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Secrets of a Jewish Mother

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Oy!Chicago gets real with Jill Zarin of the Real Housewives 

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a fan of Bravo’s Real Housewives series. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s something about those women that makes you just want to keep watching. My favorite cast is definitely the Real Housewives of New York City, which includes Jewish housewife Jill Zarin, known on the show for her big heart—which shows in her devotion to her family, friends and her philanthropic work—and her big opinions—which sometimes gets her into trouble.

On Sunday, Jan. 23, Jill and her sister, Lisa Wexler, an award-winning talk radio host and the creator and executive producer of The Lisa Wexler Show, will speak for the first time in Chicago about the book they co-wrote with their mother Gloria Kamen, who currently writes the “Ask Gloria” column on BravoTV.com. The program, presented by Ida Crown Jewish Academy, will take place at Saks Fifth Avenue in Highland Park. Jill and Lisa will speak together about their book,  Secrets of a Jewish Mother: Real Advice, Real Stories Real Love (Dutton)  released last April, and answer questions about the Real Housewives show, followed by a Saks discounted shopping opportunity.

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I had the opportunity to talk to Jill before her visit about Jewish mothers, Real Housewives and not-so-real friendships:
Oy!Chicago: What can we expect at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy event in December?
Jill Zarin: We wrote a book called Secrets of a Jewish Mother that came out in April. The paperback version is actually coming out March 1 and with that we’ve added a chapter dedicated to bullying. The book is geared toward anyone—male, female—you don’t have to be Jewish to read the book and you certainly don’t have to be Jewish to be a Jewish mother as we all know, although it is so much more fun when you are. And we talk about everything like friendship, dating, education, marriage, career, money and my favorite chapter, probably parenting.

[At the event] we’ll talk about the book, we’ll read from it, we do a little quiz at the beginning which is ‘are you a Jewish mother?’ where we ask you 20 questions that sort of warms up the crowd.

What do you hope people will get out of it?
Laughs…and it’s a very relatable book [with] some very good wisdom and advice. What’s great about the book is that you can go to any chapter and pick something up about it…it’s the cycle of life interspersed with some comedy.

What would you say is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from your Jewish mother?
Well my mother gives me advice every day, something as minimal as like ‘don’t forget your sweater, it’s freezing outside’ she loves to say to me, so I don’t know if there’s particularly one piece of advice.

And best advice you’ve given as a Jewish mother?
Well I’m definitely not done yet and Allyson’s still cooking—although she’s 18 now she might be almost medium well, I don’t think she’s well yet. I do think that whatever I have been doing is working because I think she’s a very well-adjusted, happy, loving, caring person. And what I love most about Ally is the heart she has—my daughter has a heart as big as the ocean.

Obviously being Jewish is a big part of your identity and your book. How and why does being Jewish influence what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I think that culturally what I love about the Jewish faith is that we really focus on family and tradition. And it’s those two things that make us happy and secure. Like my mother said in the show, life goes from Passover to Rosh Hashanah and back to Passover again. It’s always these traditions that make us feel part of a culture and loved and important and special.

Watching you on the show, people feel like they know you—like they are one of your girlfriends. Is that weird for you? Do you think your fans know the real you based on how you are portrayed?
Yes and no. I think overall, yes. I think that I’m not perfect, I think that I have a big heart and sometimes that gets me in trouble because I sometimes might put expectations on people because I would do [something] and they disappoint me. Overall I think that the show really does at the end really show who we are. There might be inaccuracies with particular stories or facts, but I think the overall impression is probably correct.

In your chapter on friendship, you mention your relationships with all the cast mates on Real Housewives—are any of them true friends or “front-row” friends as you call them in the book? How difficult is it to maintain true friendships with people you are filming a TV show with?
It’s very hard on a reality show because you don’t know what they’re saying behind your back, and sometimes you say and do things on the show because it’s good TV, or sometimes you’ll say something and they’ll edit it [so] it’s not really what you meant. It’s hard to not get mad at someone when they say something behind your back but you have to know that you all signed up for this TV show. So, it is hard, but I think at the end of the day clearly LuAnn is my longest friend on the show and I adore her. And I do think we will be lifelong friends—will she shift from the front row to the orchestra? Absolutely…I definitely think some of the girls are in my front row right now, will they stay there? Who knows. Only time will tell.

Last season, we saw your friendship with Bethenny [Frankel] unravel.
You know, it was edited in such a way that you don’t really know what I really did behind the scenes, there’s a lot that didn’t play on the show—a lot. I’m not going to get into specifics—but there was a lot of reaching out from Bethenny to me off camera and vice versa, but when the cameras were up you would never have known that. For example, she sent my daughter a birthday present last year right in the middle of filming, a big beautiful present—why? I found out on camera that day she just bashed me and said she never wanted to be my friend again—wouldn’t you call that a mixed signal?

I’ve heard that filming is underway for the fourth season of RHONY—how is that going? Will we be seeing more of your mom and sister on the show?
Yes. You will see Gloria, you will see Lisa. We’ve already filmed together and it’s going to be great. This season I think people are going to really be happier and it’ll be back to what it was. Which is fun, with a little drama.

What’s next for you?
Oh my goodness, glad you asked! I have a new line of bedding at Bedbathandbeyond.com which is doing really, really, really well, so I’m very happy. Prices for the set start at like $179 for a full decorator, gorgeous bedding comforter set. Beautiful. The other thing I’m working on is I have a shapewear and legwear line coming out hopefully in spring. I’m excited about it because all my girlfriends are trying them on and loving them asking me for more, so that’s a good sign. It’s very organic—you know I was in the hosiery business for about 15 years, so I feel like I’m going back to my roots, coming home.

Do you have any Chicago connections? Anything you like to do while you’re here?
Oprah!? Isn’t everybody connected to Oprah? I feel like she’s my friend. I’ve [was in Chicago] 15-20 years ago, so it’s been way too long, I’m really excited. It’s a beautiful city. But I’m excited, can’t wait!

To order tickets or learn about sponsorship opportunities, please call 773-973-1450 or go to  www.ICJA.org .

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