Shavuot falls on June 7-9 this year, and it turns out I know nothing about it. And now I feel like a bad Jewish atheist. (It’s not a contradiction in terms, it’s a real thing. There’s even a Wikipedia page to prove it.)
Sure I could go and research it but I prefer to get my life lessons straight from television.
So I got to thinking about my favourite Jewish TV characters, who will hopefully be able to educate me on all things Shavuot.
Seth Cohen (The O.C.)
Although his mother wasn’t Jewish, and therefore Orthodox Judaism wouldn’t recognise him as a Jew, he clearly identified as one. And he brought the festival of Chrismukkah- a mixture of Christmas and Hanukkah which involves eight days of presents followed by one day of many presents- to the masses. Even his taciturn best friend and later adopted brother, Ryan, couldn’t avoid being infected with Seth’s holiday enthusiasm.
Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Willow’s Jewish identity was certainly important to her during the first few seasons of Buffy, in ‘Bad Eggs’ she pointed out that her faux-offspring was Jewish (and Xander suggested teaching it the Dreidel Song), in ‘Passions’ she worried about nailing crucifixes to her wall as a way to de-invite Angelus from her home, and in ‘Listening to Fear’ she was referred to as “tiny Jewish Santa”. This aspect of her identity appeared to be less important as she embraced Wicca, but in the season seven episode ‘Help’ she’s seen laying stones on a headstone- adhering to Jewish tradition.
Joshua Lyman (The West Wing)
Unlike his friend and colleague Toby, who at least sometimes attended synagogue, Josh was a non-practicing Jew and part of the proud tradition of Secular Judaism. He had strong sense of Jewish identity, even if Toby liked to imply that he didn’t really count. Understandably he didn’t have much New York pride however, being as he was from Connecticut. Perhaps inspired by Toby’s snarkiness directed at him, Josh very much enjoyed mocking his assistant Donna for her Protestantism, as well as her attempts at Yiddish.
Annie Edison (Community)
Before her parents divorce she saw the winter holiday season as a minefield of overlapping rituals due to conflicts between her Jewish mother and Episcopalian father. She’s never seemed strongly religious, given that she refers to all faiths as silly, but she’s clearly a Jew- albeit one who demands that people say the whole “Jewish” word. She brought a menorah to Shirley’s supposedly inclusive inter-faith party (which was subsequently hidden in the tree) and while cradling a baby Jesus doll she commented that she knows he was “one of us”.
Lisa Cuddy (House)
Despite House’s JDate wisecracks at her expense she’s in good Judaic company with Wilson and Taub knocking about Princeton-Plainsoboro too, as well as Kutner who was adopted by Jewish parents at the age of six. Lisa Edelstein, who plays her, has been described as “bringing incredible Jewy glamour to prime time“. (I must confess that I don’t entirely understand what that means, but it has a nice ring to it.) Cuddy’s mother (played by Candice Bergen) seems to fulfil the Jewish mother stereotype– meddling in her daughter’s love life and being generally manipulative.
Rachel Berry (Glee)
Named after the (probably) Jewish Rachel from Friends, this perhaps overly verbose character often mentions her Judaism- and bribed then-boyfriend Finn with sex (or at least the chance to pat the side of her breasts) to let her raise any future children they might have in her faith. She got very upset when she wasn’t given the chance to perform ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story because she identified with Natalie Wood (who played Maria in the film) as a fellow Jew. (Sorry Rachel, she wasn’t.) At least she’s right about her idol Barbra Streisand being one of the chosen people, which helped the “Barbravention” to dissuade Rachel from getting a nose job.
Kyle Broflovski (South Park)
Despite questioning- and occasionally renouncing- his Judaism, Kyle (who’s loosely based on the show’s co-creator Matt Stone) generally seems to be proud of his heritage. As one of the few Jews in the town he sometimes feels like an outsider, especially around Christmas:
Howard Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)
Howard’s overbearing mother (whom he lives with) fits the Jewish mother stereotype perfectly, he even thought the news that he was engaged to his Catholic girlfriend Bernadette gave her a heart attack. (It didn’t, and she seems suitably impressed that he’s going to be marrying a doctor.) Howard has referred to himself as a bad Jew (for eating pork) but he drops the occasional reference to a working knowledge of Jewish beliefs into conversation, and when his friends hired a hooker for him they specifically requested the Jewish girlfriend experience.
Rufus Turner (Supernatural)
This fan favourite might not have kept kosher but, according to Bobby, he did try to use his Judaism- first revealed in ‘Weekend at Bobby’s’ with his reference to Hanukkah- as a way to get out of having to bury bodies on Saturdays. He was buried in a Jewish cemetery, presumably because Jewish law forbids cremation, whereas most hunters’ bodies are burnt on a funeral pyre to prevent them coming back as a vengeful spirit or some such.
Andy Botwin (Weeds)
Always the black sheep and resident fuck-up of the (Jewish) Botwin family, he outdid himself by enrolling in rabbinical school to avoid military service- although that particular escapade didn’t end all that well. Even if that was a shameless exploitation of his Judaism, religion does seem to be important to him and his family. His brother Judah married Nancy, a gentile, and their father never let her forget that he would have preferred Judah to marry Francine because she was Jewish- and referred to Nancy as “not Francine” constantly. Ouch.
So what about you lot? Do you have a favourite Jewish television character, or possibly some information on Shavuot? Inform away in the comments!