Princesses of Long Island: You Had Me at Shalom (or not)
I just finished watching the first episode of Bravo’s new reality show, “The Princesses of Long Island.” If you haven’t seen it, just think of a prequel to “The Real Housewives of Long Island.” The show focuses on 6 women in their late 20s who all live at home, have varying levels of codependency with their parents and are searching for their own “Prince Charming” while partying it up in Long Island. According to Bravo’s website the ladies are all college educated, but only one of them mentions a job of any sort during the first episode. If you didn’t already know the girls were all Jewish, you might figure it out from the first episode’s title: “You Had Me at Shalom”… or the number of times they proclaimed themselves to be the very definition of “Jewish American Princesses.”
As an admitted (if sheepish) lover of just about any trashy TV that Bravo produces, I knew I wasn’t going to miss this show. It also didn’t hurt that iTunes is giving away the first episode for free! (I should probably refrain from making a joke here about how I’m cheap... right?)
When I realized that the show would follow Jewish women around my age, I was equal parts excited and preemptively horrified. What would the characters be like? Would I crack up at some inside jokes only meant for the Jewish audience? Would I see any of myself in the main characters?
Turns out, not so much. Growing up in a world without designer bags or BMWs (oh the horror!), none of my life or family resembles what I see in “Longuyland.” Their world was as foreign to me as the self-proclaimed “guidos” of Jersey Shore.
I have to admit I did feel like an insider at certain points. I chuckled as Erica, a self-proclaimed Reform Jew (“We’re Reform Jews which kind of means we’re not really that Jewish”) is nervous to serve her friend Chanel (yes, like the brand) burger buns that aren’t marked “kosher.” Unlike Erica, Chanel is a kosher-keeping modern orthodox Jewish woman. As a maybe-sort-of-Reform-ish Jewish woman myself who spent a few years working at a large Jewish Federation, I got a kick out of the awkward scramble of feeding a mixed crowd of observant and not-so-observant Jews, wondering “how kosher is kosher?”
And then, of course, there were the mothers. The overbearing, overprotective, marriage-obsessed mothers. No? Doesn’t ring a bell? Though overbearing mothers are universal (just ask my Italian friends!), there is a special brand of overbearing reserved just for Jewish mothers. Well, this show has ‘em, and I don’t quite know how I feel about it. I found myself with feelings of embarrassment and solidarity at the same time: embarrassed that any Bravo viewer might take this stereotype as 100% accurate, and commiserating on behalf of all of my girlfriends who have complained about their mothers breathing down their necks to settle down with a “nice Jewish guy.”
Even with that sense of connection, within the first few minutes of the show, I immediately started picking apart the women, trying to mentally distance myself from them.
I noticed on the Bravo website that Ashlee, who embraces the term “Jewish American Princess,” has the last name “White.” “That doesn’t sound that Jewish,” I thought to myself. I rolled my eyes when I saw how Chanel- though she keeps Shabbat with her family- certainly doesn’t dress or act like the modern orthodox women I know. But I soon scolded myself. I’m a Jewish woman with a culturally Jewish father, a mother who was raised Catholic, and a pretty non-existent Jewish upbringing. I can’t count the number of times other Jews- whether friends or colleagues—have heard about my background and said, “Oh! So you’re not really Jewish, then!”
Who am I to say how “Jewish” Ashlee is just because of her last name? Or judge the way she connects to her Judaism? (Granted, I'm still uncomfortable equating a woman’s Jewish identity with being a spoiled “princess,” but who am I to say that Ashlee doesn’t have a right as an individual to do that?) Who am I to undermine Chanel’s faith just because she isn’t like modern orthodox women I know? Though I have been on the receiving end of this kind of judgment before, I wasn’t fully aware of my own tendency to have neat boxes for what is “Jewish” and what isn’t.
So here is my confession: I learned a little something about myself while watching- gasp- Bravo reality TV. I don’t expect that to happen every time I watch the show, but I bet next week I will be tuned in for some cringe-worthy moments… maybe a miniscule amount of personal insight on the side.