As a Jewish girl growing up in Newton, a suburb of Boston, which is lovingly (if not loathsomely) referred to as "Jew-ton," I was, unsurprisingly, surrounded by Jewish mothers everywhere I turned. Teachers, parents, doctors, (and as a Jewish girl how could I leave out therapists)...it seemed like the words "Jewish" and "mother" were essentially inseparable. But I don't think I ever stopped to think about what those woven-together words actually meant. When I arrived at college for the first time and began to encounter more and more non-Jewish people, I started wracking my brain to figure out what made my mom and my friends' moms different from non-Jewish mothers, but I wound up empty and confused. How could there exist such a pervasive stereotype of a Jewish mother if someone like me, who came from such a Jewish area, didn't even know what it was?
The stories in The Jewish Daughter Diaries edited and compiled by Rachel Ament helped me understand that while there is a stereotypical "Jewish mother" mold, this mold could only ever be the skeleton of a real Jewish mother. A Jewish mother is so much more than an overbearing, overprotective, and deeply loving woman; it seems almost characteristically Jewish that each Jewish mother proudly puts her own flair and character into her typically Jewish persona. The Jewish Daughter Diaries wittily captures the essence of twenty-seven Jewish mothers through short stories contributed by prominent Jewish writers and performers about their moms, and each author's unique voice, whether sarcastic or humorous or anything in between, comes through clearly in each story. Interestingly, I found that while the cover of the book highlighted the fact that it featured essays from celebrities like Mayim Bialik, the essays by the well-known women tended to be somewhat disappointing (with the exception of Kerry Cohen's essay about her male-savvy grandmother, which was hilarious and touching), while essays from lesser-known women such as Lauren Greenberg and Jena Friedman had me belly-laughing to the point of tears.
One of my favorite stories was Jena Friedman's piece "You Should Be Playing Tennis," which was not an essay, but rather a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that her mother had sent her. This was no ordinary recipe, however; her mother included comments, critiques, and suggestions throughout. For example, after directing Jena to mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, she writes: "Why don't you come home this weekend?...You haven't been home in months!" The recipe continues, and then ends with Jena's mother writing "Let me know what you decide to do because I just bought you a ticket home on the BoltBus...I know you're busy so I don't want to impose. But seriously, your bus leaves Penn Station tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m., so let me know whatever you decide to do...no pressure." This piece had me laughing out loud, and also showed me one unique embodiment of the Jewish mother stereotype. Yes, Jena's mom exemplifies the stereotype of the intensely-loving Jewish mother, but the way she manifests this trait is so personal (and endearingly hilarious) that it is surely her own unique quality. Maybe all Jewish mothers can be smothering at times, but they all manage to smother in their own, quirky way that sets them apart from one another.
Another notable story was Lauren Greenberg's "JDate My Mom." The essay beautifully captures the stereotype of the Jewish mother who eagerly wants her daughter to settle down and marry a NJB (nice Jewish boy), ASAP. She writes: "My mother wants nothing more than for me to be happy - and it's ruining my life. She equates my happiness with me marrying a Jewish man who can support me financially. I, of course, know better. I know the only thing that will make me happy is a low dose of Prozac." She then goes on to describe how her mother created a JDate account and impersonated her online in an attempt to find Lauren a husband, while repeating to Lauren her mantra of "Looks don't matter. Your sex life doesn't matter. That all goes away. Marry rich or you'll never be happy." Lauren's mother takes the matchmaking stereotype to a hilariously extreme level, and her fierce love for her daughter shines clearly through the outrageousness. The piece showed me yet another way that a Jewish mother can spin her own take on a typical "Jewish mom" stereotype and make it uniquely and ridiculously her own.
As I imagine would be a problem with any collection of short stories from multiple authors, at times the moods of the stories and transitions between them felt disjointed. Also, the length of the stories seemed to me somewhat restricting. I sometimes found myself wishing a story would go on for pages more only to find that it ended abruptly, and the story following it was much less entertaining. With twenty seven different stories from twenty seven different women with twenty seven different senses of humor, I wasn't expecting every single story to appeal to my own sense of humor, but I did feel that some of the stories could have been left out in order to make more room for the truly remarkable and moving ones. As a whole, the book was a delightful read and I would recommend it to anyone, Jewish or not, who has ever looked at her relationship with her mother and thought: "There's no way we're the only ones out there like this..."