What "Making Trouble" means to me
If you follow JWA on Twitter or Facebook, it should be pretty obvious that we think Making Trouble, the film about six trailblazing Jewish women entertainers, makes a great Hanukkah present for the whole family. Normally, the idea of pushing a "product" makes me queasy. Afterall, I chose to work for a non-profit, not an advertising firm! So I feel that I owe the JWA audience a real and honest explanation for why I think Making Trouble is something you should own.
When I started at JWA this summer, I was lent a Making Trouble DVD to watch. I was excited to see the film, but I did not realize the extent of what it would give me. I brought Making Trouble home to watch with my family. My grandfather was visiting from Florida and he, my parents, and I watched it together.
The first entertainer to be discussed in the film is Molly Picon -- a woman I knew next to nothing about at the time. I was mesmerized by the clips of her singing in Yiddish, and to my amazement, my grandfather began to sing along. I looked back and saw that he had tears in his eyes. I can only imagine what Molly Picon, a Yiddish theater and film star, meant to him and my late grandmother as Yiddish-speaking immigrants and survivors adjusting to life in the U.S. At that moment, I knew we were both wishing my grandmother was with us. She loved to sing, and I bet she would have known all of Molly Picon's songs.
Later, we got to Sophie Tucker. I was absolutely blown away because, despite my lack of knowledge about Sophie Tucker going into the film, she felt completely familiar to me. It finally dawned on me that while I didn't know this "red, hot Yiddishe mama," I had my own, "red, hot Yiddische grandmama." My maternal grandmother had an amazing sense of humor, and regularly suprised us with her (often innapropriate) wit. She embodied Sophie's style, sometimes quite literally. For example, we threw a big New Year's party at the turn of the millenium, and my grandma came dressed as Sophie Tucker, complete with feather boa (pictured right). It wasn't a costume party. She had channeled Sophie Tucker my entire life, only I didn't get the reference. She passed away earlier this year, and I am so grateful to have made this connection.
Since then, I have learned a great deal about Molly Picon and Sophie Tucker, as well as Fanny Brice, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, and Wendy Wasserstein -- the other entertainers featured in Making Trouble. I have enjoyed learning their stories and finding links to my own life. But I must say that I feel an affinity with Molly Picon and Sophie Tucker, and grateful to Making Trouble for giving me those emotional moments of recognition and connection.
And this is why I have no qualms about insisting that you purchase a copy of Making Trouble for your family this Hanukkah. These six women have made such a difference in American Jewish culture. I have no doubt that your family will make exciting discoveries and find meaningful connections in their stories.
To learn more about the film, visit www.makingtrouble.com. Order your copy soon to ensure delivery by Hanukkah.
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "What "Making Trouble" means to me." 3 December 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 20, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/making-trouble>.
Thank you Leah for posting one of my favorite pictures and memories of my mother, your grandmother. She was a pistol. And I, too, a generation older than you, did not really know Sophie Tucker's story until I saw the movie, Making Trouble. I highly recommend it as a great gift for any generation and as a great family viewing activity. Chappy Channukah to all. (Spelling intentional)
Thank you so much for this blog, remembering the famous Yiddish women who were so much a part of my parents life after coming to this country in 1946. Yes, my mother and my father would also sing songs attributed to them, in Yiddish, and it was as natural a moment a child could ever have. (They threw in some Gershwin as well - oh so beautiful on a summer night in the Bronx, with open windows and the neighbors listening).
These women entertainers were guides that brought my parents, and their survivor culture, back into the light of an open society. With joy, humor, and celebration of life, they guided my parents back into the currents that swept them, intact once again, into the mainstream of their adopted land.