I love turning on the T.V. and going “Jew surfing.” I’ll flip channels and see Ben Stiller as a Rabbi in, “Keeping the Faith,” or spot Jerry Seinfeld accusing a so-called friend of becoming a Jew just for the jokes. There’s Adam Sandler singing his “Hanukkah Song” once again (now I’ll never stop singing it!) I’ll even stop and watch Howard Stern talk about his Jewish identity. I love it because it reminds me of how great it is to embrace my Judaism–and it seems that there are those involved in the media who share this sentiment.
Take Jon Stewart, for example, who like Lenny Bruce before him, wears his Judaism on his sleeve, almost taunting the audience with it. He’ll throw in a colorful Yiddishism every now and again, but at the same time, make a Jewish cultural or religious reference that to any non-Jew, just seems mildly humorous, but to the knowledgeable Jew, is absolutely hysterical.
Then there’s the very clever animated show (short lived, in my opinion), “The Family Guy,” where in a banned episode called, “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein,” the main character needs not only to find a Jew to get him out of financial trouble, but wants to convert his son solely in order to ensure his son’s success in life–as if all Jews are wealthy and powerful. In the episode, one can learn that one half of musician Lenny Kravitz is Jewish (literally–he is portrayed as a half a human being). Then again, for some strange reason, so is Optimus Prime, one of the Transformers from my childhood, who dons a yarmulke and a talit after he transforms from his truck form.
Most recently, Comedy Central broadcast “The Hebrew Hammer,” a blatant Jewish rip-off of the black exploitation film, “Shaft,” and Fox aired the Simpson’s episode, “Today I Am a Clown,” where Krusty embraces his Jewish identity once again in order that he might become an adult Bar Mitzvah.
What makes all of these portrayals of Judaism both entertaining (sometimes downright knee-slapping silly) and comforting to me, is not that it perpetuates some long standing and patently untrue stereotypes, but rather that it pokes fun at the ridiculous ones and makes us, as Jews, seem even more human. I love it when there are jokes thrown in that were intended only for the Jews in the “Chood” (as the Hebrew Hammer would have you know–word!). I think it’s great that when Krusty finally becomes Bar Mitzvah, he did so at the advisement of Lisa Simpson’s imaginary friend, Rachel Cohen (who just got into Bradeis–I’m not making this up!), and reads from the Torah somewhat accurately (the writers were coached well–but not too well).
Some may get offended, and admittedly, some jokes are in poor taste or just substantiate a stereotype which should die a quick but painful death. But for me, I’m just thinking of the room with the writers–throwing in a few for us “Members of the Tribe.” I get the inside jokes. They’re so few and far between that when they come, it makes me look forward to the re-runs. Makes me feel good to be a Jew.