I Think I Owe a Big Thank You to Susie Essman

I owe a big thank you to Susie Essman. Yes, you read right—Susie Essman, the vulgar fouled mouthed comedienne now staring in the forthcoming Hallmark Hall of Fame documentary “Loving Leah.” Its not because she makes me laugh—believe me, she doesn’t, but Essman reminds me of why I am here and why I want to stay with Yiddishkeit.

When I first started thinking about writing this column, I felt flooded with self pity about how painful my teshuva journey has been. All kinds of unpleasant memories came back— my son being rejected from a yeshiva, my daughter being insulted by the Bais Yaacov principal, my other son getting potsched by his rebbe . No, the frum world hasn’t turned out to be heilige Disneyland I was, in my foolish naiveté searching for not now, but then I watched the YouTube clip of Susie Essman’s interview on the View.

In case you’ve been living Meah Shearim ( probably not a bad choice but then you wouldn’t be online would you) or in a cave, Essman is the star of the television drama “Loving Leah,” the latest media attempt to portray our people are bizarre primitives. “Loving Leah” is actually the story of —get this—a “modern thinking” Hassidic woman, a Lubavitcher ( no, not of the Rivkah Holzberg O”H ilk) who by a strange quirk of circumstance engages in a Levirate Marriage (yibum) with her late husbands secular brother.

And of course, , rather than the brother in law turned husband discovering the delights of the religious life, (that would have been the Artscroll plot) the opposite takes place, with lovely Leah letting her hair down and learning just how lovely it is to be secular, well maybe not quite secular but certainly a little less far frumped than she had been because being too frum is just, well, uncool, almost un-American.

Does everybody read the subplot? We , the uncompromising orthodox, the bnai aliya those of us who see our lives as a pursuit of holiness are a subversive group. Our culture is antithetical to the American way of life (the pursuit of happiness through whichever means suits you) and we need to be put in our place ie: made to seem ridiculous. That is what ‘Loving Leah” is all about..

Essman who plays Leah’s super frummed out (read crazy fanatic extremist Taliban) the mother who objects to this marriage comes across as stiff and uncool and badly out of step with core American values— for example she wants her daughter to get married and have kids rather than go to college.

When she asks her potential son in law whether he belongs to a shul he shakes his head, but he adds, “I do belong to a gym.” This is intended as a witticism but it sounds dangerously close to the Chanukah tale.

On the notorious “View” interview, Essman carried this one step further mocking the concept of hair covering shaking her head and screaming out. “I can’t imagine any man being turned on by my hair.” Note that Essman herself is one of our tribe As they say, there is no anti Semite like a Jewish anti Semite..

. When asked what she learned about Hassidic woman her answer was, “that they don’t dress very well.” Well what is dressing well? Looking sexy no doubt, given the come hither look adopted by Essman and all the panel members with the exception of the androgynously attired Whoopi Goldberg.

Another panelist noted, in case we hadn’t thought of this, that the orthodox were like the Muslims in their preoccupation (read neurotic obsession) with covering up. One wonders whether they think we wear suicide packs too?

When asked on the “View” to describe the mental process she used to “get into” the role of an uptight Chassidic mother role Essman quipped .”I just imagined my own daughter marrying a right wing republican” at which point entire panel broke into laughter.

There you have it, on prime time TV, a major star suggesting that adherence to the mitzvos is analogous to espousing unhip, atavistic and even proto fascist political views.

I haven’t heard that the ADL or the ACLU have taken to the barricades against Essman. Maybe they will but I doubt it. What I can say though is that on a personal level, Essman has brought my blood to a rousing boil and reminding me that I belong here, in the frum camp despite all of its imperfections. I and all the rest of us frummers are the children of Avraham Avinu, the original contrarian who stood on one side of the river while all of civilization stood on the other. And we are still standing there 3000 years later . It is people like Susie Essman who make sure we don’t forget it.

13 comments on “I Think I Owe a Big Thank You to Susie Essman

  1. In the situation I myself am in (observant, but married to a non-religious Jew), and not having cable TV (we both think that’s a waste), I just HAD to see this movie, and the easiest way I could was to buy it. I had mixed reactions. First of all, I would never want my husband to see this movie, because of the way the woman ends up compromising her Yiddishkeit. He might wonder why I am trying not to compromise mine. Also, some of the details of the plot had me wondering, where exactly did Taharat HaMishpacha come into all this? And joining a Reform temple … ugh. I guess I had wanted to see if – even in a pretend-world movie plot – they could figure out how one partner in a marriage could help the other grow Jewishly, rather than that they would both assimilate. Oh well. Now, back to coping with reality….

  2. Liberal Jews often have the deepest hatred and disrespect for frum yidden. So many times, goyim are more friendly to us than our own people. It is a shame, but I can resonate better with Catholic seminarians, as a young frum yid going to college half the day at a Catholic college in New Jersey, than with the non-religious kids here. The Catholic seminarians have a respect for our religion and are appalled by any anti-semitism, when the frei yidden say that they don’t care about Israel and say that Lubavitchers are racist, etc. Additionally, people should know that this actress and Larry David make fun of yiddishkeit all the time in their program Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO in their stereoptypical portrayal of Chasidic Jews. This should come as no surprise.

  3. Mr. Weiner,

    I respectfully disagree. Although the show was obviously not blatantly anti-semitic, it gave the impression that Leah (who went beyond just changing her appearance) “came to her senses” and compromised her Judaism for the sake of “love” which is (according to the producers) a much higher aspiration. It was not mean spirited, but I did get a strong impression that it used the ceremony as its proof that orthodoxy is at best silly and at worst ridiculous.

  4. The statements you describe on the View were bigoted and vicious. However, I have a different view of the Hallmark program as actually being pro-TV land Judaism. Many offerings on the Hallmark channel are full of open Christian references. My guess is the producers wanted to do something positive about Jews for the Christian audience. So they came up with an improbable love story between a Hasidic widow and her irreligious brother-in-law. The actors performing as Hasidic Rabbis doing a Levirate ceremony are given respectful treatment at the beginning of the program. The concept of Levirate marriage is explained and not made ridiculous. Leah is positively portrayed as keeping her commitment to be Shomer Shabbos. Her brother-in-law’s movement from agnostic workaholic doctor to Reform Jew is presented sympathetically. On the other hand, Leah’s giving up a wig and tznius in her dress to win over his love satisfies the television crowd’s view of what is “normal.” Her joining him to attend a Reform service with a woman Rabbi also probably satisfies the audiences view of what a Jewish “church” should look and sound like. It reminds me of the early U.S. President John Adams who expressed his admiration of the Jews while stating he hoped they would progress to become liberal Christians one day. He would have liked the program.

  5. Great article, but I do take issue with one comment: Susie Essman is not a “major star.” She’s not even a minor star. She’s an unknown to 99% of secular Jews who might be watching. So she is not throwing any star power behind this.

  6. So-called “Jewish” newspapers like the UJA-Federation JEWISH WEEK and HaAretz attack Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism at every possible opportunity.

    The agenda of the media is politics, not unbiased truth.

  7. This dirtbag medium will continue to air dirtbag content until it has some economic incentive not to do so. In this case, the chassidim are typically not TV watchers in the first place, so it’s up to other Jews who watch to let advertisers know their displeasure and to opt out of the TV audience (this incident being only one reason).

  8. Not only do I agree with Anxious Ima about being relieve to be here, but also glad I no longer have a TV. I’d heard about this show, however. It’s actually good it’s been brought to our attention so that we know how to respond when people question our beliefs vs what they see on the tube (be it youtube or TV).

    And it’s a sad but true fact that it’s the media portrial of us that will “inform” the vast majority of secular Jews as to how out of touch we are.

  9. I saw the clip, it actually got even worse as Essman suggested that all Hassidic women are ugly. It was a disgusting, infuriating display and other than Joy Behar trying to lessen the blow a little bit (“they are like everyone else, some are pretty and some……)no one tried to call her on it.I have other comments but I am working on my middos.

    The show (it actually already aired) was actually so ridiculous that it would be comical if it did not give viewers so many false impressions.

  10. This is terrible! What an awful thing to have on TV. I don’t live in a cave but had not heard of this.

    No other religion would be abused this way on television, except perhaps Catholicism. The fact that this is certainly the work of Jewish writers is, however, particularly tragic.

  11. I don’t have a TV so I did not watch “Loving Leah”, but some of my friends and relatives told me about it. To me the sad thing is that many secular Jews learn about Judiasm from Hollywood’s tainted and slanted views.

    By the way, Anxious Ima, you are unfortunately not alone in getting your kids through the yeshiva system. I think BT’s have a rougher time because they expect more from the yeshivos than just to be another business. I have come to realize that the yeshivos are run by human beings who are doing their best but make mistakes. I forgive them for what they have done to me and my daughter.

  12. Thanks for writing what I was thinking. I first read about The View interview on another blog, and then I had to see the clip for myself. My blood did indeed boil – like SHE should defame the holy women who open their doors to humanity offering them comfort, food, and drink? – and I let ’em have it in the letter I submitted on The View’s comments page online. I was disgusted in so many ways…but lets hope that everyone else who watched it thought it was nonsense too…

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