Search the amazon.com Web site for “Jewish mothers” and 6,075 hits come up. Including a related title, “Yiddishe Mamas: The Truth About the Jewish Mother.”
That’s the new book by Marnie Winston-Macauley, a Flushing-born author who lives in Las Vegas and set out to investigate and shatter the often-unflattering stereotypes about the Jewish mother.
The book, released by Andrews McMeel Publishing on the eve of Mother’s Day, features historical stories and tidbits about Jewish mothers, interviews with the hundreds of Jewish mothers — and 19 non-Jewish mothers — comments by prominent people about Jewish mothers, and a collection of classic Jewish mother jokes at the end.
She doesn’t particularly like the jokes, which often have predictable punch lines.
But they reflect one fact about Jewish mothers that accounts for their continued high visibility in popular culture.“We’re funny,” she says. “We’re Jewish funny.”
Winston-Macauley, who occasionally adopts a Yiddish accent in the middle of an interview, includes herself in that description. “I’m a Jewish mother,” with one adult child and five stepchildren, she says.
A graduate of the Columbia University School of Social Work who worked in the criminal justice system for several years before writing books and the syndicated “Ask Sadie” newspaper column, she was inspired to do her latest while working on “A Little Joy, A Little Oy: Jewish Wit and Wisdom,” her 2001 book that looked at Jewish culture through a lens of humor. Her worked yielded “thousands and thousands of pieces of research” about Jewish women, most of them mothers. The “did-you-know?” facts, Winston-Macauley says. “Unless you’re [Jewish feminist] Blu Greenberg, you don’t know this.
“There were so many fascinating stories,” she says. About pioneers of the American west (Tucson-born Clara Ferrin-Bloom) and Holocaust survivors (author Erika Amariglio), about religious leaders (Rabbi Donna Adler, Hillel leader at Miami of Ohio) and politicians (Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.)
Eventually there was a book. Its purpose: to challenge the “ethnotype” (the author’s substitute word for stereotype) about the self-effacing, child-centered Jewish mother.Because of the stereotype, many of the women Winston-Macauley interviewed declined to describe themselves as Jewish mothers. They would “fumfer.” They would hesitate. “They were embarrassed. And I don’t blame them.”
“Yiddishe Mamas” presents an alternative image, an image of strong, assertive, competent women.
Her readers who are also her subjects “love it,” she says, “because it resonates.”
“I laughed, I cried,” they tell her.
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Come Mother’s Day next year, there’ll probably be more such books to evoke laughs and tears. The number of amazon.com hits about Jewish mothers will probably exceed 6,075.