Let’s get something straight: I believe that the world would be a far better place, and women would be far better off, if Bravo had never invented the “Real Housewives” television reality show genre. But unfortunately for women — especially those of Orange County, Beverly Hills, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey and Washington, DC — there is obviously some deep human need for a glimpse of the lives of the rich and ostentatious, and what better, albeit sexist, prism than the lives of the privileged women? And so the endless viewing of luxury living and staged catfighting, where men are either non-existent, or as interesting than the furniture, became a staple of American television.
Then just as nearly every successful reality series from “Survivor” to “The Voice” has made aliyah to Israel, so came the “Housewives” concept. The staged reality series about wealthy Israeli women, “HaMeusharot,” (“Wealthy Women”) and the timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate. Right around its premiere last summer, Israeli social protesters pitched their tents on Rothschild Street and the ‘tycoons’ become public enemy number one. It was as if the series premiere of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” coincided with the emergence of Occupy Wall Street.
You’d think people wouldn’t have been in the mood for the rich and famous. But the show quickly drew an audience and received relatively strong ratings for the financially struggling television channel that airs it.
I have a particularly vivid memories of visiting New York City as a small child. We’d take a bus, my mother and grandmother and I, early in the morning, from Western Massachusetts, where we lived. We took this trip every year from third grade until high school, planning our consumer attacks on Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s to buy school clothes. We’d eat dinner in the basement of Macy’s, where it was dim, bustling and smelled like coffee. Then we’d pile our shopping bags onto the bus for a long, cramped ride home.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I learned that some people thought that all Jews were rich. In my world, they weren’t. Growing up, it had been painfully obvious to me that some Jewish communities had money, and my mother wanted to associate with people in those communities. If we didn’t actually have money, we at least had to appear to have it.
American Jews have built identity around the idea of making it, to the degree, I believe, that we push those who have not achieved academically and financially, to the margins. But money remains a source of deep shame for me, my lack of it growing up, a still-fresh wound. Because of this, I keep it close.