In Praise of Marvelous Women

January 28, 2019

About 2 minutes into the first episode of the second season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a colleague on the switchboard at B. Altman’s coos “You’re amazing” to Miriam (Midge) Maisel, the young Jewish Manhattan housewife turned budding comic at the center of the show. And she is amazing: smart, beautiful, charming and funny. She is competent at almost everything she does, an energetic center of attention who knows how to dress for and behave in any social situation and whose brisket is so perfect it can be used as a bribe.

 

In fact, lots of characters on the show call attention to Midge’s amazing qualities. That was the main complaint from one prominent TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, who was a fan of the art direction with its lush mid- ’50s period details but said that “despite its having a premise that was so far up my alley it was practically chopping onions in my kitchen,” she found the emphasis of Midge’s near perfection to be “grating.”

 

Well, hello! The show is called “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”—not the “Realistically Good” or “Not Too Bad” one. It’s meant to be an entertaining romp at a time when real-world problems can seem overwhelming, with an adorable main character who can handle everything that’s thrown at her in a way that no real woman actually can. Find someone’s perfect lipstick shade at a glance? No problem. Remain unflappable as the calls pile up at the switchboard? Piece of cake. Completely remake her life after her husband leaves her? Not ideal, but she’s up to the challenge.

 

But despite the fantasy elements of the show, at its core it is a tribute to a kind of Jewish woman many of us know—wonderful, smart, strong women who give their all and who know how to get things done. These marvelous Jewish women are the hub of their families and the very backbone of the Jewish community, serving both with such dedication and purpose. They repair the world with their organizational skills, leadership and savvy, doing the important but little noticed volunteer work it takes to keep our key institutions flourishing. And on top of all that, like Midge, they can make a brisket to die for.

 

Orlando is fortunate to have many such women in our Jewish community. I moved here in 1997 from Baltimore, with its much larger and longer established Jewish community. I didn’t know what to expect, but with a toddler at home and another child on the way, I jumped right in to volunteering—first for the Maitland JCC preschool’s parent board and later for other community institutions. I began meeting so many women I admire, women who have contributed so much to their community and who handle their tasks with awe-inspiring abilities. These women are all Midge Maisels—without the pillbox hats and the stand-up comedy.

 

I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that the best part of my job as publicity director at the Jewish Pavilion has been meeting the remarkable women on the Friends of the Jewish Pavilion board. These are some of our most active volunteers; women who have the hearts to befriend and serve seniors who may be lonely or sick or isolated, and who have the skills and savvy and dedication to fundraise and do so much of the work that keeps our organization going.

 

Unless you see up close, as I have seen in my many years on various committees, just how much work and energy and creativity and sheer know-how it takes to make anything happen that everyone else can just show up to and enjoy, you probably won’t see these women as I do. Sometimes the community chooses to honor a few of them in some way, but most of the time they just keep quietly working behind the scenes, their amazing talents invisible to all but those who work alongside them and take the time to notice.

 

In a more perfect world—a world that can only really exist in the perfectly curated realm of a television show—each one of these marvelous women would be told repeatedly, as Midge Maisel is told, just how marvelous they really are.

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