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When Your Mom Doesn’t Fit the Jewish Mother Stereotype

The author, Kara Sherman, with her mother. Photo credit: Kara Sherman.

The author, Kara Sherman, with her mother. Photo credit: Kara Sherman.

Loud. Abrasive. Bossy. Great cook. These attributes all contribute to the popular caricature of the “Jewish American Mother.” I know plenty of women who fit this description. I’ve taught their kids on Sunday mornings. I love some of them. I can’t stand some of them. My mother is Jewish, and American, and pretty bossy when she needs to be; but she’s never conformed to this stereotype. 

While matzah ball soup and potato pancakes have become deli staples across America, no one can beat an authentic, homemade, kosher-style meal. I grew up on my paternal grandmother’s brisket and latkes, but those kinds of foods were always holiday treats I never expected to have at home. My mother has always hated cooking. She’s worked all my life, has a PhD from Duke University, and doesn’t have the energy to waste on activities she doesn’t enjoy. Sure, I’ve never gone hungry—she comes home every evening and makes a meal for my sister, father, and I—but I’ve always been able to tell that she doesn’t enjoy it. She needs to feed her family, and then she needs to go to sleep. My family views food as fuel, not as something to be savored and enjoyed, largely because of my mother’s attitude toward cooking.

This being said, my mother is still Jewish—and she’s still a damn good mom. She’s never been one for practicing her religion, but she chants the Shabbat candle blessings with me when I ask her to. Her mother was Jewish, her father is Jewish, and without really meaning to, she raised a Jewish family. But she doesn’t like to cook.