Sisterhood Blog

'Mad Men': Bring Back the Smart, Scrupulous, Sultry Jewess

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

One of the most beguiling characters on “Mad Men” was a smart-minded, sexy Jewish broad — bring her back!

As early-60s ad-world drama “Mad Men” gears up for its third season, I have an almost obsessive desire to Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), return to the show. Rachel is the Jewish career woman and sultry beauty who has come closest of all the show’s women to genuinely stealing Don Draper’s heart.

Everything about Rachel’s plot arc does Jewish women proud (thanks, Matthew Weiner). Don initially dismisses Rachel, due to his ingrained sexism and antisemitism. He storms out of their first business meeting snapping that he won’t be lectured at by a woman, and the unspoken addition is “a Jewish one at that.” But a few episodes later, the famously reticent ad-man is lying on Rachel’s sofa, post-coital, spilling his guts about his tragic childhood. Rachel manages to do what no one else on “Mad Men” has done: bring out Don’s vulnerability without scaring him away. And later, when she breaks off their affair, it proves what an anomaly she is: the only person insightful enough to see deeply into Don’s tortured psyche, the only woman strong enough to resist his wiles, the only one of his paramours to consistently bring up moral scruples about being with a married man. Despite being ahead of her time, though, she’s also human: She falls for Don against her will and suffers as a result of the affair, too. Her father apparently finds out that she’s shtupping a non-Jew, and she takes off on a three-month cruise that is most likely fraught with regrets.

More than just being a tribute to the attractiveness of independent-minded Jewish women, the Draper-Menken affair is a commentary on the place of Jews in the American myth. Rachel sees that Don understands what it is to be an outsider, and uses that to break down his prejudice. She speaks candidly to Don about the Jewish experience — being the daughter of immigrants, her feelings towards Israel — and he eventually sees himself in her story. She’s no longer “the other.”

Rachel’s hold on Don is subtly apparent even after the breakup. In season 2, Don meets her by chance at a restaurant and learns that she is now married to (a nice Jewish) man named Tilden Katz — and in a later episode a drunken Don gives his own name as “Tilden Katz” when entering an underground gambling den. It’s his way, perhaps, of expressing his angst at losing Rachel while also ridiculing her husband’s Jewish name. But it certainly shows that Rachel is still on his brain — and she’s stayed on the audience’s brain, too. It’s rare to see an obviously Jewish woman on a serious TV drama portrayed as smart, moral, warm and undeniably sexy all at once. Even though “Mad Men,” like Don Draper himself, is moving relentlessly forward in time, would it be too much to ask to see a little more Menken?


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rachel Menken, Mathew Weiner, Maggie Siff, Mad Men

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Sarah Sun. Aug 23, 2009

Weiner seems more concerned about portraying the Roman Catholic Church than on showing anything Jewish other than throwing us an occasional bone.

Darcy Thu. Sep 3, 2009

While I'm madly in love with "Mad Men" (having worked at agencies and witnessed the incessant smoking and more than occasional drinking), I also would love to see the return of Rachel.




Find us on Facebook!
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.