Arts & Culture

Jewcy Interviews: Jill Zarin of “The Real Housewives of New York”

Real Housewives of New York star Jill Zarin is perhaps the most identifiably Jewish woman on television today.  She hails from Woodmere, Long Island; she speaks with inflated vowels and shrunken consonants and her heart will not stop beating tachycardiacally … Read More

By / July 14, 2010

Real Housewives of New York star Jill Zarin is perhaps the most identifiably Jewish woman on television today.  She hails from Woodmere, Long Island; she speaks with inflated vowels and shrunken consonants and her heart will not stop beating tachycardiacally until her daughter gets into a top tier college.  Even her wit ("Usually I’m the one doing all the talking but these two girls were out-Yenta-ing me!") seems to have inherited the vantage point of the shtetl from her ancestors.

Surprisingly, these traits do not add up to a one-note Jewish caricature – a la Fran Drescher.  While The Nanny had all the emotional range of (err) a stuffed animal, Jill has the dexterity to  play both a stereotype and a complicated woman, one who cares deeply about her friends and family but often gets sidetracked by petty cat-fighting.  Jill, along with her sister Lisa Wexler and mother Gloria Kamen recently wrote Secrets of a Jewish Mother, a guide to motherhood that offers such overbearing, over-loving advice as: "If a lesson is worth teaching once, it is worth teaching at least two thousand times."

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Jill about Jewish motherhood, henna tattoos, and (hold your breath) the Real Housewives Reunion Special.

 

Thank you for chatting with me Jill. How did Bravo find you for the show?

They cold called me after seeing my photo on nysocialdiary.com. I then introduced them to Bethenny and Luann.

 

What happened next? Did you have a screen test?

They came to NY to film me for a "day in the life." Then I got a call 9 months later that the show was "green lit" and ready to go.

 

What is your biggest insecurity?

I don’t know if I could name just one! I am always trying to lose that last " 5-10" pounds. I am always insecure about how I look. 

 

Would you consider yourself socially ambitious?

I consider myself driven in life. I was taught to strive for excellence in everything I do.

 

Writer Ayelet Waldman once said that Jewish mothers have turned the entire Western world into Jewish mothers – that now everyone is guilty and overprotective.  Do you think this is true? Do you think "Jewish mothering" has spread virally across religious and cultural lines?

If it is true, it is a wonderful thing. The first thing we say in our book is that you don’t have to be Jewish to be a "Jewish Mother" and that is often maligned. We tried to demystify that "rumor" by explaining why being a "Jewish Mother" is a good thing, not a bad one. 

 

What differences have you observed between Ashkenazi and Sephardic mothers?

I asked my sister Lisa, co- author of Secrets and host of The Lisa Wexler Radio show for help on this one. Lisa has a good friend in Israel who married a Moroccan Jew, and, hence, has a Sephardic mother-in-law.  She believes very strongly in traditions such as celebrating every Shabbos with the entire family together around a large dining table. Also, she drew a henna design on the palm of Lisa’s friend’s hand the night before the wedding.  But essentially, all mothers want the same thing, wherever they come from.

 

You and your daughter Ally seem to have the most tenderhearted mother-child relationship on the show.  Has Judaism influenced your feelings about family?

Thank you for that compliment. Relationships are the most important thing in my life and we talk about that a lot in our new book "Secrets of  a Jewish Mother". Jewish people in general value parenting as the most important job a person can have.

 

There was a torrent of hits thrown at you at the reunion special.  How are you holding up?

I admit it was not the easiest day for me. Sometimes I look at it as a "job" and that helps me get through it. If not for the show, most of the relationships, good and bad, would not exist. We each have a different set of friends and are at different points in our lives. It is hard to be judged as a "friend" when in fact some of us only see each other when the cameras are rolling. For example, I only met the 2 newest housewives, Jen Gilbert and Sonja Morgan on "set". We had no history together. However, I have enjoyed meeting them both and hope to develop a friendship on and off camera in the future. 

 

Was it upsetting for Ally to watch?

Believe it or not, we really don’t talk about the show much. So many fans have written to her how much they love us, that it has been a good experience for her, not bad. She is co-president of www.teensturninggreen.org and is using her " celebrity" to promote Green Living. She is also involved in many charities that would otherwise not get attention.

 

Last question: If a movie was to be made about Jill Zarin, what would it be called?

That is easy. The connector!