Strictly Kosher is still a pretty brazen move on the part of ITV. Take a girly, indie movie title, lop in an ethnic minority it’s kind of alright to laugh at and off you go. They might as well have called it “P.S. I Love Jew”.
It’s a kind-hearted affair. Intercutting the Miriam Margolyes voiceover with the ironic commentary of those being discussed gets the subjects on side in a way brasher documentaries don’t. Some of the absurdities of Jewish culture are highlighted, but there’s no pretence that the Jews themselves don’t realise it’s absurd. Even when they’re not mocking, such documentaries can still strike an unintended air of superiority. There’s none of that here.
The inclusion of boutique owner Joel is the clearest single attempt to mimic “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings”, but as lovely a chap as he is, the producers’ efforts to find some comedy in his profession fall flat. “‘Ere, guess what Jewish women wear? Um, dresses and blouses and stuff… Red! They don’t wear red! Apart from the ones who wear red… Weirdos” By the time they insert a hopeful shot of a young girl wearing a frilly pink dress, you’re feeling very sorry for the editor.
For good or ill, Strictly Kosher does lack the novelty of its peers. The Jewish community is relatively open, and its customs and traditions well known – but there are still some conspicuous gaps. The increasing power of the conservative lobby is much discussed, but little seen. That’s not to say every discussion of Judaism needs to address the issue of Palestine or religious strictures, but if they’re going to bring it up, they should have the balls to follow it through.
Instead, the story of Jack returning to the Polish town from which he was forced by the Nazis is left to form the hard core of the first episode. It’s familiar, but no less powerful for that, and is given extra urgency by the fact that the Holocaust will soon have passed from living memory.
“Strictly Kosher” and its stars make for perfectly pleasant company, but it’s difficult to get worked up about seeing them again. The producers deserve credit for treating their subjects with the right balance of respect and levity, but the final product lacks some chutzpah. Oy.