LONDON – Britain's Jewish community has been in an uproar in the past month, and this time it has nothing to do with local politics or kashrut issues – but rather with a television reality show.
As part of Channel 4's "Jewish Mum of the Year," eight Jewish mothers "fought it out" through a series of tasks, including throwing a bar mitzvah celebration, preparing a traditional Shabbat Kiddush and playing matchmaker. Two moms were dismissed at the end of each episode.
In the last episode, aired Wednesday, the "Jewish Mum of the Year" went to Sandi Firth, 65, of Leads, described by the show's producers as "a glamorous twice divorced granny."
The day after she was crowned, Firth's phone wouldn't stop ringing. "Oy vey," she told Yedioth Ahronoth. "I'm exhausted after a sleepless night. It was a long and tiresome process, which ended with a sweet victory."
Firth, a marketing consultant, has two children and four grandchildren. She was declared the winner after preparing, cooking and hosting a five-course Friday night dinner for family, friends and surprise guests as part of the show's final task.
Hundreds of thousands of British viewers followed the program, which provided a glimpse into Jewish customs. The show's producers, who thought the country's Jews would be thrilled with such a prime-time series, did not foresee the community leaders' fury.
"The program perpetuates negative stereotypes," a community source said. "It's a disgrace for Jews."
The harsh dispute made it to the first pages of the country's leading newspapers: Articles in favor and against the program were published in recent weeks, and the reality show's critics claimed that it presented Jews as living in a ghetto.
An example for the stereotypes perpetuated on the show, said one of the critics, is the inclusion of Jewish Professor Dovid Katz, who has a thick beard and side-locks, on the judging panel.
Others argued that that the mothers were portrayed as obedient housewives, whose mere duty is to prepare a Shabbat meal and raise children.
Britain's Jewish parliament members voiced their support or criticism of the show as well.
"I auditioned for the show with 400 other Jewish women from all over the United Kingdom. I wanted to be part of a 'Jewish' television program, which would make the entire community proud," said Firth. "Only after watching the show's episodes, I realized that it had a very unpleasant competitive nature."
Alongside the enthusiastic reactions, Firth said her appearance on the show also generated quite a few angry responses from Jewish community members.
"You can't create a program which will be loved by 100% of the viewers," she said. "My parents arrived in Britain on the eve of World War II. I am the second generation of survivors and I raised my two children as a single mother after getting divorced. I'm not just a Jewish mother – I'm a tough, surviving Jewish mother. But all Jewish mothers are like that, aren’t they?"