NOTE: As the son of a Jewish mother, I can attest there are secrets. If only I had this book as a child! “Real Housewives of New York” star Lisa Wexler, Jill Zarin and Gloria Kamen are co-authors of “Secrets of a Jewish Mother.” Wexler offers this primer to the LKL blog.
Yesterday, on the first day of promotion for our new book, Secrets of a Jewish Mother, the New York Times ran an article entitled “Can the Jewish Deli Be Reformed?” Here we were, together in New York City, and the Times was ruminating on the future of New York delis. It seemed b’shert, or “meant to be.” Jewish mothers don’t believe in coincidences.
It’s no “secret” that we Jews love food. Food is not only part of our everyday lives—it’s interwoven with our religious traditions. The celebration of Passover requires us to read the Exodus story but stop in the middle to have dinner. And what a meal it is! Almost all Jewish holidays have special foods associated with them-latkes for Chanukah, hamantaschen for Purim. We even share some of our special family recipes in the book.
As the Times shows us, there is a whole new generation re-inventing the food of our past. They’re not changing the dishes but they’re reinvigorating the recipes. Some are swapping in organic ingredients; others are making their own pickles, others lightening the recipe. However you slice it, the next generation is finding a way to embrace old traditions and leave a modern mark.
What’s slowly going on with Jewish deli, we aim to do with Jewish wisdom. Like a trip to Katz’s or the Carnegie deli in New York City, you’ll find your lessons on parenting, dating, marriage, money, education, and the like in our book. But just like the deli striving for modern relevance, we offer up our wisdom with a twist. This is our family’s book. We’re writing with our Mother Gloria, who is in turn sharing lessons from her mother and our Grandmother Syl. And then of course, we, Jill and Lisa, are putting our spin on the stories as women and mother’s of teenage girls. There are a lot of voices, experiences, and perspectives to share. But we share in a way that is fun, engaging, and highly readable. This the wisdom of generations, but it doesn’t sound like the overbearing, clichéd Jewish Mother who just wants you to marry a lawyer, you know?
Tonight our Dad insisted that he needed to eat dinner at the very old-school Carnegie Deli. He had been craving that fatty pastrami and corned beef for weeks. We could have persuaded Dad to choose something healthier. But we chose not to. Strolling with Dad on the streets of New York is a pleasure rarely granted to us lately. Indulging in the traditional foods of his youth is a pleasure rarely granted to him these days as well.
Writing this book did wonders for our family. We’ve always been close. We talk to each other every day, usually multiple times. Those are often quick conversations to confirm plans, ask an opinion, or share good news. But writing this book together forced us to dig deep into our recollections of the past, and to ponder the future. It forced as, mother and daughters both, to look inward, and at each other. It just made us value the strength of our bond that much more. It was and still is a gift—a delicious one that we hope has relevance for generations.