Unfortunately, I do not own the books her character is detailed in. What I thought I had only offered a few strips here and there with her in it, so unfortunately this will have to rely on my recollection. If anyone can offer sources online I would be delighted.
Jewish Characters in Western Literature:
The portrayal of Jews by non-Jews is an interesting thing. It describes more what the majority culture thinks of Jews than it does of Jewish life, and so can have an unkind (Marlowe's The Jew of Malta) or difficult (The Merchant of Venice) history. That does not mean I don't think non-Jews can't or shouldn't have Jewish characters. I believe quite the opposite, in fact, just that some caution should be taken - in the same way I take caution in portraying a black man or a straight woman. Portraying a culture that one is an outsider of, especially a minority culture, can bring along with it assumptions or misinformation that is damaging to both the majority and minority reader. I think Lynn's portrayal of the First Nation's community is an excellent example. She had the best of intentions, I really do think that, but the patronizing attitude is clear (and has been excellently discussed by readers her).
In recent decades Jews have become more free, more assimilated, and more in the news. At the same time - when it is easier to portray any sort of Jewish character interacting easily with non-Jewish protagonists, and information is easy to gather and conversations open - the portrayal of Jews in American literature by non-Jews has diminished in some ways. Fearful liberalism, problems with Israel, a different direction for Canadian and American literature? I could not begin to explain why, but I think one of the reasons is that white Jews are now White.
Portrayals of Jews by non-Jews almost always have them be white and Ashkenazic (as Lovey is). Which in of itself is a problem, but nowadays those white Jews are White, an assimilated part of White culture as the Irish or Italian are.*
Because of this, authors concerned with having a superficial "ethnic rainbow cast" (like commercials, like FBOFW) don't have Jewish characters. It's not as obvious as drawing Lawrence or the Enjo's, and even if they could make it clear (slap on a kippah?) they're still "white". They don't "add to the diversity". (I have talked with advertisers who use these exact phrases, by the way.) Jews, not being majority but not "minority enough", get passed over - in much the same way that "race discussion" in the United States almost always means white-black relations, ignoring the other necessary conversations.
I don't say this to complain int some way. This is the reason I don't think Lynn concerned herself with having a Jewish character. And when we see what she does with Lovey, perhaps we'll wish she hadn't.
(Hint: Yup, pretty much.)
Oy vey. Lovey is, to put it plainly, a walking stereotype. Not even a stereotype of Jews per se, but a lonely reject from Yiddish theater, found too one-dimension even for a stock wailing scene over stock of chicken soup.
What I mean by this is that she's a cultural Jew. She's not a religious Jew, or if she is, we see no evidence of this. A little mezuzah on the door, part of some beloved floor plans? Does she have to reschedule a planning meeting over their evil neighbors because she can't work on the Sabbath? Does she take the children to a river with bread crumbs, apologize to the Kelpfroths a few days later, have Mike help construct a sukkah, hand out some gelt? Heck, I would have been happy with a flippin' dreidel.
There can be no argument that this is just left out of the precious thirty seconds, because we see clear evidence that she does not practice. Her dealings with the Kelpfroths are a clear violation of business ethics. But oh, we may say, perhaps she just never opened the Talmud. How about the Torah? The strips that really made me stop and think this character over was when she promised to cook April's pet bunny with a recipe from "the old country." The unkosher old country, because rabbit *is not kosher*. *Even if* one argues that she's making it for them, not for her, and it is perfectly okay to not eat kosher if you're not Jewish (kind of the point, really) where the heck did she GET this recipe? FROM THE OLD COUNTRY, POLAND, ALL OF OUR FRIENDS WERE KILLED BUT I MANAGED TO GET THIS FROM THAT NICE CHRISTIAN COUPLE NEXT DOOR ARRRRRRGH. Okay sorry, sorry, let's move on.
Now, there is absolutely *no problem* with Lovey being a cultural Jew but not a religious Jew. Not as a character, not as a problem. I want to make that clear. It is a little dubious that the only Jew out of an entire fake Canadian nation isn't religiously Jewish, but hey, it's okay.
The problem is that, even as a Yiddish-cracking bubbe, it's still no good. Now as far as I saw, her second language was used correctly. For which I am thankful, and applaud Lynn's research here. She doesn't seem to have any knowledge of Yiddish theater or literature or art, but hey, she's a side character. That's fine. She's not in touch with her community either, but again: side character. But what about her family? I must have missed some notice about her husband dying because I never saw them interact, or speak about each other, and pleeeease like that's going to happen if they're still married. And her children? Oh, here is where it all falls apart.
The strips that come to mind are part of a series when Deanna gets pregnant. Mira comes over offering to buy them new things, and for some reason (?) they turn her down. Lovey then has a talk with Mira, and tells her:
* She was a bossy, overbearing mother. And Jewish. Hmm.
* As textual punishment for being a stereotype, her children move far far away from her and cut her off from her grandchildren. How nice of them.
I'm probably reading too much into this, but here she's portrayed as the most stereotypical of Jewish stereotypes** and as such is punished for it by having her daughters move their families far away, in a classically American but un-Jewish way. Robbed of her identity by her identity, as it was.
So Lovey is not a very "Jewish" character in a strip with no other Jewish characters, and the ways in which she is are all bound up in over-the-top stereotypes. The fact that Lynn actually uses the overbearing-mother-hen (without any kind of disclaimer or explanation), the fact that Lovey is then deliberately punished for it, and the lack of information within the strip (the rabbit, the lack of all outward signifiers) leads me to the conclusion that:
In this case, Lynn was ignorant. Which is of itself no crime, but that she did nothing to educate herself. And this ignorance caused to her to indulge in unexamined unfair characterization, in the same way that the strip's obvious white privilege is never looked into. Because of this there are no good Jewish characters, no real Jewish characters at all.
Which again, in itself is no crime. The fact that it tried and failed makes it one; the fact that it tries to be inclusive and multicultural makes it fail even more.
Last, for extra fun:
"About Lovey: Lovey is a wonderful eccentric Jewish lady from Poland who, with her husband Morrie, owned the buildings where Deanna and Michael and Josef Weeder rented their apartments until the fire damaged them. She later sold her houses to Weed and Carleen. She offers parenting advice and food, and once nearly made Mr. B. into a stew! Lovey has two kids, one of whom is a daughter named Cynthia who lives in Seattle and has two children."
How many problems do YOU identify?
*Not entirely, and the people really concerned with White culture as this amazing thing hates Jews of all cultures just as much, if not more, as they do people of color. But Jews are no longer considered by the United States to be non-white.
** Admittedly, perhaps because it is a little true. :)
I'm sorry if this is too long, and that I can't cite sources properly.
As background, I'm an American Jew, liberal, but with great attachment to my heritage. I find all paths in life of equal value, but I too have my own biases. If you identify one in this please do not hesitate to point it out to me. It is only then I can learn!
I also have a favor to ask.
If anyone bothers to comment on this, please could you refrain from attacking Lynn personally, or making assumptions about her life? Attack her work, yes, what she's said for public record, even psychoanalyze based on that data. But i would greatly appreciate it if, at least in here, you wouldn't gossip or insult her. This is to me an ethical and religious value and I would hate be the cause of any malicious speaking. Obviously I can only ask this as a plea, and I offer my sincere thanks for at least considering it.