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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
Alveo March 22, 2011, 8:26 AM

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JDFrankel March 28, 2011, 7:59 PM

I hate it when Jewish people confuse their religion with their ethnicity.

Ariana March 29, 2011, 9:58 PM

“Muslims are embraced when they acknowledge their heritage”. Are you kidding? Remember when Barack Hussein Obama had to constantly deny any affiliation with Islam so that people would stop linking him to the religion? Meanwhile Rahm Emmanuel has openly discussed his Jewish faith and never gotten any flack for it. The fact is, people ARE celebrated for associating themselves with Judaism.

Natalie Portman is one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood and has always expressed pride in her heritage. Countless Jewish celebrities have no qualms with embracing Judaism and are celebrated for it. Remember the late Elizabeth Taylor? Converting to Judaism and her involvement in Jewish causes has never cost her any roles. There was even a special on VH1 called “Jewtastic” devoted to Jewish culture and its influence on pop culture. I think it’s a little overblown to say celebrities have to hide their Jewishness in order to avoid anti-semitism.

Bethenny has often said she doesn’t have a religion. Her mother was a Christian who converted to Judaism and she went to Catholic School because of her step-father. Nobody is taking it as a diss that she’s denying being Catholic either. This is simply a woman with an unstable family history who never felt connected to her roots to begin with (apparently she was looked after mainly by her friends’ parents who took her in). It’s thus understandable that she doesn’t feel connected to her Jewish roots.

Ariana March 29, 2011, 10:25 PM

“Muslims are embraced when they acknowledge their heritage”. Are you kidding? Remember when Barack Hussein Obama had to constantly deny any affiliation with Islam so that people would stop linking him to the religion? Meanwhile Rahm Emmanuel has openly discussed his Jewish faith and never gotten any flack for it. The fact is, people ARE celebrated for associating themselves with Judaism.

Natalie Portman is one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood and has always expressed pride in her heritage. Countless Jewish celebrities have no qualms with embracing Judaism and are celebrated for it. Remember the late Elizabeth Taylor? Converting to Judaism and her involvement in Jewish causes has never cost her any roles. There was even a special on VH1 called “Jewtastic” devoted to Jewish culture and its influence on pop culture. I think it’s a little overblown to say celebrities have to hide their Jewishness in order to avoid anti-semitism.

Bethenny has often said she doesn’t have a religion. Her mother was a Christian who converted to Judaism and she went to Catholic School because of her step-father. Nobody is taking it as a diss that she’s denying being Catholic either. This is simply a woman with an unstable family history who never felt connected to her roots to begin with (apparently she was looked after mainly by her friends’ parents who took her in). It’s thus understandable that she doesn’t feel connected to her Jewish roots.

Esta Wann March 31, 2011, 5:16 PM

Some great ideas here.

debra April 9, 2011, 1:12 PM

ok.
you are “religiously” jewish if your mother was jewish (even if she was only a converted jew)
example:
if your father was an irish catholic and your mother was an irish catholic who converted to judaism. you are according to jewish law, jewish. you don’t look jewish, you do not have any semetic blood, you will not get tay-sachs disease, etc.

you are “ethnically” jewish if any parent was ethnically jewish. which is why the nazis killed germans who had converted to christianity. they were killed because they had a jewish blood ancester.

when bethanny was asked if she was jewish, she was considering the question from a religious standpoint. she said she was not religious, but spiritual.

obviously her father and her name are jewish. so that would make her have semitic blood and make her “ethnically” jewish. but since she was not raised “jewish” that is about it. she “looks” jewish and certainly has some jewish blood.

compare used cars  April 20, 2011, 4:18 AM

Very informative post. Thanks for taking the time to share your view with us.

proud to be jewish April 21, 2011, 6:42 AM

Just a word, someone cannot “look” Jewish. “looking” Jewish is one of the most self-effacing issues that Jews themselves perpetrate. It is also anti=semitic to say that, what is “looking” Jewish? Big nose and brown hair? Jewish people come in all shapes, sizes and looks.They have all different color hair, shaped noses, accents, body types. That is what makes Jewish peope great.

taylor April 22, 2011, 2:22 PM

i have never seen anyone more jewish than bethenny frankel in my life. she is the epitome of a jewish woman.

Anonymous May 12, 2011, 10:15 AM

Betheny you are a beyotch and phony!
…Please buy my book ” How to be a jewish mother”….Oye vay!

Claire June 4, 2011, 11:21 AM

Why does it bother you that she doesn’t consider herself to be Jewish? Religion is completely different from race in that you really should be able to choose your own religion based on your beliefs. Both my parents were baptised and Christian but I certainly don’t consider myself to be a Christian because I’m simply not religious. If she doesn’t find that her beliefs align with the Jewish religion, why on earth isn’t she allowed to associate with another religion or even no religion at all? Who cares if her parents were Jewish…


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