Photo Credit:

Actress Leslie Grossman

by Baila Olidort - Los Angeles, CA

January 28, 2009

Following a recent appearance on ABC's "The View" by actress Susie Essman promoting Loving Leah, a Hallmark movie in which she purportedly portrays Lubavitch women, received many calls and emails by readers expressing their dismay.

What follows is a conversation between Baila Olidort, editor of, and actress Leslie Grossman.

What’s your response to Loving Leah and its promotion on the The View?

As an actress and a Jewish woman, I can tell you that if I’d have been given that script, I never would have agreed to play in that movie. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to produce something that feeds the worst stereotypes of religious women. To be sure, if it were an African-American film perpetuating the worst stereotypes, there’d be an uproar.

As indeed there was when Don Imus poked fun at the hair of African-American women basketball players last year. He was fired by CBS for that.

Susie Essman is a talented comedienne, so I admit that I was really disappointed by what she said on the The View. It seems to me that if you have the national spotlight, you would want to use it to create a bridge of understanding between the secular and religious worlds.

You take this personally.

Yes. Susie’s Jewish, as am I, and  I feel strongly that as Jewish women we have a responsibility to take something that may be misunderstood or mysterious to a secular audience, and help them understand the tradition instead of reinforcing perceptions of religious people as “wacky.”

I’ve never watched The View before, so I don’t really know what passes for thoughtful conversation on that forum. But at the very least, you would expect these women to be better prepared to discuss their topic in a meaningful way.

It’s a shame really. I mean why not use the opportunity to explain something like the Jewish tradition of women’s head covering so that people can appreciate what is sacred and lovely about it even if it’s not something they choose to do. I don’t wear a sheitel, but I appreciate the beauty in the idea that a married woman keeps her hair private, for her husband only.

Essman says that in the film (which to someone like myself who knows Lubavitch Chasidic life intimately well, was glaringly inauthentic) she was playing a “Lubavitcher” woman. But the character she plays is quite unattractive, frumpy, prudish and uptight—a parody of SNL’s Church Lady.

It really doesn’t seem like she did her research. I have to say that my interaction with Chabad is always fun and upbeat and life affirming and inclusionary. I may not be a Lubavitcher in the traditional sense myself, but I am really close to them and the only experience I’ve ever had with Chabad is one of joy and light and warmth. They have never, ever, given me the feeling that I’m not Jewish enough or religious enough.

Many were puzzled by her comment regarding Lubavitch women’s fashion sense.

Is Susie Essman camera ready all the time? Look, I have lots of close friends in the Chabad community and the women I’ve come to know are always impeccably dressed. They are totally on trend fashion-wise, and they look incredibly beautiful. I’ve asked Tova Cunin—whose hair (wig) is always gorgeous—numerous times to take me shopping with her. If anything, women who abide by rules of modesty may need to be more creative in their wardrobes but that doesn’t seem to get in the way of their fashion sense.

I have a suspicion that neither Essman nor any of the ladies on The View know that “Lubavitch” is the same as Chabad.

That may be. In general, the young people in Chabad today are so dynamic, plugged in and modern, and connect to young people in a wonderful way. They are smart, they are savvy, the know how to draw people in. Essman is completely off mark.

And I have to say that on the heels of what happened in Mumbai, I think it was all in poor taste. Now more than ever is a time to memorialize these people and educate others about the dedicated lives they lived, and about Chabad women who offer travelers this wonderful Jewish connection everywhere in the world. 

Actress Leslie Grossman is a long-time Chabad of California supporter and activist, and co-host of the Chabad "To-Life" Telethon. Leslie recently appeared in "What I Like About You", "Grey's Anatomy” and will soon be appearing in the new TNT series “TRUST ME”.

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