Shana tova! Happy new year! I hope you have a wonderful, sweet year full of great things.
How sweet of you to send a card! And I only had to remind you six times. I hope this was the cheapest card the store had. I wouldn’t want you wasting money on your silly old mama.
I notice it’s only signed by you, not that shiksa of a wife. I guess she was too busy writing cards to wish Jesus a chag sameach–he was a Jew, you know.
Since you want to start the year on a clean slate, I hope you apologized to your poor sister for putting so much pressure on her to have children, since you’ll apparently never have any. You’ve been married what? Six months already! Ach. Do you hate your poor mother? Do you want I should die and never see my own grandchildren? I could drop dead tomorrow.
Happy new year.
This letter is one of the jewels of the History of the Letter collection. We all know the old jokes about “Jewish Guilt,” but many fans have never really witnessed the true legends of the endeavor. This letter showcases Shirley Levin, perhaps the greatest guilt-tripping Jewish mother of the late 80s – mid 90s. She was elected into the Jewish Guilt Hall of Fame in Boca Raton, Florida, in 2001 (official motto: “So they don’t have planes there? You can’t come down and visit?”).
This letter shows just what made her so great at the art. Taking a nice, if perhaps inelegant, gesture, then twisting it to make her son feel bad about even trying. Although David had long been immune to cracks about “that one” (his wife), Mrs. Levin really hit her form with her crack about the cheapness of the card, managing to both make David feel bad about sending what was in fact the 2nd cheapest card in the Duane Reade on 79th and Amsterdam, but also that he was not making a good enough living as a consultant for a small finance shop (“That’s not a real job, is it?” You know Mrs. Goldenbaum’s boy is at Cornell Medical School”). Mrs. Levin’s first breakout season was 1988, when young David changed his major from Pre-med to Economics and Mrs. Levin accused him of trying to kill her. When his sister, Rachel, started playing field hockey in high school the same year, Mrs. Levin famously said to her: “So what? I have two sons now and neither of them will give me grandchildren.”
It was, of course, the grandchildren issue where Mrs. Levin showed her true skill, seamlessly switching from nudging her son towards marriage to her famous retort, “I can’t even imagine what Mrs. Bloom will say when I show up to temple with a blond grandson.” Even in her later years, she had one her greatest moments when David and his family visited her in Florida for 5 days, during the course of which she managed to belittle his job as a financial advisor on the Gore campaign, complain that her granddaughter was playing with swords (“Good, maybe she’ll be an actress. That pays well.”), and denigrate every restaurant choice made for the entire trip (“Sure, we can go there. It’s cheap and the portions are small, but whatever you think, dear.”) This performance was dubbed by observers as the greatest single stretch of Jewish mothering since Helda Blatt managed to humiliate her son 12 different ways for showing up six minutes late to a Passover Seder in 1958.