Over the years, we’ve loved watching on-screen yiddishe mammas like Molly Goldberg, Ida Morgenstern and Sheila Broflovski. Now, another woman has joined the ranks of iconic Jewish mothers. Her name is Pat Seftel, and unlike the others, she is not fictional.
Fans of this highly engaging Jewish mother haven’t been watching her on the big screen or TV. This being 2013, they’ve been tuning in over the last year on laptops and mobile devices to watch her in a YouTube series called “My Mom on Movies,” in which her award-winning filmmaker son Joshua Seftel interviews her on everything from Justin Bieber’s monkey, Miley Cyrus’s twerking to the Boston Red Sox players’ beards.
Pat Seftel is in her 70s, winters in Sarasota, Florida and summers in Schenectady, New York. She never imagined becoming a video sensation. She was “discovered,” so to speak, when her children gave her an iPad as a birthday gift. They wanted Pat, a widow whose husband died in 2009, to stay in touch with them and feel less lonely.
It didn’t take long, however, for her director son to realize that there would be many people out there who would want to get in on his weekly conversations with his mother on FaceTime (which Pat has a tendency to call “facelift”).
The Times of Israel caught up by phone with mother and son for an interview about their professionally exciting and emotionally rewarding joint venture.
How did your “My Mom on Movies” project get started?
Josh: It really started out when I would make a film and the DVD company would say they wanted some extras. They’d ask me to make a making-of featurette… I thought it would be interesting if we just interviewed my parents and asked them about the film and had them explain how the film was made. So, I filmed my mom and dad together sitting on the couch in their living room explaining about the film. In the process it was very funny – they were arguing, they were disagreeing, they were saying nice things about my film, and also talking about things that had nothing to do with the film… My parents were rich material. When my dad passed away and we got my mom the iPad, I realized we could keep filming and we could keep doing this thing that we used to do.
Are your conversations extemporaneous, or do you plan out ahead of time what you will talk about?
Josh: It’s almost always that I don’t tell her ahead of time. I kind of guess what things might resonate with her and I don’t tell her. Occasionally I’ll give her a little homework, I’ll say, “Hey, watch this clip or look at this thing.” I don’t tell her necessarily why or what I’m going to ask her.
Pat, how do you know so much about pop culture? Are you a big follower of it?
Pat: I wouldn’t say I’m a big pop culture follower, but I am interested in what’s going on. So, when I go to the beauty parlor, I read People Magazine. I listen to Good Morning America — they have a pop culture reporter. I’m kind of interested in it. I don’t buy any of those magazines, or anything like that. If I see one, I might look at it.
Were you a fan of pop culture when you were growing up?
Pat: For us, the movies were everything — the movies, the movie stars. We used to collect pictures of movie stars, and we used to trade them. There wasn’t a lot going on so much, or if it was, we didn’t get the news. The media today… you know everything when it happens. You know too much. You know stuff you don’t want to know.
Josh: The truth is, my mom kind of knows everything. You could ask her about nanoparticles and she’ll have something to say about it. You can ask her about any topic and she will have an interesting opinion on it. I think that’s just sort of who she is. Sometimes she’ll say, “I don’t know anything about that,” and then she’ll say something interesting about it.
How often do you speak with one another, and is it always on FaceTime now?
Josh: We talk at least once a week usually. We do the FaceTime thing on average once a week or every other week. We use almost every conversation on FaceTime we record.
Pat, do you have the hang of the iPad now?
‘I don’t know how I lived without email’
Pat: In the beginning when the kids bought it for me, I thought it was like throwing their money away. I figured I didn’t have that mindset. I’m not a tech person. My son flew down for my birthday and showed me how to use it. I mean, I don’t know how to do everything, but enough that it is fun. I like to do Words With Friends, and I like to do Snapchat with my granddaughters. We take each other’s pictures, you know, and send them to each other. And I love email. I don’t know how I lived without email.
Are you on Facebook, too?
Pat: I have Facebook. I look at it a lot. I have a newsfeed and I look at that and a lot of people seem to be on my newsfeed. I don’t know how they got there, but they’re there… In the beginning I thought it was just that page with your picture on it.
Pat, you’re a former therapist who did individual and group counseling. Do you think your professional background allows you to have keen insight in to people?
Pat: I don’t think it hurts to have that training. But I’ve always been interested in people. Even before I had the training, I could sort of size up a situation fairly accurately.
What do you think is the appeal of the Jewish mother?
Pat: Oh, my goodness! That’s a big question. I kind of like being a Jewish mother. That’s really all I know how to be. It seems like people always go for the caricature of the Jewish mother who’s in everybody’s business and worrying all the time. But even that Jewish mother loves her children. I think Jewish mothers are okay. I think they’re great.
‘It’s a familiar voice commenting on a topic you are not used to that voice commenting on’
Josh: In the times we live in right now, there are so many voices out there talking about popular culture. They are mostly from a similar demographic, a similar age group, a similar style, a similar level of irony. Having someone like my mother, who is a Jewish mother, commenting on these topics is refreshing and unique in a way. It’s a familiar voice commenting on a topic you are not used to that voice commenting on… In many ways I find that her perspective on pop culture is more very truthful and funny. Often times she cuts right to the core of things. She’s definitely unvarnished. She has nothing to gain here. She doesn’t have any skin in this game. It’s merely for a fun chat with her son.
What’s your favorite episode in the series so far?
Josh: I really like the one on Bradley Cooper’s mother. In every episode, we try to go beyond just talking about pop culture, but this one was especially so. It’s about the mother-son relationship, and it included the one between my mom and me. I really like that one because it has a humor and a sweetness that I really like.
Pat: Well, I have to tell you… it’s for shock value: the Fifty Shades of Grey episode. I think my son almost fell out of his chair. I brought it up. He just asked me, “Well, what are you doing?” and I said, “I’m reading this book.” I could tell from his voice that he was kind of shocked… I thought it was fun to do that. Then I thought, well maybe I shouldn’t have. Then I thought, well, what’s the difference? I really did like the book.
What is the most important thing you have learned while doing this series — either about yourself, or about your mother-son relationship?
Josh: I’ve learned things about my mom — literally new things about her, like that she danced on American Bandstand. I learned the origin of my middle name, which I’d never known before. I’m really learning about my own life and family, about things that I didn’t know, about our family history. That’s really special.
Pat: First of all, about myself, I learned that maybe people do like my opinion about things. I always had something to say about everything, but it’s nice to know that people enjoy hearing it. My opinion means something. Secondly, I feel so good that my son wants to spend this time with me doing a project. I feel blessed at this point in my life, when he’s so busy with so many other things to do, that he takes the time to do this. It’s just made my life so much fuller.