ITV’s Strictly Kosher 2012 review: Joel Lever, Jack Aizenberg & Bernette and Michael Clarke star in a kinder version of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings?

by Matt D

Ever since Big Fat Gypsy Weddings became such a big hit for Channel 4 it seems that all of the other channels are clamouring to make documentaries focused on other close communities in Britain. Take ITV1’s Strictly Kosher, which focuses on the Jewish community in Manchester, which for me has many similarities with the Channel 4 show, namely its soft female narration courtesy of Miriam Margolyes as well as its very overpowering backing music.

Where this differs though is that it never tries to make fun of its subjects or present them as old-fashioned but rather gives us a cross-section of this community. Take Joel Lever who when we first meet him is his hosting an end of Yom Kippur party where his Jewish friends are allowed to eat after a day’s fast however he freely admits that he isn’t a religious man and that he doesn’t observe every holiday. Joel’s blasé attitude towards his faith as caused him trouble and has had a negative impact on his business, a fashion outlet named Mon Ami, as he decided to open his shop every day even choosing not to observe the religious day of Shabbat. This had caused some of the local rabbis to dissuade people from shopping at his store which I thought was wrong however it seemed that Joel took it in his stride and got on at what he did best.

A complete opposite to Joel were Bernette and Michael Clarke who after Yom Kippur were already starting their preparations for Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival, an element of which is the purchase of a citrus fruit known as the etrog which can be very expensive to source. In one scene we see Michael trying to haggle down the price of the etrog, as well as several other elements that are vital during Sukkot, after which we directly flick to Joel who tells us that he’d rather spend £500 on a leather jacket than a piece of fruit. The Clarke family also spend Sukkot living outside in a Sukkah, essentially a self-made shed, for a total of eight days where they forgo all modern pleasures which, in the words of Bernette, even includes watching X-Factor.

The documentary also takes Bernette out of Manchester sending her to Israel to care for her daughter and grandchildren, who due to religious beliefs are never shown on screen, however her adventures abroad just go to show how wide-reaching the Manchester connection is. Having a night off from the kids, Bernette goes for dinner at a friends’ house pointing out to the camera how many of the families she originally met in England with one of the women saying she loves being in Israel but she does miss Marks and Spencers. Back in England, Bernette also shows us how much of the Jewish social calendar is built around weddings and engagement parties with one of the latter happening between a young rabbi and his American girlfriend, who he finally wore down after stalking her through various websites for single Jews.

The final participant in Strictly Kosher seems like a completely different kettle of salted fish with the only connection to the others involved in the documentary being his faith and the fact that he lives in Manchester. Though Jack Aizenberg actually lost his faith after being holed him in a concentration camp in his native Poland during World War 2 when he was only 19. Jack’s story, told throughout the show, was a rather harrowing one which involved his father telling him to split off from the rest of the family which meant that he was the only one to survive the holocaust. At the beginning of the programme he sums up his philosophy on the religion namely that God made food for us to eat so who cares if it is Kosher? For me Jack came across as the most genuine character here and there were some truly heart-breaking scenes where he journeyed back to Poland to relive his war time experiences and to hopefully once and for all move on from them.

Though Jack’s story was the most engaging it was also the one that seemed the most out of place during Strictly Kosher which otherwise resembled a good humoured docusoap. I’m assuming his story was meant to add some gravitas to the overall documentary but for me it felt a little out of place though it did show a first-hand account of what it was like for young Jews during the holocaust. The fact is that there could’ve been a whole programme dedicated to Jack’s story alone but here it is just one of many looks at the Jewish life and therefore I felt it was a little disrespectful going from him weeping looking at some of the fences in the concentration camp to a scene in which Joel was celebrating the 80th birthday of one of his shop assistants.

With the exception of Jack’s story, the over-riding theme of Strictly Kosher is that Jews are a quirky bunch who often have to spend a lot of money to celebrate their various holidays. Through the character of Joel the documentary was looking at how modern Jews look at their faith, which is that they celebrate certain festivals but aren’t as ardently religious as their elders were, which in some respects can still get him into trouble. It also looks at how new couples meet, as with the rabbi and his new fiancée on the dating site, which obviously differs vastly from the travellers on the Channel 4 show.

Overall as a programme I found Strictly Kosher to be fairly scattershot with its subjects not really focusing on one particular aspect of the Jewish life but rather giving us a bit of everything from lapse clothes shop owners, to Israel-bound mothers to holocaust survivors who have lost their faith it was all here. The problem I had was that there was no clear focus and while I enjoyed certain aspects of the show, such as Joel’s outlook on life and the appreciation of what Jack had to go through in his youth, there was just too much information being thrown my way to really sit back and take it in.

Did you watch Strictly Kosher? If so what did you think? Leave your comments below.

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23 Comments

  1. mona on June 26, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    they are showing the generous side of jewish lifestyle makes us feel sorry for the holocaust survivors, what about Gaza Palestinian babies and kids that are dying everyday due to israel strikes on them ??? why the world is so biased ??? who is going to talk about them ????

  2. Anna on June 26, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Think it’s all propaganda -interesting how the holocaust is mentioned in every episode. Biggest growing community because there aim is to have as many kids as possible!!!

  3. John on June 26, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    Think it’s RUBBISH!

  4. Alexandra on June 26, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    Reply For Mona:
    Been a Jew those not mean you are Israeli (Jewish,Muslim or Christian) Do not confuse Jewish People with the problem of the Palestine-Israeli Conflict, there are many Jewish people how don’t share the thought of living as a Zionist in Israeli soil, and also been a Jew does not mean hating Muslim people! So I will ask you? what about the poor people and children of the middle Afghanistan been killed by British and American Soldiers?? I am Jewish my self and I will tell you that I am proud of it and also proud of having really nice Muslim friends! because at the end of the days we are all human!
    What about you have a look at this charity! Jews for justice for Palestinians! http://jfjfp.com/?page_id=2
    Have a great day!

  5. Elizabeth Morley on June 27, 2012 at 4:00 am

    I don’t watch much TV so I am not aware if ITV has an alleged policy of impartiality/lack of bias similar to the BBC’s. It should have. I don’t mean as between Jewish and non-Jewish. But you cannot escape the fact that every time a programme talks about or shows scenes from Israel, people’s thoughts automatically drift to the Palestinians. For hundreds of years Palestinians of every faith – Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Druze – all lived together in that land peacefully until the First World War when the British Government, ceding to Jewish pressure, went over the heads of the indigenous mixed population and gave a green light to racist colonisation by exclusively those immigrants who could claim Jewish ancestry. The second part of the Balfour Declaration of 2nd November 1917 said that nothing should be done to harm the rights of Palestine’s non-Jewish communities. But the opposite happened and most of the world has turned a blind eye. The ethnic cleansing and killing of Christian and Moslem Palestinians continues as we speak in what are called the Occupied Territory of the West Bank and in Gaza. And Palestinians living in Israel are treated like second-class citizens. So ITV audiences should be given a balanced picture of what it’s like in Israel.

  6. Philip Gilligan on June 27, 2012 at 7:56 am

    It is extremely poor ‘journalism’ and unspeakably crude propaganda to show colonists from Manchester enjoying their new homes in Jerusalem whilst giving no information about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians which has made room for these tools of the oppressive and illegal Israeli occupation.

    When will you be screening a documentary series about the impact of Israel’s apartheid wall, its ‘administrative detention of children, house demolitions, thefts of Palestinian land and water …..?

  7. Jacqui Burke on June 27, 2012 at 10:00 am

    How jolly it all was. Parties, festivals, trips to Paris, food, food and more food.

    The only reality was Jack’s return to Poland. His testimony was, quite rightly, very emotional and nothing could or should ever diminish the horror of what people like Jack suffered.

    However, where was the reality for the Palestinians? Whose land had Bernette’s daughter and son-in-law occupied? Where were the Jewish people in Manchester who oppose the State of Israel and stand shoulder to should with the Palestinians?

    This was an opportunity missed.

  8. Simon Short on June 27, 2012 at 11:11 am

    This program was in the same vein as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
    In MBFGW, we ‘learned’ that all Gypsies are stupid, ill-educated, consumerist, tasteless, lazy, selfish and self-obsessed with no culture but ‘Bling’.
    In this program, we ‘learned’ that all Jews are smugly ignorant, elitist, isolationist, consumerist, money-obsessed, tasteless, smug and entirely lacking in fellow-feeling… in which Devotion is expressed as Bling. All this demonstrated by a number of ghastly characters who entirely conform to the anti-Semetic cliches.
    If this program DOES accurately represent the state of Jews in England (And, strangely, Israel – portrayed as some sort of holiday annexe to the UK)the it’s a chilling warning that Jews (Presumably worldwide) have become as shallow, selfish and obscenely cash-greedy as any tribe their ancient books warn them against.
    The whole thing was unfocussed, swerving between the UK and Israel with only the values of Money and self-satisfied ritual to unite them.
    The gratuitious inclusion of the Death-Camp survivor, Jack (Who insists he has no truck with Jewish belief) was not merely makwish but clashed obscenely with the complete refusal to even hint that Jerusalem is a Holy city to more than just the Jews, let alone the war of extermination the Jews are carrying out against the Palestinians.
    In producing this program – like MBFGW – the makers have merely reflected back to us the obscene culture of smug, ignorant consumerism and material greed which pervades all cultures. Perhaps most obscene (Along with the continual theme of fat people telling us ‘Jews love to eat’) is the insistence that the point of existence is to fill the world with ‘Lots of lovely Jewish Babies’ – entirely ignoring the fact that the growing world population – Jewish or otherwise – is causing environmental depletion, poverty and war all over the globe.
    If ever there was a program to reawaken a pogrom against the Jews, this is it. I’m sure Jack would be appalled.
    I, however, believe that what you’ve done is made a prurient and shallow tv series about (With the exception of the Survivor) prurient and shallow individuals for prurient and shallow viewers to reinforce their prurient and shallow views that all that matters is money and your own little smug community of materialist privilege.
    Vile and dangerous.

  9. Niala Butt on June 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I did not watch the programme……it did not interest me…. but from reading the comments above, it is apparent that when Israel was featured, the plight of the Palestinians was ignored and deemed unimportant….

    I am aware that not all Jews support the state or actions of Israel but a show of solidarity from the Jewish people for the Palestinians and their current status…would have came into the spotlight and hopefully generated soem interest from the viewers, who are still unaware of how afflicted and restricted the average Palestinian is in his own environment !!!

  10. Angela Finney on June 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    When a programme talks about the ‘plight’ of Palestinians on TV at the ‘hands of the Israelis’, it is largely accepted as being fair and balanced (when often that is highly debatable).

    When a programme about Jews shows them to be generally jovial, decent, ordinary (if sometimes quirky, as stated in the review above) people going about their daily lives, it is immediately taken to be ‘biased’. Jews – Fun? Human? That can’t possibly be true, surely!

    Why must a programme about Jews and Jewish life in Manchester talk about the Palestinians?

    Take a look at yourselves. Basically, the people who wanted the programme to show a negative view of Jews (i.e. most of you so far), wanted to justify their deep-seated contempt and loathing of Jews and to support a notion that Jews are lesser people and that somehow they deserved what happened to them in the holocaust.(Or perhaps that it never happened – afterall they do have this propensity to show themselves in a positive – and therefore false – light!) How dare they have a party and eat nice food? How dare they were blinging clothes? They should repent of their… I don’t know what they did, but they should repent of it!

    Look at your own raging desires to find ‘evidence’ to back up your hatred of Jews (when there is no reason)and you will see what anti-semitism actually is.

    If you want to talk about Israel at all, then remember it is a Jewish state and not an ‘occupation’. And for the record, there is no ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘extermination’ of Palestinians going on. To compare that situation to the Holocaust is disgusting and ridiculous.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the programme and I think that giving an insight into Jewish life and traditions is important to try to stem the baseless hatred (strangely nothing ever seems to work though! ‘Honest guv, we’re nice’ – ‘liar!! To the gas chamber with him!’)

  11. Niala Butt on June 27, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I am not certain what point you are trying to make here………the plight of the Palestinians may not be relevant to you but it certainly is to other people, who believe in a fair state of play……and by all means show programmes of Jewish people living their lives here in Manchester but I believe that if you are going to refer to Israel then give a balanced picture of the circumstances / lifestyle of the average Palestinian there.

    As for your comments that people, who have questioned the contents of the programme, have deep seated hatred, believe Jews were deserving of the holocaust blah blah……you are completely wrong !!!

    I believe oppressive regimes / dictatorships and yes the occupation of the territories are wrong !

  12. Richard Lightbown on June 27, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    What a nasty post from Angela Finney. Mention the plight of the Palestinians and one is anti-Semitic. Really? And I thought the Palestinians were a Semitic race.

    And what pray is “highly debatable” about the ‘plight of the Palestinians’? Are you denying that their land is totally occupied Ms Finney? Do you really not know that the Israeli (yes, Jewish) settlements are all illegal; that they are built on stolen land; that they are accessed by Jews-only (i.e. apartheid) roads; that settlers attack Palestinians, destroying their crops and orchards, desecrating their mosques and violently attacking the rightful owners of the land while Israeli soldiers watch and then arrest the Palestinian victims (or their peaceful Jewish or international supporters). Do you think it right that Israeli military courts can imprison children (as young as 10-years-old) who have been abducted, attacked and abused,and are then placed on trial by these kangaroo courts without the benefit of a lawyer, of the presence of their family, and often without having access to any of the ‘evidence’ that is being used against them?

    If you don’t know about these evil things happening in Palestine then you should not be complaining on this post. And if you do know about them how dare you whinge when other more principled people complain about Israeli human rights abuses?

  13. Angela Finney on June 27, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Richard, if there was any truth in the things you mentioned, you would have a point. But I’m afraid it was all commonly used anti-semitic (or anti-Jewish/Israeli if you want to be specific) hogwash. In general I would say visit Israel, it really is a nice holiday destination – particularly Tel Aviv.

  14. Catherine Mc Call on June 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    I enjoyed the programme Strictly Kosher – i thought it was interesting. The people in the show all seemed nice and just the sort of people I would enjoy getting to know. I admire the Jewish Community spirit and their ethic of family and hard work. The story of Jack was extremely moving and his ability to forgive and live a good life after his experiences is an example to everyone. The Holocaust will always enter into any programme about Jewish life because it will have affected so many families. I know the plight of the Palestinian people is something not to be ignored but I don’t think all Jewish people have to be blamed for it – it is more complex than that.

  15. Tricky Dicky on June 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I cannot believe this comment stream – the program was about a Jewish community in Manchester, it was funny/sad/informative/entertaining. It was not a documentary on the rights and wrongsof Middle East Politics.

    Take it for what it was and stop politicising it – do you really believe that the characters in the show were responsible for anything other than being a bit embarrassing?

    Get a life

  16. Aaron Ward on June 28, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I noticed Bernette Clarke was cooking up kosher food in a large “Aluminum Pot” on the program, its amazing how many people that you would think are more informed about the Health hazards of Aluminium would still be using such cookware. I enclose some data below – hope she spots this, and goes over to stainless steele !!!

    Aluminum cookware, while not as toxic as Teflon, may pose some health risks as well, and is not recommended for use in cooking. Aluminum cookware has been shown to leach a significant amount of aluminum into food during cooking, which could pose a toxicity threat. This raises some concerns due to the effects of aluminum on the human nervous system and the hypothesized connection between aluminum exposures and Alzheimer’s disease. (5) Studies in animals show that the nervous system is a sensitive target of aluminum toxicity. (6) While there is yet to be a scientific consensus on the dangers of low level aluminum ingestion, avoiding aluminum exposure in cooking is generally a good idea for optimal health.

  17. Rachel Stanburn on June 28, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    I am Jewish, I am not zionist. I am not wealthy and I don’t care to be, I want to be happy. I am not ultra orthodox and don’t see the world with rose tinted spectacles.
    People say the program looks at Jewish people – that is its nature. There are plenty of programs about other cultures and they do not mention the struggles others go through, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care.
    The antisemitic abuse incurred because of this program is unwarranted and unjust. As a human race it is our job to respect each other and the way we live our lives ,otherwise the world would become a more tragic place than it already is.
    Please think before you write and take into considerations people’s feelings when making remarks. The show doesn’t define every Jew and people should stop making snap judgements using media influence.
    Get to know someone personally before you judge them. Have an open heart.

  18. Paul on June 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I somehow think things on thus thread have gotten out of hand. Thr program was not about Jewish people around the world, it was about the Jewish community in Manchester. A segment may have been about a lady visiting her daughter in Israel, but there was no political message. How people can suggest that mention of the Holocaust is trying to beg for sympathy is astounding to me. How can you discuss how the Jewish community live without mention of it. Remember, the only reason the Holocaust is mentioned is because nobody is still alive to discuss the Pogroms in Eastern Europe.or the ethnic cleansing of Jews during the ethnic Spanish inquisition, Roman empire, and pretty much every 100years for the past 4millenia. can’t there be a progran celebrating our culture without people blaming us (anglo-jews) for what may or may not go on 1000miles away. My mother is 58 and only visited Israel this year. Is she also to blame for the Palestinian so-called “plight”?

    Have a think before making overly generalised and frankly racist comments. Having said that, if you want to talk about biased, Joel’s constant reference to the stereotypical Jewish mobey grabbing miser might be worth discussing

  19. Niala Butt on June 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Lets stay on track here…… the responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians is down to the decisions made after World War 2 and then the many Israeli administrations that have presided in Israel and maintained their biased policies…..full stop…….to clarify I am not blaming Jews in Manchester !!!

  20. Victor on June 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    I watched the program. I found it entertaining. I didn’t realise the program was about Palestinians. I haven’t seen any mention of Palestinian suicide bombers that have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians in Israel nor have I heard any remarks about the plight of the poor innocent families that have been slaughtered in Iraq and Afghanistan nor any of the innocents that are now being slaughtered in Syria and all the innocents that have been slaughtered in Pakistan, Muslims and Christians but there again I wouldn’t expect to see these comments in a review about a program about Jews living in Manchester, united kingdom. Victor

  21. Catherine Mc Call on June 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I agree with Victor – the programme was about Jews living in Manchester, UK. Why can’t it just be sen for what it is, a programme about a particular community living and working in a city in UK? It was interesting and as I said before, I enjoyed learning about the various customs and religious observances of the Jewish community. Racism and bigotry is bred from ignorance and an inability to accept how different we all are. The more we learn ab out each other the more we will live together in peace and harmony. This type of programme helps to educate and inform – just what television is supposed to be about.

  22. Helen Hardwick on June 30, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    What a lovely man Jack Azienburg is,, I would love to have such a beautiful grandfather like you, god bless you and all you have been through xxx and maybe if more people had the same life ethic as you they world would be a better place because we are all human but yet there are still suffering all over the world.

  23. Jonathan on July 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    with reference to the treatment of arabs in Israel, there is no place in the whole Arab world where the democratic rights and protection under the rule of law of its Arab citizens are respected as they are in Israel.

    Just go see for yourself rather than lap up the libellous propaganda fed to you by people with an agenda of hatred.

    What goes on in Gaza/Judea with separation walls separate roads etc is a direct result of the suicide bombings and other terrorist outrages carried by our Moslem neighbours.

    It escapes me how anyone can talk about Jewish cruelty to Arabs when Assad is butchering arab women and children by the thousand , when Sunni arabs are butchering Shiites at their shrines. We are at war with the Gazans who are lobbing rockets at us constantly but we still allow humanitarian aid and power supplies in to them . Only the Jews show mercy to their enemies yet you hypocrites lecture us in how we should conduct ourselves.

    By the way 90% of the land of Israel was legally purchased from Arabs over a 100 year period . It is well documented that Rothchild , Montefiore and others bought up our ancestral land . So apart from a religious right to the land we have a modern legal right.

    Would you enlightened people on this site ever suggest that the enclave of a million Pakistani moslems living in Bradford who purchased their properties legally are ‘occupiers’ and should be attacked for living where they do?

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