In defense of Astrid in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is brilliant for its hilarious reflections of life among certain Jewish people of the 1950s Upper West Side. One of my favorite running gags, which is also somewhat challenging for me, is that of Astrid Weissman (Justine Lupe), Mrs. Maisel’s sister-in-law, whose Jewish impostor syndrome and hyper-sentimentality about all things Jewish are (perhaps sadly) the bulk of her character thus far.

Astrid is my favorite because she is an oasis of devotion, loyalty, and spiritual reality in a dry desert of chaotic, narcissistic drama. There are so many ways of being a Jew, and so many types of Jewish people. The predominant “type” in the show is the more highly assimilated, wealthy type who takes their Jewishness for granted because it has always been obvious, and because in this country, they can.

Astrid, on the other hand, cannot take her religion for granted at all.

For Astrid, Judaism is a religion, but not the lifelong cultural center for processing all of her life experiences (at least not yet). As such, it is more tied to her free will, and thus an active, rather than passive, identity. Judaism is completely new to her, and she is on this massive spiritual journey as she discovers all of the beauty and depth of a new way of thinking and being. And yet her conversion was quick, per a comment made by her father-in-law (Season 1, Episode 6, “Mrs. X at the Gaslight”):

Goy to Jew in three weeks or less. Classes, rituals, and weird baths in basements, and, oh, my G-d, so much challah…

A quick conversion implies that she still has a lot to learn. While her new family is caught up in all sorts of crazy drama, she is busy downloading new spiritual software.

I stood up from my sofa as I witnessed the unforgettable juxtaposition of Astrid’s fasting for Tisha B’Av while her Jewish-by-birth family is eating and remain totally oblivious to the holiday (Season 2, Episode 6, “Father Doesn’t Know Best”). She bursts into a rage at the table, shouting, “These were important, f*$%ing temples!” It’s hilarious. And I don’t blame her. I find this day to be more relevant than ever, and yet, nobody appears to be paying attention to that reality. I stood up from my sofa, because in that juxtaposition, I am Astrid. I shouted at my television, “Go, Astrid, go! You tell them!” 

And her excessive singing during services (Season 2, Episode 7, “Look, She Made a Hat”)? I’ve totally done that.

The thing about Astrid is, are we laughing at her, or with her? In Season 1, it felt to me like the writers were just making fun of her, which I have mixed feelings about, as I perceived it to be nothing but collective spitting at positive but vulnerable attributes, which is not what our culture needs right now. But in Season 2, Episode 6, it feels more like we are laughing with her as she sits in contemplative prayer, the only person to show up to services and actually do something Jewish as she copes with the circus that is her crazy family.

Let us make a toast to all the Astrids of the Jewish community. The name, after all, is associated with divine strength.

About the Author
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent the views of any organization that she is affiliated with. Sarah Ruth Hoffman was a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when an older male rabbi (now suspended by his rabbinical association) groomed, raped, and abused her. She has since completed the PhD and converted to Orthodox Judaism. She continues to write as part of her healing, and she often writes what she would have found comforting and useful to read during her lengthy exodus from the ongoing sexual violence that was inextricably linked to roles and scripts in Jewish institutions. She hopes that this blog will help the public to understand the dynamics of clergy sexual abuse, whether the victims are adults, or children. Much of what is written can apply to non-clergy relationships as well. If any one person is helped by any of what is written, then the purpose of this blog has been fulfilled.