The sole North American on the Israeli version of Bravo's hit series, The Real Housewives, makes for compelling television.
The show was supposed to be a celebration of glamor and glitz, but in the second episode it dropped a bombshell: One of the protagonists’ husbands died of cardiac arrest.
The five stars of Meusharot, Israel’s version of the Real Housewives reality series, handled the news in their own ways. One grappled with her feelings about death. Another baked a cake to bring to the shivah.
Jennifer Snukal tried a different approach, arranging a sexy photo shoot that aimed to produce an image of herself that was both sexy and modest. She began in a bright pink bathrobe, but soon moved to a couch where she posed wearing nothing but half-rim glasses, a sheet and her bare arms covering her.
“We need to take every day like it’s our last day,” she told the camera, explaining that her self-indulgent response to sudden death was an effort to deal with her past, when she was “a fat girl and the ugliest in the world.”
Snukal, 38, is the only North American on Meusharot (Hebrew for “rich women”), now in its second season on Israel’s Channel 10. Bold and loud, with long blond hair and radiant eyes, she’s easily the most energetic of the five, gesticulating, smiling wide and always ready to use Israeli slang.
“I believe my kids are proud of me and old enough to understand what the show is about,” Snukal told JTA in an interview near the boutique she runs in Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv. “They heard from all the kids in school, ‘Oh, your mom filmed naked.’ I let them watch the scene.”
Her co-stars, who live extravagantly in and around Tel Aviv, are beset by first-world problems — with an Israeli twist. One was unable to find a suitable house in Israel’s richest suburb, quipping that even Gazans wouldn’t want to live in some of the properties she considered. Another came close to crashing her new luxury SUV as she maneuvered through Tel Aviv’s narrow streets. A third confronted her feelings about divorce while lounging at a Jewish ritual bath that looked more like a spa.
For Snukal, though, every scene is an adventure. She visits a psychic in Jaffa, sips wine on an awkward date and lounges by the pool with her five children from two marriages that have both ended in divorce.
“I’m a different kind of person than all the other women,” Snukal said. “I really don’t give a s***. I don’t take everything seriously. I try to find the good in everyone. I can be best friends with a tree. I’m a peacemaker.”
Snukal is an odd fit for the Real Housewives franchise. For one thing, she’s not a wife. For another, she’s hardly homebound.
She recently opened her first fashion boutique, Sassy, and plans to expand with two franchises in northern Israel. She is also an “image designer” for musicians and has launched a website that she hopes will bring online shopping to Israel.
Snukal moved from Calgary to Los Angeles at 18. By 23, she was a millionaire thanks to a roofing company she opened with her Israeli (now ex) husband. The couple have remained friendly business partners despite divorcing soon after moving to Israel six years ago.
Snukal comes off as a high-powered, take-no-prisoners Israeli businesswoman. On the show, when deciding whether to take on an emerging Israeli singer, Liron Ramati, as a client, she drives a hard bargain in his contract and won’t yield when criticizing his appearance.
“I was married to an Israeli, so I learned the mentality quickly before I moved here,” she said. “If you don’t learn the survival skills, you’ll be eaten up for lunch and stomped on.”
But Snukal at times still seems like a newbie. She constantly alternates between English and Hebrew, often in the same sentence. In one recent episode, Ramati takes her to a Sephardic diner in the poor Tel Aviv neighborhood of his youth.
Glancing around uneasily at first, she relaxes as she dips into the “so tasty” hummus. She tenses up again when the waiter brings her soup with cooked cow leg, a traditional Yemenite dish. Snukal gags, refuses and pretends to vomit. Finally she swallows a bite, drawing applause from the men sitting around her.
“I wanted her to meet other people,” Ramati tells the camera. “Not everything is rosy. She should see the people, our people.”
Snukal lights up when talking about her children. One is her “boss.” Another has “the biggest heart.” A third is “the dream kid.” Two of them, she says, are just like her.
“This is Disneyland for kids,” she says of life in Israel. “They have much more freedom and warmth.”
Snukal says she dreams of living in an Israeli agricultural village where it’s quiet and her kids can run around freely, but she’s not ready yet to relinquish the spotlight. She may be returning for the third season of Meusharot and she’d like to try her hand at acting or hosting a show about cooking and travel.
“It’s not easy to be a celeb,” she said. “It’s hard for me to go on the street. People jump on me and take pictures. And I love it.”