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'Wife Swap'-- Israeli-Style? Oy!
The ultimate in the Israeli TV "Wife Swap" series -- wives from Jewish and Muslim/Arab homes are switched -- was originally scheduled for July, the same week the war with Arab terrorists broke out. Because of that, the program was postponed, and finally aired in Israel the day after Yom Kippur.
The one good thing is that we now have the year's first chait out of the way. None of us will be at a loss for something to confess come next Yom Kippur.
For those who think the whole idea of wife -- and mother -- swapping morally repugnant, they had much ammunition here. To top it off, the producers outdid themselves in heightening the conflict: They found a highly atypical and uniquely modern Muslim family to pair with a Jewish family with a husband they portrayed as bigoted, nasty and mean.
The obvious conclusion? Arabs are kind, flexible, warm, egalitarian and loving people. Jews are harsh, closed-minded, rude, dictatorial and evil.
If the goal is to chip away at any positive inclination you might have about Jewish identity, it doesn't get much better than that.
Wife/mother swapping as a "reality" TV program began in the United Kingdom, and moved on to become a hit in the United States. But only in Israel did the high concept find its loftiest perch: What could be more contentious, spark more animosity -- both personal and cultural -- than sending a Jewish woman to spend eight days as the wife/ mother in a Muslim household while the Muslim woman comes to run the Jewish home?
Even with the acknowledgement that bedroom privileges were not included, the whole thing reeked -- precisely what the promoters had to intend. In one promo, viewers are advised to "expect tears, tantrums and raised voices as the wives clash with their new families."
Rated 'R' (for Repugnant?)
Little information is available on how participating families were chosen, but in Israel, the producers hit pay dirt when they found these two. Even they admitted the Arab/Muslim family was unique. The Arab wife, Amal Abdullah, 28, lives in Ein Nakuba, near Jerusalem. She and her husband Karim have three children -- a baby, plus two school-agers.
The Abdullahs are fully modern: Amal's hair hangs free; she wears sleeveless shirts and pants; and she spends most of every day and evening running the family restaurant. It is Karim, the husband, who cares for the children, cooks and cleans.
As he says, he treats his wife like a queen, doing everything he can to help her.
The Jewish family, Ayelet, 39, and her husband, Sean Movsowitz, live in Moshav Sharona in the Galil with their three school-aged children. Like Amal, Ayelet has long brown hair and wears pants. Husband Sean works very long hours as a salesman, so Ayelet runs the house, cares for the children and works a few hours a week as a secretary.
Much of the embarrassment most Jews expressed about the program stemmed from what appeared as Sean's loutish behavior, variously described as chauvinistic and mean-spirited, to more colorful commentary about his being a "nasty SOB."
Of course, it's hard to tell what Sean is really like, since in distilling eight days of real life into a total of about 40 minutes of program time, almost anyone could be depicted as having the sensitivity of Genghis Kahn.
That said, Sean's demeanor was Archie Bunker meets Hell's Angels. Bigoted, uncaring and dictatorial, he was the incarnation of the sour-pussed killjoy.
So insensitive was he that Amal couldn't even finish out the program -- she packed and left a day early. Among Sean's intolerable acts were refusing to allow Amal to listen to Arab music while she cleaned; his preference for CNN as compared to Al Jazeera; forcing Amal to bake a birthday cake for a child, then ridiculing her efforts.
When Amal used a dairy spoon in a meat dish, he was not amused, and at one point, said he was uncomfortable leaving her alone with his Jewish children. When Shabbat arrived, he refused to allow the Muslim Amal to light the candles because she wasn't Jewish.
In fact, Sean repeatedly said that he really didn't want any part of this cultural exchange (too bad he didn't have the sense to make that decision eight days earlier).
The Arab/Muslim household, by contrast, was a bastion of feminist perfection: Karim treated his transitory Jewish spouse as he did his wife -- like a queen. He continued to do the housework, changed diapers and took care of the kids.
When Shabbat arrived, he made extraordinary efforts to procure kosher wine for her. He was warm and supportive, praised Ayelet's efforts to use a few words of Arabic with the children, and behaved like the perfect mensch. Ayelet left blushing like a schoolgirl, offering Karim the highest in Arab honor by referring to him as the father of his son.
Was It Appropriate?
So what's wrong with this picture?
The attack on Jewish family life seemed an abomination. Among other things, it suggests that the role of "Imma" is fungible -- that the home's mother can be replaced by anyone with the right chromosome count.
Interesting enough, in Hebrew, the title of the program isn't really "Wife Swap," but rather "Mommy Replacement."
Not a good idea, in either language.
Also, the timing is suspect. When Israel has had such serious issues as war on its mind, was it really appropriate for such mindless entertainment to be aired?
And then there's the perceived attack on Jewish identity. Given what some consider the Israeli media's attitude against all things Jewish, that denigration of a religious Jew may have been the overall goal, anyway.