Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Gave "Kosher Soul" a Second Chance

A friend tipped me off to a new reality TV show that was about to begin publicizing its pilot episode. I was immediately intrigued. The show, Kosher Soul, is about a pretty Jewish woman and a Black comedian who fall in love. I clicked the link to find the trailer from the Lifetime network and was immediately disappointed. Oy, I thought to myself, this is not going to be "good for the Jews."

I posted the link to the trailer in a few rabbi discussion groups I'm part of and encouraged my colleagues to check out this video and give their own opinion. It was unanimous that we all cringed when we saw the typical, run-of-the-mill Jewish jokes interspersed with sub-par humor about African-Americans. One of my Rabbis Without Borders colleagues suggested we have a conference call right after the first episode airs so we can discuss and determine the best way to articulate our dismay of this farcical portrayal of everything from interdating to conversion to Black/Jewish relations.

©2015 A&E Television Networks, LLC. All rights reserved. Photo Credit: Richard Knapp

I helped coordinate the conference call, and we all seemed to have the same impressions about the show. It was a car wreck! I explained how I too was uncomfortable with the show, but that generally I detest reality television because it's almost as unreal as any other television sitcom. The actors are performing for the cameras, each episode has a theme, and the editors are going to cut the raw footage down to a bunch of sound bites for the 20 or so minutes of the final cut. It seemed to me, I explained, that O'Neal McKnight, the Black comedian, was trying to hard to market his comedy routines by offering one-liners that made me yawn rather than laugh out loud. The Jewish partner, Miriam Sternoff, came off as a snob who never seemed to feel comfortable having her private life aired to the masses. I didn't learn anything new from the conference call, but my sentiments about the show seemed to be the party line among my colleagues. I watched the first episode so I could have a coherent dialogue with my fellow rabbis and then, I reasoned, I'd never watch another episode of this filth again.

A few weeks later, however, I was scanning the list of recorded television shows on my DVR and realized that my wife had set it to record the entire series of Kosher Soul. I had asked her to record the pilot episode so I'd be in the know for the conference call, but she must have recorded the entire series in error. It was a rainy Sunday and none of my sports teams were playing so I figured I'd watch some mindless TV and take a nap. I began the second episode of Kosher Soul and then the third and then decided to just keep watching. I saw their wedding and his conversion to Judaism. I watched O'Neal McKnight mourn his grandfather's death. I was actually interested to see how the rabbi counseled this couple before their wedding and how they discussed kosher food. Their dialogue with each other and their friends on matters of race and faith eventually turned from hokey and staged to heartfelt and sincere. Oh no, was I actually enjoying this reality TV show that I had earlier called a mockery?

Somehow I was able to get past my hangup about reality television and see past all of the silly stereotypes that were brought out in a satirical way on this show. O'Neal McKnight continued to wear ridiculous baseball caps with Jewish stars and the word "Kosher" and the couple's interviews on their couch continued to be an opportunity for McKnight to run through his stand-up routine. Yet, somehow I was intrigued. I actually could tell that these two individuals loved each other and were willing to create a loving and lasting marriage together despite their different cultures and backgrounds. There were still moments when I thought they took the stereotypes too far and when I doubted McKnight's sincerity in becoming Jewish, but overall I thought this was an interesting perspective into the lives of this unusual partnership. I have no doubt if there will be a second season or if their marriage will endure, but I am glad that I gave Kosher Soul a second chance.

Originally posted on the Rabbis Without Borders blog at MyJewishLearning.com

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