International labor attorney Bonnie Levine and her musician husband Michael had a blast starring in Paramount Network’s reality TV show “Wife Swap,” which aired May 16. The episode was as real as it was zany, and the Levines made the most of their Jewish family life, including shofar blowing, Shabbat, and a vegetarian kitchen. Bonnie switched places with a delightfully spunky germaphobic woman Keshius Williams, wife and mother of five.
The show enfolds a plotline in which the two wife/mothers switch places with one another, entering the others’ house with no previous information besides a five-page rule book they read when they arrive. (The wife has a separate bedroom, not part of the switched husband’s boudoir, Bonnie said, responding to a frequently-asked question.) “The show was not scripted, but it was structured; the premise required us to start with our differences before finding common ground.”
The stage is set in that the Levines’ house is on the fun, messy, disorganized side, while the Williams’ household is immaculate and run like a finely tuned corporation with the mom as self-described CEO. Keshius is a germaphobe and is rattled by the stacks of clothing and toys and occasional cat hairball. To top that off, she is terrified of cats, which she believes “drains the life out of you.” Michael rolls with the punches and giggles occasionally, which prompts Keshius to refer to him as a “Beavis and Butt-Head” parent. Bonnie, taking over as interim CEO, attempts to get new husband Duane, who declared that he doesn’t do housework, to take on more responsibility in maintaining the stringent household.
It all started with a casting email “for families with children in the state of Georgia that have chaotic households! If your home is messy, cluttered, disorganized, disheveled or untidy and you want to make a change.” Bonnie answered, “Wow this is totally us!”
The families were paid an undisclosed flat amount, and the crew brought the groceries.
The filming took place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as Michael and Bonnie treated the experience as part of their Days of Awe self-reflection. “Reality television is the best mirror,” Michael said.
The show aired in May and the Levines watched it for the first time at The Glenwood with 50 rousing friends.
How Judaism Interplayed
In the trailer leading up to the show, Keshius opens her instruction manual and reads, “We are a Jewish family.” Bonnie explains on the show, “I initially met Michael at a Jewish event, then ran into him at another Jewish event, and the rest is Jewish history.” Fact is, both Bonnie and Michael are fabulous musicians and have appeared at many synagogues leading services. Before kids, they drew crowds at Ahavath Achim, crafting Friday night service melodies to Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Motown and U2 songs.
On the show, Bonnie’s first rule was she wanted the Williams children to have a day off of cleaning. She told them about Shabbat and the value of a day of rest. Since it was the High Holidays, she also brought her shofar along. She demonstrated a shofar blow when the kids asked what it was, but Bonnie lamented that viewers may have misunderstood this as part of Shabbat. On the Levine family side, Bonnie had left a noodle kugel for Shabbat dinner, and Keshius helped Michael build the sukkah.
How the Children Fared
Michael said the kids actually enjoyed the experience and learned a bit. “Keshius had Eden and Emet cleaning the walls and they took pride in showing us how responsible they were.” Beautiful blue-eyed Eden had a post-nasal cough, which set off Keshius’ germaphobia. Post-production, Emet asked, “Where did the TV people go?” The Levines used the experience to explain chores to the kids, who now alternate helping with laundry and dishes.
Bonnie said, “We really did like each other. We have seen them since, and Michael invited them to record music and tracks for a children’s book in our professional studio. … Another offshoot is we keep a bit of a neater house, and we both got the men involved in sharing more duties.”
Michael and Bonnie’s debut CD under the name and website “sunmoonpie” was set to release this month and will be featured at Congregation Bet Haverim’s evening services June 21.