Sisterhood Blog

Judaism, According to Reality TV

By Lilit Marcus

Getty Images
Kyle Richards

On “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” plastic surgery and divorce are more common party discussion topics than religion or faith. But Kyle Richards, the very first Housewife cast in the franchise, is Jewish. She did an Orthodox conversion in order to marry her husband, Mauricio Umansky, whose family is Russian Jews via Mexico.

Kyle and Mauricio’s religion occasionally comes up on the show, but it mostly serves as interesting background material. Kyle’s real hook is her lineage: her oldest sister is Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris and Nicky, and her other sister is fellow cast mate Kim Richards. Both Kim and Kyle were child actresses, though Kim was much more successful, and the leftover resentments from the different ways they grew up are still causing problems between the two sisters today. Stir in the fact that Kyle and Mauricio’s marriage seems strong and their children are young, plus the fact that Kim is twice-divorced with adult children, and you have a recipe for conflict — which is exactly what “The Real Housewives” is all about.

Although we don’t see Kyle attending services or celebrating holidays, there are signs of the Umanskys’ Jewishness sprinkled throughout the show. There are mezzuzahs and other Jewish symbols in their home, and Mauricio’s mother Elsa makes references to the family’s Jewish identity. Right now, Kyle’s storyline is about being a busy wife and stay-at-home mom, so we get plenty of glimpses of Alexia, Sophia, and Portia, her three daughters with Mauricio. Sophia is 12, so perhaps a bat mitzvah storyline will be coming up?

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: real housewives of beverly hills, real housewives, paris hilton, nicky hilton, Aviva Drescher, kyle richards, kim richards, jewish women, bravo, Jill Zarin, sisterhood

Two Sides of a Cliché Coin

By Lilit Marcus

Getty Images
Aviva Drescher

Last season, “The Real Housewives of New York City” started to fall apart. Like many reality show participants, the Housewives were all too aware of their own roles and too obsessed with promoting their products and businesses. So Bravo, the network that airs all of the “Housewives” shows, fired half the cast and brought in three new women, one of whom was Aviva Drescher. Drescher, who is Jewish, was considered the replacement for fired housewife Jill Zarin, best known for sparring with more successful ex-castmate Bethenny Frankel. Both Aviva and Jill (who reportedly know each other and hang out in real life) are terrible, stereotypical examples of Jewish women, albeit in quite different ways. Together, they exemplify every bad cliché that exists about Jewish women on television.

Some of the things that made Jill a compelling person to watch on television were the same things that made her a terrible person to watch on television. She self-identified as a “yenta,” and during the first season of the show she was shown trying to matchmake on multiple levels (she introduced a cast member with young children to a friend who did admissions for a prestigious Manhattan preschool). But as we learned more about Jill and the show brightened her star, her negative qualities came more sharply into view. She was nosy, bossy and loud. She inserted herself into every possible storyline, including ones that had nothing to do with her. She lectured others about how to dress for a wedding, how to express sympathy, and how to have a fight. In one particularly cringe-worthy moment, she saved an angry voicemail message from Frankel and played it for anyone and everyone who would listen. Sometimes, watching Jill was like watching a cartoon character come to life.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: reality tv, sisterhood, reality television, real housewives new york city, nyc, real housewives, jill zarin, bethenny frankel, aviva drescher

Prime Ribs: Zarin v. Babs; Marc Jacobs v. His Mom

By Elissa Strauss

Some not-so-endearing news from our favorite Jewish fashion designers: Marc Jacobs tells Vogue that he hasn’t spoken to his mother in over 20 years (my mom launches a re-unification campaign if we don’t speak for two days), and Donna Karan gets in trouble for her new ad campaign set in Haiti. Hat tip to Jezebel.


Jewish mother Jill Zarin may have dealt with her share of divas on the “Real Housewives of New York,” but she still wasn’t prepared for Queen Bee Barbra Streisand. Radar reports that shortly after Zarin posted a video online of Streisand performing at a recent benefit for the Israeli Defense Forces, she was contacted by Streisand’s lawyers to take down immediately. “Someone from Barbra Streisand’s company just called my store to tell me to take down my YouTube video or they will sue me. Is that nuts? Sorry guys. I took it down!” Zarin wrote.


The Jewish Women’s Repertory Company, which produces work with all-female casts for the Los Angeles Orthodox community, is out with a new show, “Me and My Girl.” As The Los Angeles Times notes, this is one play where the actresses get the good parts.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Prime Ribs, Mayim Bialik, Marriage, Marc Jacobs, Jill Zarin, American Muslim, Donna Karan, Barbra Streisand

Media Roundup: ‘Taliban Mom,’ Shabbat in Prison, Egg Trafficking

By Gabrielle Birkner

• Bad-mommy news out of Israel is in abundance this week, between Jerusalem’s “starving mom,” whose arrest sparked street riots, and the child abuse conviction of “Taliban mom” of Beit Shemesh. Sure puts these “bad mommies” in perspective.

• In the wake of the ordination of Alyssa Stanton, the first black female rabbi, Moment magazine looks at the phenomenon of “post-racial” rabbis.

• A Romanian fertility clinic was raided, and nearly two-dozen Bucharest-based Israeli doctors were detained — and later charged — in connection to a suspected human egg trafficking ring.

• Women make up 70% of the student body of Ma’aleh, the Orthodox television and film school in Jerusalem. The school’s alumnae are well represented at this week’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Tablet magazine reports.

• Nancy Goldberg, a California Jewish lay leader, writes about spending Shabbat with 30 incarcerated Jewish women; some of the women have been convicted of white-collar crimes, others drug offenses, still others murder.

• Israeli lawmakers met to address the gender gap in the Jewish state’s business, military and government sectors. Likud MK Miri Regev has proposed a bill to mandate that at least one army general position is filled by a woman.

• The National Council of Jewish Women officially threw its support behind the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayer. An email from the organization’s Action Center chastised the Senate Judiciary Committee — and its ranking member, Senator Jeff Sessions — for attempting to “obstruct a vote.”

• An Orthodox female rabbi will be known in Israel as a rabba, according to Kolech Religious Women’s Forum. Now all the group has to do is convince Israel’s rigid Orthodox religious establishment to train female clergy and recognize their rabbinic ordination.

• Jewcy has a post on a new Web portal for Jewish brides-to-be.

• Jill Zarin, the nasally gala-hopping star of the “The Real Housewives of New York,” is writing a book called “Secrets of a Jewish Mother.”

• Likud’s coalition director Aliza Barashi calls fashion model turned Yisrael Beiteinu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis a “bimbo” — and, in short order, apologizes.

• Britney Spears is reportedly converting to Judaism. Andy Borowitz’s imagines her “conversion diary” — and the result is side-splitting.

• What happened this week in Jewish women’s history? The Jewish Women’s Archive breaks it down.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sonya Sotomayor, Rabbam, Jill Zarin, Egg Trafficking, Britney Spears, Alyssa Stanton

Everyone Needs a 'Jewish Momma' — Even 'Real Housewives'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

My current guilty pleasure is “The Real Housewives of New York City. ”Watching their “reunion” on Bravo Tuesday night was like watching a sack full of expensively bejeweled, super-skinny, couture-clad cats in a sack claw at each other. But hilariously.

Going by their names, looks and mannerisms — hey, if we can’t stereotype ourselves, who can? — I’m guessing that two of the “housewives” are Jewish: Bethenny Frankel who’s single and a natural foods chef and cookbook author, and Jill Zarin (nee Kamen), a fund-raiser for several charities and mother of a teenage girl, Ally Shapiro.

Ally did this interview with New York magazine about her “Jewish momma.” Not only is Zarin the funniest of the bunch, she speaks with a bit of a Brooklyn brogue, which as a naturalized citizen of the best borough makes me like her even more. She’s kind of the hoity-toity super-rich girlfriend I’ve never had and hope one day might invite me for a shopping spree on her AmEx black card.

Part two of the catfight — I mean reunion — airs Thursday night. Tune in!

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Jill Zarin, Bravo, Bethenny Frankel, Ally Zarin, Real Housewives of New York City




Find us on Facebook!
  • "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."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • 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.