If Bea Slater had ever been a shrinking violet, her sudden celebrity might be uncomfortable. At 90, the great-grandmother has her image plastered on billboards up and down Manhattan and in Brooklyn. There’s even one on the roof above Junior’s, the famous cheesecake place.
Along with three other women of almost equal seniority, she has become the face of Jdate, the Jewish matchmaking site. They’re not poster girls for senior dating; rather, Jdate is promoting their images to suggest that it’s “yentas” who are working out the algorithms for perfect pairing. Hence messages on billboards like, “Her dreidel game is filthy. But her code is clean.”
Slater, not a coder though a savvy computer-literate social media user, is taking her celebrity status in stride, loving every aspect and eager for more. Chatting with NJJN in her home in Springfield where she has lived for 65 years, she talked more readily about her family (two sons, Mitch and Jeff Slater; a daughter, Diane Bedrin; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren), but was content to answer questions about how she is enjoying her new found fame, as well.
“When my picture is up in the subway, then I’ll really be a star,” she predicted.
Though she has never modeled professionally — and the last time she did any acting was in eighth grade — posing came easily. After all, Slater, who grew up in West Philadelphia, was a much-pictured daughter of a photographer. In fact, she became a photographer herself when she grew up, at least until she turned her focus on raising her kids. Almost every wall in her home is adorned with family photos, assembled and collaged by her father and, after he passed away, by her husband Jack, who died in 2009.
Judging by the joy she takes from those pictures and the way Slater talks, it’s obvious the family is close. She said they worried about how she would handle being alone since Jack died, and have done all they can to help her stay active. In particular, Mitch, her younger son who lives in Westfield, takes her on all kinds of “dates,” and it’s thanks to him that Slater has found herself in the spotlight.
Last November, a friend mentioned to Mitch that Jdate was trying to find older women for a marketing campaign. He told his older brother, Jeff, a marketing executive, who initially dismissed the idea, sure their mom wouldn’t be up for it. But the younger brother, a financial adviser, called Jeff back within minutes to let him know that not only did he decide to broach the subject with their mother, but Bea had agreed on the spot.
“I said, ‘You never know…’” — which happens to be her response to virtually every question.
It’s a principle she applies to herself as well as those around her. A few years ago, Bea persuaded her granddaughter Fanny Slater to enter TV personality and celebrity cook Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition, which she won. Bea was in the audience when Fanny was named the winner, and in February, both grandmother and granddaughter will appear on a Cooking Channel show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” featuring the Millburn Deli.
A few months ago, Mitch — who has a wide circle of friends in showbiz, including Bruce Springsteen and his cohort — arranged for his mother to introduce Steve Van Zandt (of the Boss’s E Street Band) and his band Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul at a concert in Staten Island. She admitted to being nervous standing alone in the spotlight (with the protective Mitch hovering nearby). “I didn’t want to disappoint Steve,” she recalled. Later, to her astonishment, Slater was mobbed by fans who wanted to take selfies with her.
The photographs were taken by award-winning photographer Randal Ford, and the “yenta” concept came from creative director and standup comedian David Roth, who produced the campaign with Hogarth Worldwide. Roth said grandmothers have labored forever to ensure the young meet and procreate, to sustain the tribe, and that was the spirit he had in mind.
“Bea was an instant star,” he told NJJN. “She has one of the most expressive and comedic faces I’ve ever seen. We had an embarrassment of riches — so many funny photos of Bea to choose from. She was hilarious on set and an absolute delight to work with.”
Slater was chosen by the Donna Grossman Casting agency. Speaking for Grossman and her team, Paul Bernstein said they auditioned around 40 women, though many more applied. They were looking for “authentic Jewish grandmothers in their late 80s to 90s,” Bernstein said, and Slater and her costars stood out because of “their heart, their humor, style. They all had their own chutzpah and heimishe feel.”
Some 60 years ago, Bea and her husband helped cofound their synagogue, Temple Sha’arey Shalom, the Reform congregation near her home in Springfield. It was a big part of their and their children’s lives. Going on without Jack was a challenge, Bea admitted, and many of her friends are gone too, or not as youthful as she is. Still, she attends the temple’s Renaissance Club, drives (though not at night), and keeps up an active social life. And now she’s auditioning for other advertisement campaigns.
Asked what Jack would make of her celebrity, Bea laughed. “He’d have said, ‘Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?’ He was much more conservative than me.”
As for using Jdate herself, she is adamant that she has “absolutely no interest in meeting anyone. I’d never find anyone as good as what I had.” But like so many Jewish grandmothers, she’s eager to help others find love.
“There should be more money next time, though,” she added, with exactly the kind of twinkle in her eyes that got her the Jdate gig in the first place.