Written By Elana Fauth
Once when I was a kid, I planted myself in front of the TV for my regular viewing of my favorite show, Arthur. In this episode, the characters were going to hang out at a bowling alley, but Francine was facing a problem. She was supposed to go to her cousin's bar Mitzvah instead. I remember watching as Francine was at the bar mitzvah surrounded by characters singing in Hebrew and wearing kippahs. Growing up in a small southern church town I had never met people like me. And suddenly there they were, on the screen in front of me! Granted Francine is a cartoon monkey, but she was still struggling with the same issues as me. Just like me, she was figuring out her identity. She had friends who didn't understand her culture. I remember thinking “she gets it, she's going through it too.” I held on to that for a long time as a source of strength. I was validated by it. Every child deserves to feel like that.
Identity is such an important thing. Think about your name. How do you feel when you meet someone who has the same name as you? It’s almost like you make an instant connection, and feel special that you share that with someone. You feel seen, and you feel important.
That's what Judaism is to me. It is so intrinsic to my identity that I seek in the world around me constantly. When I go to a new grocery store, where do I go first? The international aisle, of course, to see if they have a Jewish section. When I find an actor or singer that I like, what is the first thing I do? Google them and see if they are Jewish. As a millennial ( okay I’m 22 but I am claiming millennial status. Please don’t make me say I’m Gen Z. I couldn’t bear it), I consume an incredible amount of media, and I search for Jewish representation in the television that I watch.
In a world that is so driven by entertainment, we are conditioned to believe that movies and televisions are indicative of some sort of utopia: what our world SHOULD look like. If our identity is represented in that, it can only empower us to keep being our genuine selves.
So to that end, I wanted to list some of my favorite television programs that feature Jewish characters and themes, and I’d love to hear some of your picks as well!
I just finished bingeing this miniseries and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It’s a portrayal of the real-life story of one of history's most celebrated spies, Eli Cohen. He was an Arab Israeli Jew who, in the 1960s, was hired by IDF Intelligence (Mossad) to go into Syria and relay information back to Israel. Interestingly Sasha Baron Cohen, of all people, executive produced and starred in the project as Eli.
This show has such a special place in my heart. Crazy Ex tells the story of a Jewish woman, Rebecca Bunch, and her journey to find love. Created and starred in by Rachel Bloom, each episode in the 5 season show has at least 1 original song, and the show is set up as a satirical musical comedy. It also has the most honest depiction of mental health struggles that I have ever seen and navigates the characters' struggles with a lot of respect and heart.