Secrets of a Jewish Mother: Real Advice, Real Stories, Real Love

Secrets of a Jewish Mother: Real Advice, Real Stories, Real Love

by Jill Zarin, Gloria Kamen, Lisa Wexler

The Jewish Mother knows what she wants. And what you should want too. In Secrets of a Jewish Mother, you'll learn how to make her methods your very own, and as result you'll give and get of love and happiness in great amounts.

In what could be thought of as the Jewish Mother's Guide to Life, Jill Zarin, the breakout star of Bravo's hit series, The Real


The Jewish Mother knows what she wants. And what you should want too. In Secrets of a Jewish Mother, you'll learn how to make her methods your very own, and as result you'll give and get of love and happiness in great amounts.

In what could be thought of as the Jewish Mother's Guide to Life, Jill Zarin, the breakout star of Bravo's hit series, The Real Housewives of New York, teams up with her sister, Lisa Wexler, award-winning host of daily radio program The Lisa Wexler Show, and her mother, the estimable Gloria Kamen who made a splash on Jill's series last year. Secrets of a Jewish Mother shows readers that being clear about what you want is the best policy, and standing up for yourself and your family is always the right way to go. Using real life examples, stories from Jill, Lisa and Gloria, this mother/daughter trio reveals their secrets to life, love, and happiness.

Some of their Jewish Mother tips include:

• Dating: "A good man is hard to find, but so is a good woman. Don't settle for less than you deserve."
• Parenting: "Fair is not always equal; equal is not always fair."
• Family: "Bar mitzvahs and weddings: The grudge starts here."
• Money: "Don't wait 'til you're dead to give it away."
• The clichés that matter: "Bring a gift."

And, remember, a lot of love and a little matzoh ball soup never hurt anyone.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The latest of TV's Real Housewives of New York City to enter the publishing arena, Zarin wisely recruits her sister, radio host Wexler, and their mother, online columnist Kamen, to produce an opinionated guide to life from the point of view of three Jewish moms-the kind whose "stereotypical traits" ("domineering, interfering, tactless and loud") have resulted in strong families and successful careers. Insisting that "if a lesson is worth teaching once, it is worth teaching at least two thousand times," the trio use a conversational, collaborative approach to make each themed chapter (including dating, health and beauty, education, career, and, of course, parenting) stick, trading off charismatic group narration with first-person interjections and personal stories that expand upon traditional, time-tested advice: "We come from a long line of long marriages. ...We were taught it is normal to go through bad times in a marriage, even bad year." They also provide "ask yourself" questions to motivate further exploration, and a short chapter on "Superstitions and the Clichés that Matter." Honest, self-aware, and frequently funny, these women deliver a triple-strength dose of universal advice.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Elise Pearlman astonishing cornucopia of heartfelt insights from three savvy, headstrong women who share tried- and-true strategies for dealing with universal issues relating to friendship, dating, marriage, parenting, and family, and you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate it.
Huntington Patch
All-in-All, I love everything that the three mothers had written. I did learn quite a bit of things from each and every one of them. I liked the fact they each gave their own advice and stories in each chapter. From friendship, dating, beauty, marriage, parenting, money and more, this is a great book and a keeper! Another part I liked was in the chapters there was a section called 'Ask Yourself', because I do find myself answering the questions... So I would like to say Mazel Tov to Jill, Lisa and Gloria. Toda. Thank you for letting me read this wonderfully written book.
[Jill Zarin's] sharing little pearls of wisdom, along with her mom, Gloria Kamen, and sis, Lisa Wexler, in the book Secrets of a Jewish Mother: Real Advice, Real Stories, Real Love. (Just in time for Mother's Day!) Their prescription for successful parenting (friendships, dating, etc.) has a universal quality to it, so it's not only for Jewish moms.
Sammi's Blog of Life
I felt this book was incredibly smart. It shows the ups and downs of these three women's lives. Like the book title says "Real Advice, Real Stories, Real Love." Nothing is sugarcoated and artificial. I really like how each chapter of the book has stories from each person's life. How Jill dealt with divorce, Gloria's struggle with her friendships at certain points in her life, and Lisa's view on money?In conclusion, I really feel this book is a wonderful read. It makes you think differently about life in certain ways that you normally don't.
MSNBC's Morning Joe
A great book this Mother's Day
From friendships to love, marriage and children, the book covers many aspects of life with laugh-out-loud stories and pointed advice the [authors] have learned as Jewish mothers and Jewish daughters.
Daily Beast
No-nonsense advice.
Practical advice. A mother's wisdom: Know how to laugh at yourself apologize when you're wrong and always carry pepper spray!
Shalom Life
Aside from advice on raising kids and stories from Kamen and her daughters, Secrets of a Jewish Mother deals with marriage, friendship, dating, money, and more, and includes practical quizzes and self- assessment action steps.
Filled with candid, humorous and loving advice and personal glimpses into their lives, this trio offers up some tips we should all heed and live by?This is a thoroughly enjoyable read and should be passed around to mothers, daughters, sister, nieces, aunts, girlfriends and all ladies who might enjoy reading and discovering that in the end we are all basically the same - with the same hopes and desires - and remember an old adage redefined here: 'Hell hath no fury like a [Jewish] mother scorned!' Bravo! to Kamen, Wexler and Zarin (and I don't mean the TV channel).

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range:
17 Years

Read an Excerpt


A lot of love and a little matzoh ball soup never hurt anyone.

Ah, the Jewish mother. Has there been a more maligned stereotype in American culture? From Curb Your Enthusiasm and Portnoy’s Complaint to the routines of countless comedians, the Jewish mother has most often been portrayed as a domineering, interfering, tactless and loud manipulator of family relationships. To this we say, “And . . . ?” We maintain that it is precisely those stereotypical traits that form the foundation of healthy, stable and accomplished children, marriages that last over time, and meaningful, loving relationships among siblings. A lot of love and a little matzoh ball soup never hurt anyone.

We, Lisa Wexler and Jill Zarin, are the daughters of one very particular Jewish mother, Gloria Kamen. Our family is incredibly close, which translates into communicating with each other every single day, often more than once. We are often asked the secret to our success at maintaining strong family ties and successful careers in an age in which so many people struggle to get along with their closest relatives. When we thought about this, we realized that we were taught these secrets by our mother, Gloria, who made no secret at all of the fact that if a lesson is worth teaching once, it is worth teaching at least two thousand times. We also had lots of help from our grandmothers, Sylvia and Helen, and our incredible loving aunts, Aunt Cooky, Gloria’s sister, and Aunt Gloria, our father Sol’s sister. Yes, another Gloria. To make it easier on you as you read the “secrets” that follow, Sol’s sister Gloria is referred to in the book by her Yiddish name, Nessie.

You’ll meet our family as you read these pages, so to help you out, here is a quick note on the cast of characters: Our mother, Gloria, has one husband, Sol, and two daughters, Lisa and Jill. Gloria’s parents were our Grandma Syl and Papa Jack. Sol’s parents were our Grandma Helen and Papa Benny. Lisa is married to Bill; they have a son, Jonathan, a daughter, Joanna, and a bichon frise, Sugar. Jill’s first marriage was to Steven, who is the father of her daughter, Allyson. Jill’s second marriage is to Bobby and together they live with Allyson and their Chihuahua, Ginger. Bobby has three children from his first marriage: Jennifer, David and (yes, another) Jonathan. David is married to Jill (yes, another Jill Zarin), and they have two children, Micah and Lily. We Jews keep reusing the same ten names over and over again.

We grew up in a time and place in many ways straight out of The Wonder Years, complete with suburban cul-de-sacs, bicycle races, homemade go-karts and evening games of tag in the street, with flashlights, not streetlights. Our parents got married and stayed married, fifty-two years and counting. Daddy wore a suit and tie to work and came home by seven thirty. We ate a home-cooked dinner every weeknight, except for Wednesdays, which was “Dad’s night out,” when we girls had pizza. On Saturdays, our parents went out, and Mommy got really dressed up. She looked like a movie star. Our childhood was America as it used to be.

Every single Sunday afternoon, Papa Benny and Grandma Helen came over to our house in Long Island from Queens in their Pontiac Catalina. You could set your clock by their arrival; we often did. People didn’t dress sloppily in those days; Papa always had a hat with a feather in it and we never saw Grandma in slacks. Ten minutes after arriving at our house, they emerged with us, Lisa and Jill, and took us for a Carvel ice cream cone and a comic book. Rain or shine, no matter the season, they showed up on Sundays for a visit with their grandchildren. We were their priority, and we felt it. There was nothing more important on the agenda. Sundays were spent with family.

In most ways the town we grew up in was like America everywhere. However, it also had the distinction of being part of a cluster of small communities called “the Five Towns” on the south shore of Long Island, New York. Don’t bother counting them, because you will come up with only four: Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Lawrence and Hewlett. The fifth town, Inwood, never counted for the purposes of the Five Towns stereotype, and nobody ever remembers its name.

So what is the Five Towns stereotype? Jews, fashion and new money. Showy new money. The kind that bought Cadillacs and joined country clubs. First-generation sons of immigrants who were out to prove the American dream. Wives who couldn’t wait to climb up the ladder alongside them. Kids who were trained to be either doctors or lawyers, depending upon whether they were good in math or English. You’ve heard the slang term JAP, short for Jewish American Princess? Invented in the Five Towns, surely. We’ve spent our lives haunted by that stereotype.

Like so many stereotypes, however, there was a little bit of truth and a lot of exaggeration in the reputation of the Five Towns. Our high school was diverse before it became a politically correct term. Our house size? A grand total of fifteen hundred square feet. There were a couple of very wealthy neighborhoods nearby, but we didn’t live in one. Many people we knew were neither rich nor fashionable.

America, circa 2010, is a different place than it was when we grew up. Our family is now geographically fragmented. Our children are not bicycle-riding distance from their cousins, as we were. Mom and Dad now live in Florida—they have traversed what we call the three legs of the Jewish Bermuda Triangle: from Brooklyn, to Long Island, to Boca Raton. As daughters, we currently face the challenges of caring for parents who live a plane ride away. As wives in today’s economy, we need to keep up our earning potential because it is neither fair nor realistic to expect only one member of a couple to provide the lifestyle that we want. As mothers, we parent a generation of kids who watch things on television that we didn’t even know existed until we were out of college. We are busy. We try to “multitask” and do it all, but what we do instead is drop a couple of the balls we are juggling every day. We don’t give our kids dinner every night at five thirty; they are lucky if they get a home-cooked meal twice a week. We look back in awe at our parents’ generation and say, “How did they manage?” Maybe one answer is that years ago people did not believe they could do everything well at the same time. For some reason, we think we can.

This is why, more than ever, we need to keep close to the people in life who matter to us, those whose voices resonate with wisdom as well as judgment. We need to connect with those people, if not over a cup of coffee, then through a telephone call or an e-mail. Most days we speak to our own mother at least once. If we have skipped more than one day, we get the infamously cold “Gloria hello” and begin the conversation with “I’m sorry; I meant to call you.” We do this not only because we love our mother but also to show our own children how important it is to call their mother. We are not fools.

The women in our family, on both Sol’s and Gloria’s sides, are women who believe in the power of women. They believe that a good mother could and should strengthen character and influence a child’s direction in life. But a Jewish mother’s wisdom is not reserved for her children—it is spread around to anyone who will listen. She likes sharing her ideas. To be blunt, she loves telling people what to do. She urges them to listen and she speaks with the voice of true expertise. So many people today are yearning for practical, commonsense wisdom, delivered without apologies, second guesses or excuses—some black and white in a world gone very gray. We always assumed that everyone’s mother knew exactly what to do about every single situation in life just like ours did, but apparently that is not the case. Gloria is that mother. She is that person who will tell you the truth, whether you like it or not. She is that person who will give you the answer you know is right, even when you don’t want to hear it. There is very little gray for Gloria. What she has passed on to us, we now share with you.

Although the majority of our upbringing came from our family, we were accompanied on our childhood journey by a very special person whom we referred to as our “second mother.” Her name was Ethel Hill. Ethel was a black woman from North Carolina who had left her three kids down south with relatives so she could work to support them and send them money, much like today’s immigrants. Ethel worked for us as our housekeeper twice a week and slept with Lisa in her bedroom so she wouldn’t have to shlep to and from Brooklyn as often. We always felt guilty that we had Ethel with us as a mother when her own children did not.

We loved Ethel like family; in fact, she is posed with us in the family photo at Lisa’s Bat Mitzvah. At the age of forty-seven, she suffered a fatal, massive cerebral hemorrhage at the train station. We miss her terribly. Life isn’t fair, something the Jewish mother knows all too well. Much of who we are today we owe to Ethel, so some of the wisdom you’ll find in this book comes from her too.

We need to give a lot of credit to the men in our lives as well. Strong, secure men. Men who would never consider taking hair off in unwanted places, or asking women to do it either. Men who could lift mattresses without working out in a gym. Remember those? Men who considered it a sacred duty to provide for their families; who made sure their mothers and sisters were provided for before they would take on the obligations of a wife and children. Men who believed in sacrifice, who lived what they believed in and who, frankly, didn’t talk about it much. We believe that if you search the background of many successful career women, there was a father cheering them on early in life—cheering, guiding, mentoring and believing. That is our father, Sol, in a nutshell. The original kveller. Also a mensch.

The men in Jewish culture believe that educating their daughters is as important as educating their sons. They love their daughters, they indulge their daughters, but they expect their daughters to have achievements of their own, not to grow up to become a reflection of their husband’s accomplishments. Many of our “secrets of a Jewish mother” come from our fathers, who passed them down to their daughters, who became mothers, who told everyone. Naturally.

For example, Daddy always told us never to do anything we wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of The New York Times. That was when everyone actually read that newspaper, so we knew what he meant. Here was the standard of honor to Daddy: If you were thinking of doing something you would be ashamed for anyone else to know about, then don’t do it! Stay away. Another pearl from Daddy? Never be less than who you are. Don’t feel bad about doing the right thing even if it is not reciprocated, even if it goes into the “no good deed goes unpunished” file. Keep being the best you can be; that is what you are supposed to do in life. You’ll see a lot of Sol in these pages too.

The Jewish mother lives to analyze and worry, the two being inextricably entwined. It’s no coincidence Freud was Jewish; there is no question in our minds that the first psychoanalyst was probably Freud’s mother, but he got all the credit. Moreover, the Jewish mother is actually quite happy worrying; it’s the default setting in her computer. Over what does she worry, incite and instigate? Family relationships. Money, health—yes, these are important too. But what keeps her up at night is the fight with her sister, her mother and her daughter. Once in a while, a fight with a husband can intrude on her mental tranquility, but it would have to be a really big fight. Over time, Jewish mothers build up an immunity to everyday bickering; they stop thinking of it as arguing and view it as a normal means of communication. (You don’t want to miss it when one partner stops hearing—that’s when the fun really begins.)

Do you have to be Jewish to embrace the secrets of a Jewish mother? Of course not. We share much with Italian mamas and African American women, as well as Greek, Russian and Latina ones—in fact, mothers everywhere. Most of the things we discuss in this book are universal truths about the need for respect, the sanctity of family, the importance of love. This book just has a dose of our particular culture added to the lessons. We hope that you will find our traditions interesting if you are not Jewish. And if you are Jewish, we’d be happy to compare notes.

You should know that our family is not particularly religious. Although we celebrate many traditions and Jewish milestones, our level of observance tends toward the Conservative branch of Judaism, which is in between the Reform movement and the Orthodox branch. The Conservative movement tries to reconcile modern thought with traditional worship. It is a very tough road it tries to straddle, but it suits us; it is how we were raised. Moderate, in all things. We are proud to be modern American women with our heads held high who dress as we please. Yet we are also very proud to be Jewish; extremely proud of our heritage, our culture and our faith. We were raised to believe that Judaism is not just a religion; it is a way of life. Even though we do not observe a lot of the religious tenets, we strive to incorporate a lot of Judaism’s values and teachings in our lives.

One thing we do want to stress is that we have made lots of mistakes in life and continue to do so. Perfect we are not, whatever that is. Not even close. One of the subtitles we thought of for this book was Advice by Three Women Who Know They Don’t Know It All. Nevertheless, we try our best. We each have these voices in our head, and they penetrate. They advise us what to make for dinner. They whisper to us to make the phone call or send the card. They command us to attend the funeral. They tell us to persevere, to stick together and not to take life too seriously. They make us laugh and urge us to “pay it forward.” Above all, they remind us to love each other. This is the voice of the Jewish mother.

We have divided this book into chapters that each contain three main parts. The first is context, in which we explain a particular “secret” or life lesson. Then we relate the lesson to our lives by telling a story. We love stories. Telling them allows us to learn and teach at the same time. Afterward, we urge you to ask yourself the questions that we think are the important ones raised by the lesson and illustration. We are hoping that at the end of this book you will have accomplished several things:

  1. You will know more about the Jewish family.
  2. You will know more about our Jewish family, presuming you care.
  3. You will laugh.
  4. You will have taken some nuggets of wisdom to apply in your own life.

We believe the secret to life is to learn how to love each other. Not only is it the secret to life, it is the purpose of life. Our spirituality, such as it is or is not, comes from this essential truth. To the extent we learn the lessons we are meant to learn, we grow as human beings. To learn these lessons, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions and answer them truthfully, even if only to ourselves. Difficult as it is, sometimes we need to change our behavior, if not our character. If we make excuses, continuing to rationalize what we do despite the fact that we bemoan the outcome, we get stuck. We are doomed to keep repeating our mistakes, to keep whining and complaining about the same problems in our lives. Aren’t you bored? Don’t you want different problems to complain about? Change up your behavior, your attitude, your responses. Find the funny in life, and begin with laughing at yourself. See what happens.

Writing this book has been a blessing for our family. We view it as our legacy for our children and their children. Maybe we haven’t repeated these values loudly or often enough; if not, the words are right here, on the page (where we can throw them at you kids, if necessary). As Mommy said, life is short. It goes from Rosh Hashanah to Passover and back again, in the blink of an eye. At the end, people judge their success by the quality of their relationships: who has stood by you, who will take care of you, who loves you, no matter what you have done or what you are going through. These are the people who matter. Love them. Accept them. Forgive them. And get a pet. Although people may disappoint, dogs and cats never will.

Love, Lisa and Jill

What People are saying about this

Patti Stanger
You don't have to be Jewish to read this book, but after reading this book everyone will want to be Jewish. The best practical advice a girl could need from three extraordinary Jewish mothers....Jill's, Lisa's, and Gloria's advice will save you a lifetime of aggravation. (Patti Stanger, Bravo's Millionaire Matchmaker)
Fran Drescher
Gloria epitomizes the Jewish Mother! She has a heart of gold and earrings to match!
Barbara Bietz
Reading Secrets of a Jewish Mother is like a sitting around the kitchen table with a pot of coffee and a chocolate bobka, listening to advice from old friends. (Barbara Bietz, author of Like a Maccabee.)
Molly Shannon
You don't have to be Jewish to need a good Jewish mother. Gloria has sooooooo much good advice....Chicken soup has got nothing on this lady.
Kathy Lee Gifford
It's not just a Jewish mother that has these secrets, it's a lovely book.
Steve Doocy
It's a good book, check it out. (Steve Doocy, Fox & Friends)

Meet the Author

JILL ZARIN is one of The Real Housewives of New York City, which attracts more than two million viewers each week.

LISA WEXLER is the award-winning host of the daily radio program The Lisa Wexler Show.
GLORIA KAMEN, mother of Lisa Wexler and Jill Zarin, was the surprise hit of Real Housewives season two. She writes the “Ask Gloria” column on and lives in Boca Raton, Florida.

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