What’s Really Jewish (And Not So Jewish) about the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Updated: May 29
It’s hard to describe what this show means to me.
I was born in New York City; my parents lived on the Upper West Side. I have deep family ties to the Catskills (my aunt and uncle ran the Nevele hotel). My father’s family was in the garment business and had a factory very similar to Moishe’s. My friend’s grandparents are LITERALLY Moish and Shirley.
Like Midge, I am a Jewish woman with creative ambition and a sense of humor. I was never content with the path laid out before me- I share her deep desire for more.
When the show first aired in 2017, I had just become a mother. Season one was part comedic relief, part nostalgia, and part cathartic for me. It reminded me of who I was when I had lost myself in my baby. And now, at the end of season five, I am inspired to become the person I want to be.
This show changed me. And that is what good stories should do.
There are a lot of Jewish references being thrown around in this show. After all, Midge is culturally Jewish, if not so religiously observant.
The way Midge turns the pain of Joel’s infidelity into purpose- that is Jewish. We are a nation of survivors. After the most horrific persecution and destruction, we continue to rebuild, again and again. In our tradition, we don’t ask, “Why me?” We ask, “What now?”
In Judaism, we are meant to use difficult times as stepping stones to becoming our best selves. And that’s exactly what Midge did by turning her personal pain into a comedic career.
Midge’s ambition to become a famous comic stems from a deep desire to express herself in the world. Her desire is very Jewish; we actually have an obligation to use our G-d given strengths to make the world a better place. The way Midge honors her own personal expression and contribution to the world is very Jewish.
Midge’s confidence (or chutzpah)- Jewish. Her sharp mind (or sechel)- Jewish. Her sense of humor and chattiness- definitely Jewish. Her fashion sense- Jewish.
Her mothering? Not so Jewish.
It pains me to criticize Midge, but as I grew as a mother, it became harder for me to watch her neglect her two young kids. I know her neglect was a bit exaggerated for comedic relief, but from the very beginning, Midge chose her career over her kids. Period.
Midge had to make that choice because as much as we want to believe we can have it all, as women, we need to choose. What is our ultimate priority? Our kids or our professional ambition? This doesn’t mean we can’t have successful careers and a family. But at the end of the day, something must give.
The last scene of the show, where Midge wanders through her regal penthouse, is bittersweet. On the one hand, she achieved the level of fame she dreamed of. On the other hand, she is alone. Her kids are nowhere to be seen. It’s not surprising; she was never really interested in a relationship with them. And now she doesn’t merit the nachas (joy) of her children and grandchildren. Her only real relationship by the end of the show is with Susie, her former manager turned best friend. While this is heartwarming, it is also sad.
Traditionally, Jewish women are supposed to prioritize their marriage, children, and home first. We are considered the center of the home. Of course, women can have careers. We can and should use our G-d-given talents in an appropriate way. But if we have our priorities straight, then hopefully we can have fulfillment in both areas: professional achievement and a beautiful family life.
While it is so satisfying and inspiring to see Midge finally “make it,” it is also tragic to see the personal cost of her ambition. I wanted even more for her.