Kim Friedman, age 68, and her daughter Kate Siegel (center) participates in Birthright amongst much younger peers..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Kim Friedman isn’t your average Birthright participant. And it’s not just that she is – at 68 – a few decades older than the standard trip-goer. The Emmy-nominated TV producer says what she thinks, does what she wants - basically a fearless Jewish matriarch with a wild side.
No, Birthright hasn’t extended its age limit quite that far. Rather Friedman, her daughter Kate Siegel, and Siegel’s boyfriend Jonny Glass – made famous by the Instagram account CrazyJewishMom – were brought to Israel by Birthright to get their very own personalized tour of the Holy Land and meet with a variety of groups. The social media account, started by Siegel close to three years ago with screenshots of her mother’s text messages, now has more than 800,000 followers, who avidly watch for glimpses into the antics of the mom and daughter and their colorful relationship.
While Friedman might not be Birthright’s target audience, she has hopped on board with the organization’s mission. And though it was her very first time ever in Israel, she swears it won’t be her last.
“I’m coming back, I hope by April,” she declared, as Siegel shakes her head. ‘I’m going to Midburn,” she exclaimed, referring to Israel’s answer to the Burning Man festival, a weeklong gathering of creative types in the Negev desert. “I also want to join the IDF and fight,” Friedman added.
If you’re under 30 and on Instagram, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the pair already. And, let me assure you, they’re exactly how you imagined. During the course of an hourlong interview in Jerusalem on Sunday, the last day of their trip, the mother and daughter sparred, rolled their eyes at each other, exchanged some elbowing and got a few of their classic lines in as well.
When Siegel showed off a beautiful Star of David necklace that Glass bought her after being bat mitzvaed at the Western Wall, Friedman interjected: “A ring would have been better.”
After discussing their dip in the Dead Sea, the mom added: “My c-section scar is inflamed now.” They also managed to touch on a few topics unprintable in the pages of The Jerusalem Post
, and Friedman’s desperate quest for “grandspawn,” which includes soliciting sperm from just about any eligible man she meets (whether or not Glass is around).
Their quirky, intense and fiery relationship is what brought them Internet fame, which even led Siegel to leave her job and write a book – 2016’s Mother, Can You Not?
Today, Siegel is working on a second book, as well as a TV adaptation, creating regular digital content for her Instagram and Facebook followers plus a podcast. But she finds time to text her mother – she said on average she receives 111 messages from her a day.
Despite the constant sparring, it’s clear that mother and daughter – both on their first-ever visits to Israel – have had a deeply moving experience.
“We have had a mini-micro experience of all the different things that the Birthright participants get to experience,” said Siegel, “And at the end of the day, we’re totally exhausted, but in awe of all the incredible things we’ve experienced and the amount that they were able to pack in.”
And being a bit older than the average Birthright participant didn’t stop Friedman from anything the trip had to offer, including hiking up Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, riding a camel, having her very own bat mitzva at the Kotel – plus trying to play matchmaker between Birthright participants in the groups they joined.
“This has probably been the most meaningful trip of my entire life,” said Siegel. “I think that I really do feel in touch with my Jewish identity in a way that I haven’t ever.” She said it’s not just about viewing the sites, but also “understanding the history that has connected all of it... Understanding more about where I come from and where the Jewish people come from and having an anchor and a connection to that has been incredibly special.”
Friedman had her own, very personal take on the more serious moments of the trip.
“A lot of my parents and grandparents didn’t get to come to Israel, and so I felt that through Birthright – it was amazing – that they are here, because I’m here,” she said. “If I’m here, they’re here, they made it.”
And as she headed back to regular life in New York, Siegel knows there’s at least one thing – in addition to her new necklace and a suitcase of Dead Sea mud – she’ll be taking with her.
“I’m gonna be just front and center Jewish always from now on,” she said. “I just feel aggressively Jewish now.”