Free Chanukah poster

Home
In this issue
December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2005 / 20 Kislev, 5765

When saying ‘happy holidays’ is the least of the problems

By Elliot B. Gertel


Printer Friendly Version

Email this article


UPN sitcom airing tonight takes a thoughtful, serious look at interfaith marriage


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Girlfriends is a popular series on UPN about four young Black women, their lives, loves, and lamentations. It might be the last place that most TV viewers would have looked for a Chanukah versus Christmas episode, yet it is a very worthwhile place for such a theme. The show's energy, wit and pathos serve it well in exploring any serious theme, with appropriate humor.


The episode, "All G-d's Children," begins with Toni (Jill Marie Jones) showing her friends a power point presentation she has prepared in video to impress the judge presiding over her custody battle for baby daughter Morgan with her ex husband, Todd (Jason Pace). She has decided that her willingness to expose the baby both to her Black heritage and to Todd's Jewish heritage will win her points in court. She highlights both Christmas and Chanukah and even throws in a "mazal tov" for good measure. She has even agreed to invite Todd and his mother, along with her family and friends, in order to celebrate Christmas and Chanukah together, since the first candle falls on Christmas Day.


The combined celebration is a disaster from the start. The Jewish mother (Caroline Aaron) cuts off the Black mother's carol singing (in fine voice and style, by the way), before the latter gets to "receive my king." During the candle lighting ceremony (which Todd does with atrocious Hebrew pronunciation) the Black mother (Jenifer Lewis) complains that Todd could be intoning some kind of voodoo curse to send Toni's family back to Africa. When she further protests the "blessing of the Chanukah candles" on the grounds that "we don't worship false idols in our church," Todd's mother retorts, "Obviously they don't teach manners at your church."


I suspect that the Black mother won that round because neither Todd nor his mother understands that it is not the candles that are blessed, but the G-d Who is thanked for the Maccabean victory that saved Judaism. (And, thus, made her Christianity possible.) Also, Todd's mother's complaint about the Christmas tree being a fire trap is well countered in a reminder by Toni's mom that candles can cause fires too.


Back in the privacy of their own bedroom, one of Toni's friends discusses the fiasco with her husband. "Toni and Todd had absolutely no business getting together," she says, quoting Second Corinthians 6:14 to the effect that husband and wife must be "equally yoked" to the faith. "Marriage is hard enough," she concludes, "without having to deal with all that race and religion drama. We're lucky. We're both black and Baptist."


Here is the kind of statement that Jewish characters rarely make on television nowadays (the last time, I think, being a remark by Thelma Lee as a Jewish grandmother on the 1988 Buck James series). We have to admire this Black girlfriend's candor. Also, she gets to quote a scriptural verse in a television series in a respectful manner. Even on most of the drama shows, whether Law and Order or Medium, it is only a murderous, ranting lunatic who quotes from any scriptures. Girlfriends renders scripture-quoting natural and admirable.


For whatever reason, writers Mark Alton Brown and Dee Leduke undermine their own character's argument by bringing it home in a rather flip manner. It seems that she and her husband are not both Baptists. He fesses up that "during our time apart," he had become an Episcopalian, since that form of Christianity requires less hours in church, and had introduced their son to it. She says she is appalled by such "Christian lite," but subsequent events belie her own rhetoric.


The episode's comedic relief calls into question the credibility of some friends' rhetoric, but certain messages still come through loud and clear.


The anguish of the Jewish mother comes through unequivocally. In the car she reminds Todd, "You can't be Jewish and Christian. It's not possible." When Todd responds, "We're figuring it out," his mother retorts, "There's no time to figure it out. Morgan's here now….[Toni's] meshugeneh mother is right about one thing. Our little Morgan will always be perceived as Black. We're Jewish, Todd. Our people have been Jewish for 5,000 years. And if you don't raise her Jewish, G-d forbid, you're just completing Hitler's word." (At this point she spits in the old East European manner.) The Jewish mother is not without self-awareness. She admits that she is being "over the top." But she laments that the beautiful "little pitzele" may well prove to be her only grandchild, especially since Todd's brother is "on hormones" and "growing breasts."


Todd jokes about his mother "trying to guilt" him. She makes some crack about sticking it out for him in a "miserable marriage," but when he suggests divorce, she asks how she could divorce a wonderful man like his father, and on Chanukah, and again "guilts" him, this time with a "Shame on you."


The anguish of the Black mother also comes through loud and clear. "You might want to get down on your knees for bringing Chanukah all up and through on your baby's first Christmas." (I admire the vitality and imagery of the language that the writers give her.) When Toni tells her that Jesus probably celebrated Chanukah, she retorts effectively that Jesus must have celebrated Chanukah before he "found Jesus." When Toni insists that exposing Morgan to both religions will make Toni's case look better in court, her mother rebukes her, "Oh you think you're being all legalistic and strategic [she might as well have said, "Pharisaic," and thrown in an old canard], but all you're doing is mixing that child up." She concludes, "I want Morgan to live with you in this life…but I got to think about our next life. I don't want my pretty little grandbaby waving to me from the other side of the Pearly Gates."


Todd tells Toni that he wants people to see something of him in Morgan. "She's got black hair," Toni replies. "You're getting greedy." When Toni asks if Todd's mother brought up his concern about Morgan's being raised Jewish, he fesses up, "She brought it up, but it got me thinking. It's important to me. We should have talked about it before, but here we are."


Toni's quip about Todd being "greedy" proves prophetic. He offers to drop his petition for full custody if Toni will agree to raise Morgan as a Jew. At first, Toni jumps at the offer, chirping to her friends that she's going to take Morgan to "some religious hot tub and dunk her and convert her." Her friends are opposed to the decision. The friend concerned about what church she and her husband will attend reminds Toni that Jews "denied the word when it was fresh and new."


Other friends chide her that she must teach Morgan that "the church is our rock and strength," and that it is better to "stand up for Jesus" or at least expose their daughter to both faiths.


Things come to a head at the conversion ceremony, at the mikvah (ritual bath) in the presence of a religious court consisting of a rabbi and two other men and Todd's mother who, for some reason, is wearing a large tallis (prayer shawl). (Is she supposed to represent Jewish women who happen to be overbearing and who have rediscovered their faith?)


In a scene that comes across as highly discriminatory, Todd is in the mikvah with Morgan. Far off to the side (and back) are Toni and her family, who want to know why they have to be in the "back of the mikvah" and threaten a "Rosa Parks moment" (a good phrase). This, of course, could only have transpired in a non-Orthodox conversion, as the religious ceremony in traditional Judaism would have avoided hurt feelings precisely because it is generally not open to non-co-religionists.


In the end Toni cannot permit the conversion to take place. Toni asserts that her change of heart represents a resolve to move beyond the "knee jerk decisions" she has made in the past. The religious court has no choice but to accept that. Traditional Judaism would not expect a non-Jewish mother to agree to convert her child. While that would be most welcome, the bottom line is that with or without some previous agreement, no non-Jewish mother is required by Jewish Law and tradition to raise her daughter as Jewish. Even a child who has been converted does have the option, at maturity, of rejecting that conversion.


This episode of Girlfriends presents a lot of harsh truths, but manages to maintain dignity and humor. That is no mean achievement, especially on the theme of interfaith marriage.


True, the Jewish father here uses a rather underhanded ploy to get his wife to agree to the conversion, but the episode begins with her using a rather underhanded ploy to succeed in the custody case. Such things happen in divorce.


In general, there is parity in this episode, though, as I said, Jewish Law would definitely side with the non-Jewish mother. Even so, I was troubled by the treatment of Jewish men. The Jewish father is absent  —   not dead, not cut off, just absent. It seems that someone was awfully anxious to do unto Jewish fathers what has become the common depiction of Black men. Also, a lot is made of Todd's "insecurity." Neither he nor the writers protest when his mother calls him "a short, insecure boy just like your father who chased after the unattainable exotic beauty." Mother is good-looking enough to get away with that, but is this the only reason that the writers let her get away with it, besides complimenting one of the girlfriends, of course?


This episode of Girlfriends is, so far, one of TV's best arguments against interfaith marriage. The dialogue leads me to give credit to writers Brown and Leduke for achieving that intentionally. They obviously wanted the episode to be thought provoking and illustrate that love doesn't always conquer all — that in interfaith marriages there can, and indeed almost always are, problems. Serious ones.


I'll leave it to viewers to decide whether or not the writers regard those as across-the-board problems or as issues exacerbated by the dysfunctionality and affluence of the Jewish family.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and the media consider must-reading. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Contributing writer Elliot B. Gertel, JWR's resident media maven, is a Conservative rabbi based in Chicago. His latest book is "Over the Top Judaism: Precedents and Trends in the Depiction of Jewish Beliefs and Observances in Film and Television". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

Comment by clicking here.

© 2005, Elliot B. Gertel