6 Simple Ways To Characterize Jewish People In TV Shows

6 Simple Ways To Characterize Jewish People In TV Shows

Is it really so difficult for someone on TV to be Jewish when it isn’t Christmas?
22
views

Ah, Christmas. The time of year when TV writers reveal that one of the characters in their United-States-set Christonormative show is, in fact, just for this episode, Jewish. Never mind that this character has never said or done anything to make you think that they’re Jewish; now they have a menorah, so the network executives can sit back and relax knowing that they’ve done their part in representing minorities, and forget about the issue for another year. Sometimes it feels like the Hollywood hivemind thinks that Jewish people only exist while celebrating Chanukah, or that it is too difficult to characterize a Jewish person when the story they’re writing isn’t explicitly about Judaism.

Speaking as someone who is Jewish every day of the year, and who is a writer, a story doesn’t have to be “about” Judaism in order to have Jewish characters! Here are six simple ways to show that a character is Jewish without waiting for everyone else to break out the Christmas lights – and I don’t mean by playing into stereotypes.

1. The Pizza-Toppings Argument

Many Jewish people keep a kosher diet, the most prominent rule of which is to not mix dairy products and meat products. If there’s a scene in the TV show in which the characters order a pizza, and someone in the group is Jewish, a conversation similar to the following could ensue:

“Okay guys, I’m ordering pizza. What do we want?”

“Mushrooms!”

“And sausage!”

“Not on my pizza.”

“Okay, so, sausage on half, and mushrooms on all of it.”

Simple.

2. Hanging Out on Friday Night… Or Not

Christians go to church on Sunday morning. Jews go to synagogue on Friday night and/or Saturday morning. If the Christian characters in a show can’t attend an event or solve a problem right now because they have to go to church, on different days of the week that’ll be an issue for Jewish characters, too.

This also goes for characters who don’t attend religious services. Sometimes in TV shows characters use “I’m at church” as a cover-up for what they’re actually doing. That would work on a Sunday for a Christian character, and a similar excuse for a Jewish character on a Friday or Saturday would be that they’re “at the synagogue”. Pretending to be at a religious service is an equal-opportunity lie for people of all religions!

3. Family Photos

Do we see a character’s house? Are there pictures of family members on the walls? Is anyone in the photos wearing a kippah or tallit? Odds are good that these pictures were taken at family events. A Jewish wedding photo might include the couple standing under a chuppah or being lifted up on chairs. If the character had a bar or bat mitzvah, there might be a picture of them as an early teenager reading from the torah. If the character’s family took a trip to Israel, they definitely took pictures at all the hot tourist locations—the Dead Sea, Mount Masada, or the Old City of Jerusalem. Also, since this is the 21st century and all, these pictures could easily be on a character’s smartphone!

4. Other Background Details

What else is in the Jewish character’s house? Is there a mezuzah on their doorpost? A set of Shabbat candlesticks on the kitchen counter? A poster from a Debbie Friendman, Dan Nichols, or Barbra Streisand concert on the bedroom wall? A t-shirt from a NFTY event in the closet? If the character is married, is the ketubah on display somewhere? Of course, not all Jewish people have these specific things, but we have options here.

5. What They Say

Not all Jewish people speak Hebrew, but you can’t be a part of a culture without some of its words and phrases slipping into your speech. The Jewish terms for “grandmother” and “grandfather” are “Bubbie” and “Zaydie”. It’s also possible, but a little rarer in non-Hebrew-speaking-countries, for someone to refer to “Mom” and “Dad” as “Ima” and “Abba”. They might use Yiddish words, too—to snack is to “nosh”, to chit-chat is to “kibbitz”, to complain is to “kvetch”, someone with a lot of nerve has “chutzpah”, non-Jews are “goyim”, and “tuchus” is a handy word for “butt”. A Jewish person who would like to congratulate someone might tell them “Mazal tov!” or “Yasher koach!” Where a Christian person might thank Jesus or Mary for a bout of good fortune, a Jewish person might recite a prayer of thanks called the shehecheyanu. Again, we have a lot of options here. And speaking of options…

6. Include Other Jewish Holidays Besides Chanukah

There are a lot of them, so take your pick. I’ve talked about this before: Chanukah is fun, but religiously it isn’t really that big of a deal. Yes, some Jewish people only celebrate Chanukah, just like some Christian people only celebrate the secular aspects of Christmas. But right now that’s the kind of Jewish people that we’re most likely to see on TV. And there is so much more to Judaism, and to Jewish people, than that. We deserve some screentime the rest of the year!

Cover Image Credit: eonline.com

Popular Right Now

I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it

884027
views

Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

Cover Image Credit: wordpress.com

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

You Ain’t Waiting For God To Bring You Your Dinner, You Get Up And Go Cook It

My words often get jumbled and don't make sense, so I figured writing it would help me come across clearly.

259
views

Dear guy friends of mine,

I want you to know how grateful I am for your friendship. Having close guy friends has helped me better understand men and learn how the male species operates. I've been able to ask you so many questions and you've responded with thoughtfulness, kindness, grace, and honesty. I appreciate your willingness to talk to me.

I want to encourage you in something, and with some of you I have tried, but I think I came across as a little crazy. From what I've been told by married women, guys are very afraid of actual crazy. You want your girl to have some crazy (because all women have at least a little bit of crazy), but you don't want her to be, like, crazy. I get that and respect that.

I want to encourage you to ask girls out. It's scary. You're afraid of rejection. I know this because several of you have told me so. I recently spoke with a guy who's been married for a few years and has a baby daughter. He told me that you guys are scared, you don't want to put your heart on the line and have it crushed. That's a good reason not to pursue girls: you'll remain safe and free from hurt if you don't put your feelings out there.

But here's the other side of it: You'll never find that girl if you never search for her. Now, I know that all things happen in God's timing and as imperfect humans, we can't force things to happen outside of God's timeline. However, Pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas said this in a sermon several years ago:

"But something's happened in evangelical circles where if you're single you're supposed to not want to be married, but be content in a spot and that's somehow more glorifying than following God's wiring of you to want a mate. And so in the end what happens is that you walk around like a liar. I mean, poor young ladies! Almost all of them have been told, "As soon as you're content, God will send you a man." So you've got hundreds of thousands of women running around acting content! "I'm content, where is he?" You've got other guys going, "You know, I'm just gonna wait for God to bring me the right one." Well, you ain't waiting for God to bring you your dinner, alright? You get up and go cook it."

Pastor Chandler goes on to say that he's not telling the guys to go on the hunt and prowl. No! He's telling guys that they have a role to play in pursuing a woman to marry. Girls have a role to play, too. Girls can't just hang out with their girlfriends in hopes that they'll lock eyes with Prince Charming while in the grocery store or walking their dog in the park. No, girls need to build up the guys in their lives and respect them by letting the guys be guys and giving them opportunities to be gentlemen. That's what I appreciate about you guys, my guy friends. You are such gentlemen and I love that. Don't be afraid to ask out the girl that you think is sweet, cute, pretty, funny, kind, silly, honest, loyal, and the right amount of crazy. You've got this!

Related Content

Facebook Comments