The next time you visit New York, look up and you may see Bea Slater plastered on a billboard overhead.
Or maybe you’ll see the 90-year-old on a poster by a bus stop, clad in a blue tracksuit and tinkering on a laptop.
Slater, a West Philadelphia native now living in Springfield, N.J., was chosen as one of the new faces of JDate as part of its advertising endeavor. Slater and a few other older women are the star coders, or titular yentas, of its “Powered by Yentas” campaign.
“Jewish grandmas have been setting up young, eligible Jews for centuries, if not longer. We wanted to show, in a visually funny and arresting way, that yentas were the brains behind JDate’s matches,” said copywriter and stand-up comedian David Roth, who created the campaign along with Hogarth Worldwide. “We juxtaposed the old world of Jewish grandmas with the new world of tech and Silicon Valley.”
Slater’s posters boast that “Her dreidel game is filthy, but her code is clean.”
Her newfound fame began with Steven Van Zandt. Yes, that Steven Van Zandt.
Her son, Mitchell, a longtime Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band fan, took his mom to a Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul show and made a video of her beforehand that was posted to Facebook. Van Zandt saw the video and invited Slater to open the October 2017 show onstage.
Of course, video of that was taken as well and circulated around, which came in handy when someone else saw on Facebook that JDate was looking for Jewish grandmothers for their ad campaign.
“Someone who saw that remembered there was this woman in our town that did this thing and just put a note on Facebook,” Mitchell said, “which my mother’s next-door neighbor saw and then she sent me a Facebook message with the ad. And I just asked Mom, ‘What do you think?’ and she said, ‘Why not? You never know.’”
“It’s really something,” Slater marveled. “It was really a fluke.”
She went to New York City for a day to audition, accompanied by Mitchell and his daughter, Georgia, and each auditionee was given a joke to memorize.
“It was like a Woody Allen movie,” Mitchell recalled. “There were all these Jewish grandmothers walking around practicing their lines.”
When it came time to be on camera — even though the ads are only print — Slater couldn’t get the lines right. But, that didn’t stop her.
“I said, ‘Look, I have another joke. It’s not really a joke, it’s a true story.’ So they said, ‘Sure, tell us,’” she said.
So she recounted the time she went for her physical and had a mix up with the nurse’s assistant, who asked Slater what kind of house she lived in. When Slater told her a ranch house, the assistant excitedly asked her if she had horses.
Her delivery was a hit. Two days later, Mitchell got the call that his mother was picked.
“It was really exciting, something I’d never done in my lifetime. There were other women there that were picked but I was the top one pick for some reason, I don’t know,” she laughed. “They liked me, I guess.”
From Roth’s view, to say they “liked” Slater might be an understatement.
“Bea read instantly as the perfect yenta, someone who’d be in your bubbie’s mahjong group or book club,” he said. “Her face does a great job expressing emotions, and once she was in costume and make-up, literally every photograph of her was funny. The hardest part was choosing just one because there were so many we loved.”
It’s not the first time Slater has been photographed. Her father, George Ginsberg, was a photographer and ran Quaker Photography in Philadelphia, which still exists.
Her local roots still run deep. When she was 19, she met her husband, Jack, when he went to Penn. He died in 2009.
Three kids, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later, “it’s the Philadelphia love story,” she said.
And while dating today is different from how it was — especially with the advent of websites and swipe-heavy apps — Slater shared one lesson she’s learned, as she’s now the face of a dating site.
Even through challenges, “if that love is there, it’ll stay.”
Her son, Jeffrey, and his wife, Rachel, ran a successful Malvern-based bakery business, Rachel’s Brownies, that even caught the attention of former President Ronald Reagan. Their daughter, Fanny, is a frequent guest on The Rachael Ray Show — and she has her grandmother to thank for that.
Slater had been watching the show one day a few years ago when Ray announced a competition for non-professional chefs to write a cookbook.
She texted her granddaughter — she’s modern, you can even find her on Twitter — and said, “Go listen to Rachael Ray,” Slater remembered. “I said, ‘You never know.’”
Fanny ended up winning and the two were in the audience the day her name was called. This month, they’ll both appear on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Cooking Channel.
For Slater, becoming somewhat of a celebrity now has been a fun experience — and has come with some delicious perks.
When they went back to New York to see the posters, Slater, Mitchell and his wife stopped at Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn to check out the big billboard atop the restaurant.
“We stood in the middle of the street and looked up, and I said, ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing, it’s me up there!’” she said. Her proud son, of course, went in and told the manager the star of the billboard was coming in for lunch.
“They gave me a cheesecake,” Slater laughed.
So what’s next? While she’s open to more auditions for whatever may come her way, her next goal is to jump out of an airplane.
“I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. I’ll need Tylenol, my daughter says,” she laughed. “Or she’ll need it.”
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