|Directed by:||Bob Giges||Rating:||TV-G|
|Release Date:||1991||Running Time:||21 mins.|
While falling in love with a non-Jew is controversial for many Jews today, it was much more so when Belle Demner fell for Bill McCoy during the First World War. My Yiddishe Momme McCoy is an intimate portrayal of this 90-year-old Jewish grandmother’s young inter-faith love that blossomed into a 50-year marriage.
“Belle has a boss that’s so handsome that even I could fall in love with him,” Belle recalls her mother saying to her father. While the comment was made in jest, it upset her strictly Orthodox father, and it stuck with Belle because she was slowly falling in love with her boss, an Irish-Catholic named Bill McCoy.
Produced and Directed by Belle’s grandson, Bob Giges, My Yiddishe Momme McCoy serves as a tribute to his grandparents and depicts the struggle between romantic love and family expectations. Belle, seated comfortably in her own home, addresses the camera with a tone of intimacy that only her grandson could have inspired. She chronicles the story of how her love blossomed and the struggles the couple faced both before and after their eventual wedding. In the camera’s lens, Belle is quickly revealed as the quirky, kind grandmother that anyone would be happy to call their own.
The adoration Belle and McCoy felt for one anther transcended the obstacles the couple faced with her religious family and community. Both were willing to make sacrifices in order for their marriage to survive, and while their struggles were apparent, so too were their joys. Married one day short of fifty years, Belle and McCoy shared a rich life that was only possible because of their unshaken dedication to one another.
Born in Vienna, Austria in 1900, Belle was an obedient daughter, and still speaks of her parents with great respect. She admired their dedication to religious observance and wanted to live a life they approved of.
But when Belle took a job under McCoy, she could only resist his romantic overtures for so long. After he went off to fight and was injured in the First World War, she could not help falling in love after he sent her 52 love letters from a hospital bed. When McCoy came home, the two began an affair, but Belle was adamant that she could never marry him, knowing that doing so would directly oppose her parents’ wishes.
Indeed, Belle’s mother cried when her daughter confessed that she had fallen in love with McCoy, and her father was initially opposed to their marriage. But McCoy proved himself worthy of Belle and slowly won their respect. Although he had been raised in a Christian church, McCoy undertook the long conversion process to enter the Jewish faith. After watching the twenty-eight-year-old man undergo circumcision without anesthesia, Belle’s father said, “He could murder a man, and I would forgive him.”
But not everyone accepted their marriage. Belle’s uncle was disgusted that his niece had married a gentile. That McCoy had converted meant nothing to him. Instead of joining the married couple in celebration, her uncle sat shiva, a Jewish mourning ritual that typically accompanies a funeral.
Despite McCoy’s conversion, conflicts due to their diverging cultural backgrounds were constantly emerging. While Belle insisted on keeping a kosher home so her parents could eat at her house, McCoy would forget and mix up the meat and milk pots. He would also attend Catholic services from time to time and give his children Christmas presents, but Belle insisted his Chiristian activities were cultural rather than religious. “As far as I’m concerned,” she says, “he lived and died a Jew.”