Mad Men and Jews

The last episode of this season’s Mad Men finally aired and next Spring (2015) we shall see the final seven (?) installments of season 7 and the storied series will be over.

Spoiler alert.

Gossip-wise, in season seven, we learn that Don and Megan are breaking up (her decision); Betty’s emerging feminism is clashing with Henry’s gallant old fashioned self; Ted is having a breakdown in L.A.; Peggy, now 30 and still unmarried— might start a new relationship with a handyman ; Don, forced to eat humble-pie, has become more human and works with and for the team that he broke in;. Pete and Trudy are divorcing; and Harry and Jennifer seem to be having some marital trouble as well. Michael, the erstwhile Holocaust child, has a breakdown and mutilates himself. (He is sent to a mental hospital on a gurney from the office.) Bert Cooper dies, an event which Roger finds more devastating than his mother’s demise and his daughter, Margaret, has become a hippie and left her husband and child.

Busin deeplyess-wise, Sterling-Cooper and Partners has acquired a computer. The moon (technology will take over??)landing has everyone mesmerized. Jim Cutler (the Harry Hamlin character) is trying desperately to get rid of Don. S&P lost Chevy but are poised to get another GM behemoth— Buick, which causes McCann to bid for the whole S&P company.

Prophecy: Don and Peggy, the modern fairytale couple, who are close friends, and very fond of each other, get married. Peggy’s mother is finally happy. The deal with McCann works out but Roger has to quit for health reasons. Margaret comes back and cries. The new president of the company is Peggy—who decides to keep Jim Cutler and; Don defers to her. But Ted Chough is bought out. Michael on disability, comes to terms with his mother’s death in the Holocaust. Joan meets Betty at a bra burning fest. Betty leaves Henry and moves back to the city and finally shakes off her mother’s conservative ghost. Joan buys a bigger apartment with her McCann earnings. Her mother leaves and she hooks up with a weakened, less abrasive, Roger. Don asks people to call him Dick Whitman. The last episode has them picking up Peggy’s long-lost son who is great with the computer. Stephanie and her newborn son, named by Don “Adam” in memory of his b rother move to New York and live in “Aunt” Peggy’s building. The Sixties are finally over. The people who are stuck in the past are jettisoned.

Why is this on an Israeli, Jewish blog? Actually, Mad Men is a very New York-Jewish series. How so?

First of all, there is a Jewish creator, Matthew Weiner, and there are numerous Jewish (perhaps stereotypical) references and characters. There’s a poster of Moshe Dayan in Stan Rizzo’s bedroom; a savvy Jewish department store owner, Mr. Menkin, and his elegant, bright daughter, Rachel; a Jewish left wing reporter, Abe; Jewish wine merchants; glossy Jewish wives (Jane) ;new Israelis seeking hip, Madison Avenue travel brochures; words iterated such as “punim”;and gentle anti-Semitic jibes, probably true of the times, throughout. Besides these Jewish attributes, fact is, the framework of the whole story is basically Jewish .It’s about redemption; sinning and attaining peace and atonement. The power of “teshuva” which is found by Don Draper, allows everyone else to move on in a healthy way. Of course, other religions and movements have this feature but none more than Judaism which values re-invention and assures each of us that no matter what we have done, we can change. And the irony of it all (especially given what these men and women do) is that, like Bert Cooper says, it’s free. I don’t think Weiner set out to make a “Jewish” series but it’s in his soul.

About the Author
Netty C. Gross-Horowitz is a journalist who worked for many years at The Jerusalem Report Together with Susan M. Weiss, she is co-author of "Jewish Marriage and Divorce Israel's Civil War," published by Brandeis University Press and the University Press of New England, December 2012.
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