Navigate to News section

‘Real Housewives’ Go at It Over Jewish Stereotypes, Like Professional Potty Trainers

‘RHONY’ stars Bethenny Frankel and Jules Wainstein are having it out, which means more fun for us

Rachel Shukert
September 15, 2016
Frankel: Facebook. Wainstein: Facebook.
Frankel: Facebook. Wainstein: Facebook.
Frankel: Facebook. Wainstein: Facebook.
Frankel: Facebook. Wainstein: Facebook.

Oooh, boy! Bethenny Frankel, of Real Housewives of New York fame, has been on something of a rampage lately. First there is the odd vendetta against soon-to-be-former Countess Luann de Lesseps, for committing the cardinal sin of a) being an total hypocritical liar, which, to be fair is completely true and, b) being excited to get married to a man who openly cheats on her, which is really more Luann’s problem than Bethenny’s, one would think. And there’s the venom Frankel’s been hurling towards rookie housewife Jules Wainstein, criticizing her for the way she’s publicly handled her eating disorder—this from a woman who runs a brand called “Skinnygirl” and has written openly and proudly about her habit of only eating, like, three shrimps for lunch—and claiming she heard Jules only came on the show to get divorced. (Again, this coming from a woman who had an entire reality show built around her brief marriage, the birth of her daughter, and her subsequent drawn-out, ugly split from her husband.)

But now she’s going deep, claiming that Jules’ antics on the show painted Jews and Judaism in an unflattering light—and not only because of her flagrant performance keeping of the laws of kashrut, which is mainly illustrated in Jules’s refusal to eat much more than a single slice of marinated bell pepper at a seafood restaurant; or the infamous incident in which she plunged her hands into ice water to kasher them after accidentally touching shrimp, while shrieking that she was probably “going to go to hell.”

Recently, on Andy Cohen’s show Watch What Happens: Live, Bethenny accurately said: “People have told me the Jewish culture’s very forgiving toward things like that.” But that was only the tip of the iceberg of Jules’ infractions, which, in the eyes of Bethenny, failed to represent “a positive side of being Jewish at all.” She continued: “I think that saying that your kids don’t have to go to school, they just want your money anyway is a very sort of negative thing, and that’s something that I think doesn’t represent being a Jewish woman in New York at a private school very well.” Also bad for the Jews? Jules’s admission that she’d hired a professional potty trainer for her children. Oh, and she talks about money too much.

The only one stereotyping Jews is @Bethenny – plenty of non-Jews hire a potty trainer…. How dare you #RHONY

— Jules Wainstein (@JulesWainstein) September 8, 2016

One talk show appearance, so much internalized anti-Semitism to unpack! Let me just say, I remember the episode Bethenny is talking about, and nowhere in it did Jules mention—at least, not in any memorable way—that the school her children attend is a Jewish one (and believe me, I would have remembered because that’s the kind of thing I keep tabs on), or that she conceived of herself as some kind of latter-day Sophie Portnoy by hiring someone to watch her daughter sit on the potty and report back her progress. As for intimating that there’s something specifically Jewish about someone discussing money on Real Housewives, a show that is, at heart, entirely and completely about money and the various corrosive ways in which it makes human beings behave? That, to put it mildly, is quite a leap.

So I’ll just say something I have observed over the years: Bethenny Frankel seems to have a somewhat fraught relationship with her own ambiguous Jewishness, which is something that I’ve never actually heard her own up to until Jules asked her a friendly question about it. Bethenny, who once went out of her way when chatting with some friends at a racetrack to refer to herself as “white Bethenny” as opposed to “Jewish Jill” (Zarin, so stereotypically and unflatteringly Jewish she often seemed to have stepped out of a comedy sketch written by a neo-Nazi), admitted that her father (from whom she was estranged most of her life) was Jewish, which makes her…exactly as Jewish as Jules, whose mother is Japanese. The only difference between the two, from a religious standpoint, is that Jules has one.

I’m not going to tell Bethenny how she has to feel about her family, her identity, or Judaism in general. But I think it might be useful for her to admit that some of her associations with Jews—the money, that JAPpy behavior—are just that: her own associations. There’s nothing inherently Jewish about gossiping about how much someone’s house cost, or spoiling your children; unless the person judging you for it decides it is. There’s a word for that. And if that’s how Bethenny really feels, she ought to do what she always she does and own it.

I love how @JulesWainstein stood up for herself! #RHONY

— Real Housewives Gifs (@housewifegifs) September 15, 2016

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.