Girls and the Jews: Must See TV for Jewish Professionals and Philanthropists

Jews on Girls


Girls is a new television show on HBO that has been getting a lot of media attention. It’s a story about four 20 something women living in New York and it’s kind of billed as this generation’s Sex and the City, but, you know… more real – none of the fabulousness and all of the narcissism. Much of the attention has been critical – nepotism has been mentioned for instance. Lena Dunham, the show’s 24 year old creator and lead character Hannah Horvath, is the daughter of famous artist / photographer Laurie Simmons. Allison Williams who plays Hannah’s room mate Marnie Michaels, is the daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. Zosia Mamet plays Shoshana Shapiro and in real life is the daughter of playwright David Mamet. Her cousin and room mate on the show is Jessa Johansson, played by Jemima Kirke, the daughter of Simon Kirke, the former drummer of the rock band Free which is best known for the song All Right Now (Baby it’s all right now). Having watched the show, I am pretty sure the accusations of nepotism are ludicrous because all the actresses involved perform quite adequately.

Another critique involves race – the show has no main characters of color despite being set in New York. This however, for better or worse, reflects the limited experience of 26 year old Dunham. And at least she was savvy and honest enough to confront that in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, where, according to Crushable she stated:

I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn’t able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me. And only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, ‘I hear this and I want to respond to it.’ And this is a hard issue to speak to because all I want to do is sound sensitive and not say anything that will horrify anyone or make them feel more isolated, but I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can’t speak to accurately.

She also later added:

Now we have the opportunity to do a second season and believe me, that will be remedied. I’m really excited to introduce new characters into the world of the show and some of them are really great actors of color, and some of them are white actors, and we’re gonna continue to tell really honest stories but the world of the show is definitely growing more diverse.

Whew. That was a long introduction but given Dunham’s reference to Jews in her quote, it segues quite well into the issue of Jews on Girls. Dunham stated that she wrote two Jewish and two WASP characters. I’m not so sure about that. Dunham’s character is Jewish. Shoshana Shapiro (Zosia Mamet) is Jewish and Shoshana’s cousin, Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke), is at the very least Jew-ish. That would mirror Kirke’s real life parentage – her maternal grandmother is Israeli and her grandfather is British businessman and Iraqi Jew Jack Dellal. You know the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv? Home of the world famous Batsheva dance company? That was built by Dellal in honor of his sister Suzanne who passed away in childhood. That’s pretty darn Jewy if you ask me, halachically, culturally and any other way you want to cut it.

The bottom line is that those that fund and run Birthright Israel, and anyone in the organized Jewish community that wants deep insight into the lives of unaffiliated young Jews in North America, could do far worse (and they have done far worse) than to watch Girls in order to gain said insight. I mean Vice Magazine recently did a first-person piece about Birthright written by Rose Surnow, a Taglit participant. Titled I Gave a Handjob at Jew Camp, her overall assessment of her Birthright experience was summed up in the first paragraph:

Without question the best thing about being Jewish is the free sex vacation to Israel. Most Jewish youths between the ages of 18 and 26 have taken advantage of this miraculous perk to enjoy a weeklong, all-expenses-paid orgy in the desert. I am, of course, referring to Birthright. The goal of Birthright, which is partially sponsored by the Israeli government, is that young Semites will meet, marry and procreate, yielding little mini Jews. I am not religious but I do love hummus and making out, so obviously I had to go.

The rest of the article would, in all likelihood, make older people’s heads explode and it makes our posts on the topic of sex and Birthright pale in comparison. The point of this digression is that watching Girls, (and reading Vice), will lead one to understand that our generation of unaffiliated Jews is tremendously narcissistic, self-entitled and self-involved. Most of us have little or no daily connection to our Jewish heritage. And we mostly have remarkably bad sex!

Witness the Jewy part of season 1, episode 4 of Girls titled “Hannah’s Diary.” Shoshana runs into a guy she went to Camp Ramah with. After reminiscing for a bit, they went back to Shoshana’s place where they watch a movie. in an earlier episode, Shoshana bemoans the fact that she is still a virgin and she decides that her fellow Camp Ramah alum is going to be the guy to pop her cherry. They start getting it on and, after some extremely banal dialog, she tells him that she is a virgin. He then refuses to have sex with her because he doesn’t “do the virgin thing” because virgins get clingy. Thus, after 4 episodes, the only manifestation of anything Jewish on the show is… this. A young Jewish woman from the suburbs who wears Juicy couture sweats and loves Sex and the City. A young Jewish man who “loves to eat pussy,” thinks Long Island girls are at least as hot as city girls but is grossed out by clinginess and virgin blood. Doesn’t it just make you want to projectile vomit? And you probably haven’t even read the aforementioned Vice piece yet. Read it. The thing is that these dramatic scenes and first person narratives are dead on about young Jews today.

Those wishing to inspire Jewish affiliation among this crowd have an unenviable and extremely difficult task ahead of them. Peter Beinart will have you believe that this generation doesn’t affiliate with the organized Jewish community because they are turned off by the communal policy of blind support for Israel. I wish. Peter Beinart is clueless like a Dad. They don’t affiliate because they have little or no Jewish education and they live in an era of instant gratification, 140 character text messages, always on smart phones and human interactions with the depth and nuance of facebook chat.

You want to know what we’re like? Now you know. American Jews are SO over.

I live and blog anonymously from New York. If my boss knew this was me, I'd be fired in a nano-second. Ha ha! Screw you boss man!

16 Comments

  1. Alissa

    5/14/2012 at 1:21 pm

    Haven’t seen the program yet, ok, I admit it I don’t have HBO. Will watch it on Netflix. Jewish girls are Americans. We aren’t So over, we just need more Jewish camp and Birthright trips. When we mature and have kids, well then we find our roots again.
    Hey, if they ever need jewelry for the show with a Judaic theme and you have a connection let me know! alefbet.com

  2. Grrrls

    5/14/2012 at 4:49 pm

    I totally thought that the Shoshana girl was going to suck. She’s like the mirror image of the Hannah character – rich, from the suburbs and without even a pretense of “cool.” But Shoshana totally rocked on this episode, I hope they showcase her more often – maybe going to a Birthright Alumni event where she’d be mobbed by a group of Jewish anti-Israel protesters led by Max Blumenthal. No actually, that’s not very likely. She probably did go on Birthright, but much like the vast majority of alums, was underwhelmed by the post Birthright offerings and never participated in anything Jewy again. Except for Passover dinner in Long Island of course. But yes, I agree with you wholeheartedly and I disagree with Alissa. Jewish camp and Birthright trips can’t replace a full and rich Jewish upbringing. I didn’t get one and I am a complete retard when it comes to the Jews.

  3. dee

    5/14/2012 at 7:24 pm

    Why, it’s the most Jewish show since Buffy The Vampire Slayer!

  4. Lisaleh

    5/14/2012 at 8:29 pm

    Where to begin… Well, I’ll start at the top. No, I’ll start at the bottom.

    To be fair, I *do* think a big reason some Jews (at least in my groups) are unaffiliated is because we are expected to blindly support Israel. Then again, the only reason we are blindly doing anything is because of the lack of education mentioned in the same breath. I *also* think it’s because saying you’re Jewish (with a capital J and far less emphasis on the _ish_ means you’re “religious” and religious people are crazy. Just ask around. They are Republicans and Fox News Anchors and funeral protestors. They aren’t the casual church goer/minyan attendee. They are zealots. The religious took my religion and I resent the hell out of it. I tell someone I’m Jewish and I get looks – “Oh, are you practicing?” They ask. What does that mean? To them it means am i practicing jewish-only dating or am i open to sleeping with them, too. The joys of dating, right? So I explain, or I don’t. I care or I don’t. I try or I don’t.

    I was on the first Birthright trip ever. Bus #1. Of, what, like a billion. And I tell you the experience I had on that trip was the same experience that kids are having now. The goal of this trip isn’t to make people more jewish. It’s to make more jews. Period. And the transparency was sloppy. Probably less sloppy back then than now to be honest, and that says a lot. I could go on. And on. And on. … and on. But instead, if you want you can read the rest of my rant here.

    That was a lot for my first comment :)

  5. AlexK

    5/14/2012 at 11:23 pm

    Every now and then I pop back in here to keep my finger on the lefty American Jewish pulse and man oh man, sometimes I just find a gem like the last comment. Lisaleh, I’m not religious, but if I was, I’d pray for you.

    “means you’re “religious” and religious people are crazy. Just ask around. They are Republicans and Fox News Anchors and funeral protestors.”

    If most American Jews are as intelligent as her, it’s no wonder Obama just expects your votes.

  6. Lisaleh

    5/14/2012 at 11:30 pm

    Ah! When I posted this I knew I missed a nuance, and that was it, AlexK!

    For the record, I don’t think religious people are crazy. But the crazy ones are out front with their craziness – denying science, blaming hurricanes on gay people, etc.That’s newsworthy. That gets attention. Most religious/affiliated people are just at home being people. Unfortunately, they don’t get the press.

    …and I’m not exactly sure what the Obama vote expectation comment was all about. So I’ll just thank you for calling me intelligent and confirming that Obama can absolutely expect my vote.

  7. AlexK

    5/14/2012 at 11:36 pm

    I’m sure you were a hard sell. Besides, your opinions on Jewishness and Israel line up quite well. Neither of you has a clue. Unfortunately I had to read a few of your blog posts to confirm.

  8. themiddle

    5/15/2012 at 2:21 am

    Oh Alex, stop with the grouchiness.

    Lisahleh, just for the record, nobody expects you to blindly support Israel.

    Wendy, thanks for another excellent post.

  9. Rabbi Yonah

    5/15/2012 at 9:47 am

    Wendy, thank you for this great quote , “Peter Beinart will have you believe that this generation doesn’t affiliate with the organized Jewish community because they are turned off by the communal policy of blind support for Israel. I wish. Peter Beinart is clueless like a Dad. ”

    the Israeli Gov supports Birthright because they want the participants to have a stronger affiliation with Israel, which seems to bear out in studies. Not because of the the Jewish baby game. The motivation of the other mega funders? Some for the Jew on Jew romance, and some for the Israel connection and some for both…

  10. Lisaleh

    5/15/2012 at 10:01 am

    It really was an awesome post. I probably should have led with that :)

  11. AlexK

    5/15/2012 at 10:20 am

    Only spoiled, self-involved, ungrateful brats can get a free trip to their ancestral homeland and complain how they feel there’s some ulterior motive. Hello. If you didn’t want it to be all Jewy, then you should have paid for your own trip to Cancun and helped some future Democrats sneak into America in order to get your internationalist altruism satiated. When there are still Jews either oppressed or too poor to ever make it to Israel still all over the world, to hear whiny little American Jewish brats complaining about keeping their heritage alive or wanting to be Jewish but without all the icky religious stuff is a f*cking shame. It’s too bad your parents didn’t just raise you Scientologist and send you to a massage retreat.

    • ck

      5/15/2012 at 11:11 am

      No need to be harsh there Alexk. Some might view it as one of those extended Time Share seminars where you get pitched for one or two hours. Yeah you get the $100 but damn its annoying. Now from my perspective, the “pitch” to the kids on Birthright, as it were, is not really a hard sell – though I admit that some trip providers are more uh… passionate than others. Most people go on Birthright and are incredibly thankful for the opportunity and deeply appreciative. Does that mean that they all come back home with a renewed commitment to dating only Jews? Do they all come back with deeper dedication to Israel? It’s only a 10 day trip. There’s only so much you can do in 10 days. The studies alluded to by Rabbi Yonah claim that Birthright does indeed make a significant difference re affiliation and support for Israel, but keep in mind who commissioned these studies and for what purpose… In any case, Lisaleh is spot on when she says that Birthright is less about Jewish religious education and more about support for Israel and Jewish birthrates.

      So yeah. Try a little nuance there Alexk. I mean I know what a bastard Obama is to Israel. Even the recent news of $685 million in extra aid to bolster Iron Dome is probably just a smokescreen, a ruse if you will. He probably talks to Ahmadinejad every night before he goes to bed in order to get his marching orders and plot the end of the Jews.

      As for the Jews who live in the Diaspora and are so poor that they cannot afford to go to Israel, I can only ask, what the fuck is the point of a Jew living in the diaspora if they are poor? Just move to Israel. We’ll give you healthcare and a place to live that’s probably nicer than where you are now. We’ll even fly you in for free. As a Jew, its your birthright after all!

      • AlexK

        5/16/2012 at 5:35 pm

        You sold me with your charm CK. He really is the best friend Israel can ask for. Maybe he should drop by one time in his first term. That’s what friends do.

  12. Larry

    5/16/2012 at 8:33 am

    I love this post. Thanks. I love Shoshana Shapiro and Zosia Mamet. I bet the actress knows how to curse very well! I admit that the show is self involved and narcissistic, and I have to shoiwer after watching it since I feel so dirty, but it gives great insights into some of the 24 years who are mindless interns and students in Green Point (I mean who, on a job interview, brings up the topic of date rape?, right?)

    But I digress. Great post. And that guy from Camp Ramah was an idiot for not continuing his date with Shoshana. he should be more like the Adam Sackler character, who takes $800 bucks a month from his grandmother so that he can be a dirty little boy and stay home all day lifting weights, sexting naked pics of himself, and ignoring Hannah Horvath’s texts

  13. Sam

    5/20/2012 at 7:41 am

    What alternative does this shiktz* offer to thwart assimilation?

    I am just wondering that Sheldon’s quart billion donation to birthright is a better solution that the one she offer us as an “actress” (in actual fact a shiktz*)

    • ck

      5/20/2012 at 1:08 pm

      Lena Dunham, the show’s creator, is 100% halachically Jewish. Her job is not to offer any solutions to assimilation or alternatives to Birthright Israel. Her job is to provide entertainment while opening a window into the lives and mores of her generation. In doing so she reveals what their values and aspirations are. I think Wendy’s post sort of demonstrates or implies that no amount of free trips to Israel can replace significant Jewish education. I think that’s what she’s saying but since Wendy NEVER comments, EVER, we can only guess.

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