truth in every stereotype and make them rise to the top as one, big, fuzzy feelings: Jewish mothers, like all mothers, are ultimately loveable — and loved.
The Shmooze caught up with Ament over email to find out what inspired the book, what she’s inherited from her mother and how she’s celebrating Mother’s Day.
Anne Cohen: What inspired you to edit a book about Jewish mothers?
Rachel Ament: I’ve always just really enjoyed hearing and telling stories about Jewish moms. I like stories that seem familiar, and relatable, but are also unexpected.
What is it about Jewish mothers that you find compelling?
I think Jewish moms tend to be incredibly charming and colorful characters. Of course, Jewish moms come in many forms which I discuss in the book. But outliers shouldn’t prevent us from bonding over what connects so many of us. I don’t think we should ever be afraid of talking (or laughing) about ourselves.
You manage to take the book beyond the typical Jewish mom stereotype, while playing to the the elements of the trope that make our moms lovable. Was that important to you?
Yes, it was important to me that the essays were funny but still discussed Jewish mothers in a loving and affectionate tone. I think the writers did an excellent job executing that.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Any family traditions?
We usually just have brunch. We’re pretty boring! But I try to at least give my mom a cool unique gift!
If you had to name one thing you inherited from you mom, what would it be?
We both laugh and talk a lot. And of course, worry a lot.
How did you get Mayim Bialik to participate?
I sent her publicist this long rambling email about the project and Mayim was really charmed by the idea.
In the book’s introduction, you write that your mom nagged you over and over to tell her that you looked just like her as a child. Did you end up telling her?
No, but I did email her the book’s introduction (in which I discussed how I looked like her as a kid) before the book was published. She thought it was funny and asked if she could share with her mom.
Now, why are you still reading this? Go call your mom!
Anne Cohen was the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg , she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.
A Whole Day (And Book) to Celebrate Your Jewish Mom