The 50 best Jewish pop culture moments of 2018
December 28, 2018
What a year it was for Jews in pop culture. We can probably say that almost every year, but truly, in 2018, Jewish celebrities permeated the zeitgeist. “The Band’s Visit”—a musical set in Israel—swept the Tony Awards. Timothée Chamalet became the internet’s boyfriend. We found out Drake was a dad. Jewish actress Rashida Jones had a (secret) baby with Jewish musician Ezra Koenig. There were outstanding seasons of “Schitt’s Creek,” “Big Mouth,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Fauda” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” all which feature Jewish protagonists.
We’ve culled through it all to bring you the 50 best Jewish pop culture moments of the year. Things that qualified for this list include: a TV show, movie, musical, or song that deals with Jewish material or features a member of the tribe.
This list is ordered, building up to our favorite moment (hint: It has to do with Yom Kippur and a song that will be stuck in our heads forever).
50. Barbra Streisand cloned her dog. In an interview with Variety, Streisand revealed that she had cells taken from her beloved dog Samantha so she could clone her, and that two of her current dogs were clones of Samantha.
49. In “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Peter Kavinsky stole our hearts. And no, neither the character nor the actor (Noah Centineo) are Jewish. But he should be!! Regardless, in our head canon, Kavinsky is a Jew and the perfect boyfriend.
48. For the film “On the Basis of Sex,” Kesha wrote a song inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s great. Kesha explained why she took on the job: “It was amazing to see Ginsburg’s story of leading a campaign that successfully changed laws that discriminated against Americans purely on the basis of their sex, as the film title suggests.”
47. John Mayer made a music video that he said was made “with a company that usually does birthday and bar mitzvah videos.”
Honestly, it probably wasn’t made there (we investigated, it doesn’t seem to exist), but we did love how he embraced a classic bar mitzvah staple: the green screen.
46. Jewish actor Timothée Chalamet brought his mom to the Oscars, which was the absolute cutest.
45. Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” depicted a shiva shockingly accurately. In season 2, episode 2, the non-Jewish show takes Jessica to a shiva. We were so surprised at how well it was done, from the Tupperwares of food to the minyan to the Hebrew condolences at the very start.
44. Natalie Portman said some stuff about Israel. She also starred in “Annihilation,” a sci-fi film, and “Vox Lux,” a pop opera horror film. But this is about Jewish pop culture here: Portman, born in Israel, received the Genesis Prize this year (think of it as the Nobel Prize, but for Jews), but refused to attend the ceremony. She clarified why: “Because I care about Israel I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”
43. Netflix’s hit prison drama, “Orange is the New Black,” got super Jewish in its latest season. There were bat mitzvah flashbacks and an entire storyline about a black Jewish woman.
42. The HAIM sisters dressed as the Sanderson sisters for Halloween. An iconic crossover: our favorite Jewish sisters dressed as our favorite witchy sisters (two of which are played by Jews: Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler).
41. Troye Sivan, the 23-year-old pop star who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Australia (but was born in South Africa), released his album “Bloom.” And it’s so damn good. As Rolling Stone wrote, “Well beyond the already stellar dismissal of heteronormative storylines in pop love stories, Sivan finds a wealth of ways to bring about fresh reflections on age-old themes with undeniable charisma.”
40. Sarah Silverman received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and called out anti-Semitism while she was at it. “You know, in a scary time when anti-Semitic crime is up 57 percent since 2016, it’s not lost on me how lucky I am to be given a star and not have to sew it on my clothes,” Silverman said, referring to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. “I’m not sure if that’s gallows humor, or it’s funny cause it’s true humor.”
39. The Bachelor was *almost* a Jew. Jason Tartick, Becca Kufrin’s 3rd-place-finisher, was widely regarded as the front-runner for the position of the next “Bachelor” season. And he is Jewish! Unfortunately, Colton Underwood will be the next bachelor. There was one other Jewish “Bachelor” contestant this year: chicken-suit wearing David Ravitz. David told Alma “my mom’s a Jewish matchmaker in a sense. Constantly talking with her friends, trying to set me up.”
38. Speaking of reality television... Jewish drag queen Miz Cracker shined this season on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” What made her stand out? That “she drew her strength to do drag from her experience of being an outsider as a Jewish person—she felt that if she could be proudly Jewish, she could be anything.”
37. Israeli actress Yael Grobglas also had a stand-out season of television, but not on reality TV. Grobglas plays Petra, a lead on “Jane the Virgin.” During season 4, Grobglas’ Petra had a sexual awakening and grew in her relationship with Jane (Gina Rodriguez). Many fans hailed queer Petra, and applauded Grobglas’ portrayal of her.
36. Natalie Portman returned to “Saturday Night Live” in early February and gave us “Natalie’s Rap 2.” It was a follow-up to her iconic digital short “Natalie Raps” (2006). And oh my god, it was so good. (Plus, Andy Samberg’s bit was just iconic.) Okay, before you go on, you have to watch it again. Promise?
35. Katrina Lenk, the star of “The Band’s Visit,” was a genderbent Tevye for the “MisCast Gala,” where Broadway actors and actresses play roles that they would never be cast in. Katrina—who despite not being Jewish made multiple appearances on our best of 2017 list—singing “If I Were a Rich Man” while playing the fiddle and ending the song with “If I were a wealthy woman” is just so good. A true talent.
34. In a year of secret babies, Rashida Jones and Ezra Koenig‘s secret baby wins. (Is there a competition? Now there is!) We wrote a comprehensive timeline of their relationship, but let’s talk about the baby. Rashida and Ezra welcomed their son Isaiah in August. Mazel tov!
33. Okay not really Jewish, but were are here for the big nose representation in “A Star is Born.“ Lady Gaga’s nose was a star of the film. Gotta love a big schnoz!
32. Andy Cohen traveled to Israel for the first time. The Bravo host and TV personality was there to be the international ambassador for the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade. But that didn’t stop him from taking time to tour the country!
31. Jonah Hill and Beanie Feldstein became our sibling goals. As Beanie catapulted into stardom this year after starring in “Ladybird,” Jonah was a supportive big brother. He even went so far as to get a tattoo of her name. We wonder what their mom thinks…
30. In August, two movies that dealt with anti-Semitism debuted.
“Operation Finale” is about the capture of Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Alma spoke with Nick Kroll about his role in the film. He said, “Obviously, there’s a rise again in anti-Semitism—but also racism and xenophobia, right-leaning fascists, and totalitarian regimes around the world. There continue to be genocides and Holocausts to this day … it’s our responsibility not only to never forget, but to do our best to never let it be repeated, to Jews or to anyone around the world who is being discriminated against or terrorized for who they are.” Amen, Nick!
The second movie is “BlacKkKlansman,” based on the true story of a black cop who goes undercover in the Ku Klux Klan, features a nuanced understanding of anti-Semitism and how it lays at the heart of white supremacy. It should be required viewing, especially in the wake of Charlottesville and Pittsburgh.
29. While we’re on the subject of history and anti-Semitism and Eichmann, Rachel Bloom’s “Drunk History” episode about Eichmann is a must-watch. It honestly could be our favorite-ever episode of the Comedy Central show. Rachel ends the episode with: “F_ _ _ the Nazis, man. I’m alive. I’m 97.4 percent Ashkenazi.”
28. There was a moment in time this year (sometime mid-April) when the Internet believed that Brad Pitt was maybe dating an Israeli MIT professor named Dr. Neri Oxman. We’ve since learned he wasn’t, but we got to learn about Neri Oxman, and honestly, that was worth it.
27. Hidden in a list of her midterm election endorsements, Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy. Which, honestly, was a great and politically savvy way to do it: News outlets couldn’t write about the announcement without writing about the candidates Schumer endorsed.
26. The Jewish women parodies on “Saturday Night Live”: A spot-on parody of a Haim music video (which was outrageously cut for time); and Kate McKinnon’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg will have our heart forever. (Plus, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg rap is amazing.)
25. Meghan Amram, the Jewish comedian and “Good Place” writer, got nominated for an Emmy for her web series “An Emmy for Megan,” which was specifically written with the goal of getting nominated for an Emmy. She unfortunately didn’t win.
24. Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s animated comedy about puberty, “Big Mouth,” returned for a second season. It was full of Jewish jokes and the realities of growing up as a Jewish teen in Westchester, New York. If you haven’t watched yet, what are you waiting for?
23. There’s a Jewish Disney princess now! Because “Wreck-It Ralph” lives in the Disney universe, Sarah Silverman believes the character she voices, Princess Vanellope, is the first Jewish Disney princess. We’ll take it!
22. In very important Jewish news, Fran Drescher wants to reboot “The Nanny.“ (Definitely not an official statement, and the chances of this happening are probably slim to none, but reboots have been super popular…)
21. Barbra Streisand shared a New York Magazine cover with Ethiopian Jewish activist Naomi Wadler. It’s an amazing photo.
20. In Cardi B’s music video for “Bartier Cardi,” there are twin Jewish male models wearing Stars of David necklaces. We analyzed their every appearance, and thanks to Jewish geography (they were in ZBT at Indiana, if you were wondering), we actually found them.
19. Speaking of Jews in Cardi B music videos, this was also the year we got that Maroon 5 music video “Girls Like You,” which featured a lot of Jewish women. (Maroon 5 is led by Jewish frontman Adam Levine, obviously.) There was also our queen Aly Raisman, wearing a shirt that said “Always Speak Your Truth,” Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Tiffany Haddish and Beanie Feldstein.
18. “The Band’s Visit” swept the Tony Awards, winning 10 awards, including Best Musical. It means a lot to Jews to see themselves portrayed on stage not suffering or dying, but just living. Band’s Visit star Sharone Saygeh told us, “It’s also been incredibly exciting for me to represent Israel and the Middle East—and also just represent Israel and the Middle East with such human characters and not stereotypes about the region.”
17. John Mulaney’s Jewish wife jokes were the highlight of his new stand-up special, “Kid Gorgeous,” and we are obsessed with his wife Anna. 16. “Schitt’s Creek” stole our hearts this season. Alexis found herself (she’s honestly the best Jewish character on TV right now) and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the “Simply the Best” clip when Patrick sings to David. (And David’s lip-sync.) Thank you, Dan Levy and “Schitt’s Creek,” for bringing joy and happiness in what was a terrible year.
15. And on the note of Jewish characters on television—albeit very different Jewish characters—“Fauda” season 2 was remarkable. As The New York Times wrote in its review of the season, “Fauda” creators “saw how certain circumstances in their world could be synthesized into entertaining, even gripping melodrama—the intimate web of shared history and culture; the normality of high emotion, hatred and nihilism; rigid notions of family and honor; the photogenic density of the weathered Palestinian cities in the West Bank, perfect for car and foot chases.”
14. Ariana Grande’s tribute to Mac Miller in “thank u, next” made everyone cry. Ariana’s self-love bop will be remembered long past 2018, but we particularly love her tribute to Mac Miller, the Jewish rapper who unfortunately passed away from a drug overdose in September.
13. Drake is a Jewish dad! More secret babies!
12. Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the big screen: Even if you have reservations about Felicity Jones’s accent and ability to play RBG, “On the Basis of Sex”—the biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg that tells the tale of the first case about sex discrimination that she won—is really, really good. (Even though there were no scrunchies.) (Also it was written by her nephew, which we love.) (And Armie Hammer plays Marty, which Ginsburg seems very pleased with.); The documentary “RBG” was so. damn. good. It featured her iconic dissents, her workouts, her love story with Marty, her nomination to the Supreme Court, and so much more; Not on the big screen, but the first official biography of RBG was also released this year: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life” by Jane Sherron De Hart. De Hart told Alma about the deep impact Judaism had on RBG’s life.
11. On Dax Shepard’s podcast, Mila Kunis shared how her family does Shabbat. It’s really neat to see such a high-profile celebrity be so open about the Jewish ritual, and we love her Shabbat ethos: “Friday night, we’re all going to get together, and we’re all just going to talk. And we’re gonna talk about the week.”
THE TOP 10:
10. Everything “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Seriously. EVERYTHING. We adore Rachel Bloom, and how the show’s Jewish humor helps subvert Jewish stereotypes. The music is amazing. It’s all so good. And as it airs its fourth and final season, we are so appreciative that this show exists.
9. A Jewish mom, Jessica Mulroney, was at the center of the Royal Wedding. (Do you think I could write about pop culture in 2018 and not mention Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry?!) Jessica Mulroney—maiden name Jessica Bronstein—played a critical role at the wedding. Her twin sons held Markle’s veil as she entered the chapel, and her daughter was a bridesmaid.
Jessica Mulroney is in blue, right behind Meghan.
Mulroney, widely regarded as one of Meghan’s BFFs, has also been key in Meghan’s royal style. Sidenote: it’s also kind of established that a Jewish designer, Misha Nonoo, was the matchmaker who set up Meghan and Harry. Love a Jewish matchmaker.
8. Karlie Kloss converted to Judaism and married Josh Kushner. Wow. We’re still not over this, to be honest. Kloss, 26, and Kushner, 33, married after a 5-month engagement and a 6-year relationship. Mazel tov!
7. Israel won Eurovision!! This may not matter to Americans, but Eurovision is a very, very big deal across the pond. (Seriously! My Israeli colleague described it as like “watching the Super Bowl.”) The winning entry in the song competition was “Toy” by Israeli singer Netta Barzilai. This means in 2019 Eurovision will be hosted in Israel. Ahh!
6. It’s kind of ridiculous that this is in our top 10 Jewish pop culture moments of 2018, but it’s just so absurd that it has to be: Kylie Jenner made matzah ball soup and documented it all on her Instagram stories. It was a journey.
5. “Disobedience,“ the Orthodox Jewish lesbian romance film starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, premiered this year. Based on Naomi Alderman’s novel of the same name, it got a lot right (and a few things wrong) about Orthodox Jewish communities, but we truly loved it for its portrayal of queer Orthodox Jews. And Rachel Weisz! We adore Rachel Weisz!!! (She was also amazing in “The Favourite”)
4. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” season 2. It’s arguably the most Jewish show on television, and season 2 did not disappoint. (Although, disappointingly, Zachary Levi—who plays a very handsome Jewish doctor—is not a Jew.) There were major Jewish moments: from a plot line about the little-known Jewish holiday Tisha B’av, to an episode centered on Yom Kippur, to a joke about the Mi Sheiberach prayer. It was all very Jewish.
3. Did you think Ruth Bader Ginsburg wouldn’t be in our top 5? Then you thought wrong! Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a letter to a rabbi that she plans to wear a Chanukah scrunchie year-round. Her love for scrunchies is honestly important.
2. The 2018 Met Gala was themed “Catholicism.” What the heck were Jewish celebs supposed to wear? After the fact, we addressed how Jewish celebrities and designers interpreted the Catholic Met Gala, but we have to focus on just one: Lynda Carter.
Not only did Lynda Carter wear the most Jewish headpiece, she carried a bag made by the one and only Judith Lieber (a Holocaust survivor) as well as a dress by Jewish designer Zac Posen. Carter isn’t Jewish—but she’s married to a Jew, and her kids are Jewish.
As I wrote in Kveller, “Carter made a major statement wearing a crown that had the Hebrew words leolam al tishcechi embossed on the front. In English, the Hebrew means ‘Never Forget’ in the future-female tense. And in the back of her hair was a Star of David barrette.” Lynda Carter has some serious chutzpah.
1. The top slot? Ben Platt’s Yom Kippur song, a 10-second jingle with actress Molly Gordon about the holiest day of the Jewish year. (Their Chanukah song just isn’t as good, sorry Ben!!) The Yom Kippur ditty is so catchy, so unique, and honestly, it’s been stuck in our head since he posted it.