You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother

You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother

You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother

You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother

Synopsis

In You Never Call, You Never Write, Joyce Antler provides an illuminating and often amusing history of one of the best-known figures in popular culture--the Jewish Mother. Whether drawn as self-sacrificing or manipulative, in countless films, novels, radio and television programs, stand-up comedy, and psychological and historical studies, she appears as a colossal figure, intensely involved in the lives of her children.
Antler traces the odyssey of this compelling personality through decades of American culture. She reminds us of a time when Jewish mothers were admired for their tenacity and nurturance, as in the early twentieth-century image of the "Yiddishe Mama," a sentimental figure popularized by entertainers such as George Jessel, Al Jolson, and Sophie Tucker, and especially by Gertrude Berg, whose amazingly successful "Molly Goldberg" ruled American radio and television for over 25 years. Antler explains the transformation of this Jewish Mother into a "brassy-voiced, smothering, and shrewish" scourge (in Irving Howe's words), detailing many variations on this negative theme, from Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint and Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks to television shows such as "The Nanny," "Seinfeld," and "Will and Grace." But she also uncovers a new counter-narrative, leading feminist scholars and stand-up comediennes to see the Jewish Mother in positive terms. Continually revised and reinvented, the Jewish Mother becomes in Antler's expert hands a unique lens with which to examine vital concerns of American Jews and the culture at large.
A joy to read,You Never Call, You Never Writewill delight anyone who has ever known or been nurtured by a "Jewish Mother," and it will be a special source of insight for modern parents. As Antler suggests, in many ways "we are all Jewish Mothers" today.

Excerpt

When the house was full with the sound of children’s voices
And the kitchen smelled of roast and dumplings.
You can be sure our house did not lack poverty,
But there was always enough for the children.
She used to voluntarily give us bread from her mouth
And she would have given up her life for her children as well.
Millions of dollars, diamonds, big beautiful houses—
But one thing in the world you get only one of from God:
A yiddishe mama, she makes the world sweet
A yiddishe mama, oh how bitter when she’s missing.
You should thank God that you still have her with you—
You don’t know how you’ll grieve when she passes away.
She would have leaped into fire and water for her children.
Not cherishing her is certainly the greatest sin.
Oh, how lucky and rich is the person who has such a beautiful gift from God:
Just a little old yiddishe mama, my mama.

—“My Yiddishe Mama,” sung by Sophie Tucker,
(translation of Yiddish version)

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