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Why Would Bethenny Frankel Deny Being Jewish?

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Jennifer Ginsberg: I admit it: I am a huge fan of "The Real Housewives of New York City."

bethenny Frankel

While I love the entire "Real Housewives" series, the New York City one is my favorite because I lived in Manhattan and it holds a special place in my heart. I find the women of the show to be an intoxicating combination of vapid and intriguing, which makes for incredible reality television! Also, being a Jewish woman, I am happy to watch successful Jewish women on the show.

Jill Zarin recently coauthored the book "Secrets of a Jewish Mother," and I was thrilled to see a famous woman not only acknowledging, but embracing, her Judaism. I also assumed that Bethenny Frankel was proudly Jewish, but when I recently watched her on the "Real Housewives" after-show hosted by Andy Cohen, I was confused by how she responded to a viewer question. Andy had received an e-mail asking Bethenny if she was Jewish (which I found odd because she is so obviously a Jew). Bethenny responded, "No, I don't consider myself Jewish. My dad was Jewish and my mom converted ... but I don't think of myself as Jewish."

I was stunned. Here is a woman who is as "Jewishy" as they come: She looks Jewish, she sounds Jewish, she has a Jewish name and Yiddish words are peppered throughout her lexicon. Not to mention the fact that she is 100 percent Jewish, given that both of her parents are Jewish (Judaism recognizes converts to be as Jewish as if they had been born Jews). Why would she deny her ethnicity?

Bethenny quickly changed the subject to her new book and talked about all of her successes as an author and celebrity chef. Here is a beautiful, accomplished woman who is riding a hard-earned wave of success, yet she flat-out denied her heritage with no explanation. Had she said, "I was Jewish, but I found Jesus and converted," I would have understood. But her only reason for not affiliating with her religion was, "I'm just spiritual." But how, I wondered, does being Jewish conflict with being "spiritual"?

I found myself feeling a bit like I did when I used to watch "Seinfeld." Here were these characters who were so clearly Jewish, but there were rarely any direct references made to their Judaism. While I thought the show was brilliantly funny, I had a hard time jumping on the "Seinfeld bandwagon" because of the Jewish elephant in the living room. There was something vaguely unsettling and self-hating about the whole thing. I could only speculate that the producers believed that if the characters openly discussed their Judaism, they would have lost a large part of their audience because of anti-Semitism. Perhaps they were right.

I wonder if Bethenny feels the same way. I've always been a fan of hers on the show; she naturally takes on the role of Greek chorus as her sharp wit and moments of vulnerability showcase her magnetic personality. But now I'm not so sure. I'm disappointed that she missed the opportunity to proudly acknowledge her Judaism in front of a mass audience, especially during a time when Jews and the State of Israel need all the support they can get! While people of all creeds and cultures -- from Muslims to African-Americans -- get major kudos for embracing their heritage, it seems as if Jews are all too often reticent to acknowledge theirs.

It has been a long-standing debate as to whether Judaism is a religion or ethnicity. I'm with most American Jews who tend to think of their Jewishness as a matter of culture. There are certain cultural traits that that are shared by many Jews, just as there are distinguishing characteristics shared by Mexican-Americans or Italian-Americans. Jews in many parts of the world share many of those cultural aspects, which only leads to the fact that Judaism is indeed a culture. So while Bethenny may not be a practicing religious Jew, she is still culturally a Jew, just as an Italian-American who doesn't practice Catholicism is still Italian.

I can only imagine the uproar if one of the African-American women from "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" denied being black. Can you imagine Nene saying, "Both of my parents were African-American, but I don't consider myself black"? Not only would it be terribly insulting to the African-American community, it would be ridiculous as well. But it seems to be socially acceptable for Jews to assimilate to the point of denial.

In our society, we celebrate racial and religious diversity, and this is a wonderful thing
-- except, maybe, if you are Jewish. I'm now even more proud of Jill Zarin for valuing her heritage enough to write a book that celebrates everything that Judaism, her rich and beautiful faith, has taught her. And I wish Bethenny had had the chutzpah to at least answer "yes" when asked about hers.


next: Will Facebook Kill the High School Reunion?
112 comments so far | Post a comment now
Dina July 16, 2010, 12:45 PM

As my father said, when you are in a ditch and the bombs are flying over your head you find G-d very quickly. And another point, don’t you get it? It is not popular to be a Jew now, not in style, not in fashion. Everything about her is cool, stylish, touching, moving, pretty. Judaism does not fit in this image.

janet pomponio July 16, 2010, 1:57 PM

yeah know this is the problem….she gets this show..(and previouse)and people think they own her. she does not have to answer anything she doesnt want to. some things are private to us as individuals. with all that bethanny devulges about herself, her life, some have to take this one thing and blow it up………i like her very much, alittle crase yes, but i am so happy for her. her love for jason and her child just comes thru her eyes. God bless you mr and mrs hoppy and wbw well always………..ps..bethanny i think you are a crazy, funny ,intense new yorker,,,whick being in the south now i miss………..

zenxen July 16, 2010, 2:20 PM

Bethenny is Jewish if her mother converted to Judaism BEFORE Bethenny was born. If mom converted afterwards, Bethenny is not Jewish; she would herself have to convert to become a Jew.

Lisa Marie July 16, 2010, 3:09 PM

I agree with most of the posters here.
I am an Italian American. That is my nationality but has nothing to do with my religious beliefs. I am Catholic but do not beleieve in a lot of the Catholic Ideas. I believe all religions have a lot to say in the way of creation and traditions. I have interest in Juddism, Buddah there is some much information. If Bethany did not grow up going to Church or Temple then see is simply not religious and there is no reading into it. parents influence the children. Her parents had no real influence on her. There for she is just Bethany, someone like me who believes in all kinds of spirituality.

KACHINA321@AOL.COM July 16, 2010, 3:16 PM

BEING JEWISH IS A RELIGION. FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO THINK DIFFERANT IS NUTS. ALL OF A SUDDEN EVERYONE WANTS TO BE A JEW. WHICH I FIND VERY FUNNY. BEING A JEW WAS THE LAST THING PEOPLE WANTED TO BE.
THERE IS A LOT THAT COMES WITH BEING A JEW. I WAS SURPRISED THAT JASON DID NOT BREAK THE GLASS AT THE END OF HER CERIMONY SHE IS A VERY CLASSY LADY JEWISH OR NOT.

Sela July 22, 2010, 2:17 PM

I totally agree with you on Bethenny and on the Seinfeld cast. In Bethenny’s case, perhaps she was not raised Jewish. Her father wasn’t a part of her life since she was 4. Sounds like her mother distanced herself completely from him and his family. She probably did a quickie for marriage only conversion that she later dismissed. So she looks Jewish, she sounds Jewish, but alas…she is not a Jew.

Manolita July 26, 2010, 1:17 PM

No one has a right to tell someone else what their ethnicity is. Bethanny may not have been brought up as a Jew. I live in NYC and a lot of people who are not Jewish use yiddish expressions and a lot of women sound like her even though they’re Italian-American Catholics. You can’t label other people.
Many people do not follow the religion into which they are born. Religion and ethnicity are not the same thing; religion is part of one’s ethnicity, but not the whole. I think Bethanny is an amazing woman for being a survivor of childhood abuse and dedicating herself to finding her way in the world.

Kris July 29, 2010, 1:13 PM

Some of you just had to bring up the anti semetic card or that you have to hide that your jewish because of people’s reaction. Are you kidding me? Maybe if some stopped acting so entitled to everything and wanting everything for FREE, then there wouldn’t be that stereotype and you wouldn’t have to hide. Just look at Zarrin; she’s an embarrassment to Jewish women. Her husband also is an embarrassment; he overlooks her demonic behavior and keeps giving her whatever she wants. Typical Jewish husband.

#1 Nana fm MD August 5, 2010, 10:53 AM

Seriously—you like Jill Zarin’s behavior over Bethenny? Jill was a bully this year. I loved her in the beginning…she was nuturing and funny. However, it is obvious to many of us that fame got to Jill in a negative way! Whereas Bethenny has embraced her fame and now has a wonderful life. Bethenny’s new show is terrific! She does not bad mouth anyone! Team Bethenny!

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Kevin Heldman November 13, 2010, 12:08 PM

re: “I had a hard time jumping on the Seinfeld band wagon because of the Jewish elephant in the living room. There was something vaguely unsettling and self-hating about the whole thing”

I agree, but my own feelings are a little complicated, mixed up on this though.

I did write about it if anyone might be interested.
“On Post-Traumatic Stress and Seinfeld (Remembrances of a Jew who had pennies pitched at him)”
http://kevinjayheldman.wordpress.com/

Best,
Kevin Heldman
JournalismWorksProject.org

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