TikTok Bubbie Is the Outspoken Jewish Grandma the Internet Needs

75-year-old actress, singer and influencer SJ Mendelson is the perfect encapsulation of what a real-life Jewish matriarch looks like.

One of the great tragedies of my life is that I never had a bubbe.

To be clear, I have a wonderful Jewish mother who taught me how to be an independent and uncompromising young Jewess, how to say my first Hebrew words and how to grind Sephardi haroset until it’s perfectly smooth and sweet. I also had two supportive non-Jewish grandmothers who were as excited to celebrate Hanukkah and Passover with me as I was to celebrate Christmas and Easter with them.

And while I wouldn’t trade my Baba and Oma — the Greek-Macedonian and German names I called my maternal grandmother and paternal grandmother, respectively — for the world, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have had a bubbe or savta. What Jewish wisdom would she have imparted? What Hebrew, Yiddish or Ladino words might she have slipped into our everyday conversations? What fashion advice, like that of the Jewish coastal grandma, would she have doled out?

Now, thanks to TikTok Bubbie, I don’t have to wonder any longer.

TikTok Bubbie, who self-describes as an “old lady … with a lot of opinions,” is the online moniker of 75-year-old Jewish actor and real-life Jewish grandmother SJ Mendelson. I first came across her TikTok page a few months ago when a video of hers was fed into my For You feed. “I’m Jewish, bitches. From a long line of Jewish people,” TikTok Bubbie said straight to the camera in a white hoodie and bright red glasses. “That’s right… don’t you forget it!”

To me, she was like a mix of Yetta from “The Nanny” and Iris Apfel — outspoken like Yetta, but sharp as a tack, fashionable like Iris, yet doesn’t take herself too seriously, and very, very Jewish. I was enthralled.

Clearly, I’m not the only one. Since she started her account two years ago, TikTok Bubbie has garnered an impressive 576K followers and over 10 million likes for videos which range from old photos and stories about her life to trying the latest TikTok filter. Whatever the content, though, Bubbie’s general ethos is always the same: greeting her audience with a sing-songy “Mornin’ bitches!” exuding loving warmth and usually expressing support for single moms, the LGBTQ+ community and Jewish causes. (All identities that are either part of her own or that have touched her life.)

Remarkably, the response to her videos are usually thoroughly reflective of her caring attitude. Unlike the trolling and outright bigotry prominent in most comment sections, TikTok Bubbie’s comment section is mostly viewers reciprocating the love she sends out, asking genuine questions and expressing gratitude for the comfort her Jewish grandmother persona provides. As SJ tells me, this is exactly why she’s on the app. “I want viewers on TikTok to come to me for advice about anything,” she explains.

Beyond her TikTok Bubbie persona, SJ’s life is pretty remarkable in and of itself. She was born and raised mostly in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to what she describes as a “Conservadox” family. From an early age SJ knew she wanted to pursue an artistic career and even attended The Manhattan High School of Art and Design and Pratt Institute. Yet, her mother ultimately persuaded her to become an art teacher on Long Island. (Around this time she also got married and ultimately divorced her first husband, whom she calls “a conservative Republican son of a bitch.”)

Meanwhile, at night, SJ started a singing career, performing at Manhattan clubs and cabarets and becoming entrenched in the queer club scene like at disco Le Jardin. (Despite not being queer herself, SJ has been surrounded by queer people her entire life, including her beloved late father, known as Cowboy Jack.) After five years, SJ gave up teaching to pursue singing full-time and moved out to California in the process. While in California, she continued to perform until becoming pregnant — getting sober as a result — and had a child with her second husband. She ended up getting divorced again and raising her son as a single mom. Beyond the struggles of single parenthood, this also meant that SJ was forced to put her career on hold.

But life wasn’t going to stop TikTok Bubbie.

In 2013, at the age of 65 , SJ decided to return to show business and over the last 10 years has had an amazing career. Before coming to TikTok, SJ performed on the likes of “America’s Got Talent” and starred on the Jewish Live TV’s matchmaking show “Bubbies Know Best” According to SJ, the combination of being a “Bubbie” on TV and a real-life grandmother made calling herself TikTok Bubbie a “natural” choice. More recently, she’s started a podcast, aptly named “Mornin Bitches,” and she even has her own line of merch. And, if you were wondering about Bubbie’s love life, don’t worry, there’s a happy ending there, too. SJ has been married to “the love of [her] life” for the last 20 years.

Photos courtesy of SJ Mendelson

Ultimately, TikTok Bubbie is the perfect encapsulation of what a real-life Jewish matriarch looks like. SJ is not pushy, hypercritical or overbearing, like the stereotype of Jewish mothers and grandmothers would have us believe. She’s just herself, in all her supportive, outrageous and proudly Jewish glory. Pardon the cliche, but when I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

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