In a year filled with news that somehow got worse every day, pop culture has provided a necessary escape or a thoughtful meditation on the current climate. And between Natalie Portman winning the “Jewish Nobel Prize” and Bob Dylan accepting the actual Nobel Prize, how could we not celebrate the pop culture moments that were so wonderfully Jewish?
Things that qualified for this list includes: a TV show, movie, book, musical, or podcast that deals with Jewish material or features a member of the tribe. We then narrowed it down to the best 50 Jewish pop culture moments of 2017 (yes, that was narrowing it down). This list is in some order (number one = the best moment); but we truly just have overflowing love for everything, so think of all of these moments as a tie for #2 (because Gal Gadot will always be #1).
1. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, especially that No Man’s Land scene. We love Gal Gadot. You love Gal Gadot. (Well, Lebanon may not love Gal Gadot…) Nevertheless, the reaction to seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen was a cinematic experience unlike any other. Halfway through the film, Diana takes off her jacket, lets down her hair, and climbs up to No Man’s Land. She shined. She was female power, embodied. And that’s what 2017 is all about.
2. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 3, particularly the “A Diagnosis” song and honest portrayal of mental illness. Season 3 of Rachel Bloom’s musical comedy sensation took a much darker turn in dealing with Rebecca’s mental illness, and takes the bold move of actually diagnosing her. Conversations like these are so important, and to do so with nuance and humor gets major props.
3. The music videos accompanying HAIM’s new album Something To Tell You. The Jewish sister pop rock band came back this year with their sophomore album. And it was fun, joyful, catchy, and everything you want/need in your music. However, the music video for the lead single “Want You Back” is one of our favorite moments because it’s all filmed in one-shot (!!!) as the sisters walk-dance down Ventura Boulevard. Can I be the fourth HAIM sister, please?
4. The ending of Naomi Alderman’s The Power. Did you gasp at that last paragraph? Can you not stop thinking about it, even though you finished reading weeks ago? Do you low-key want to live in the alternate universe of The Power? Because same. British-Jewish author Naomi Alderman created a world where young women develop electric shock power in the hands, and this—quite literally—upends the patriarchy.
5. Bryan Fogel’s friendship with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the mastermind of the Russian doping program, in the film Icarus. Fogel initially set out to make a “Super Size Me”-esque documentary, where he wanted to expose that drug tests used on athletes aren’t effective. So, he decided to dope himself to see if he could pass drug tests; he sets up a team of advisors, including the head of the Russian anti-doping lab Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. BUT THEN, Rodchenkov turns out to be *THE* guy who is covering up the Russian state-sponsored doping program (GASP). Bryan helps Rodchenkov escape to America, and gets him in witness protection. With Russia banned from the 2018 Olympics, this is necessary watching.
6. Everything about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, especially that stand-up set at the end of episode one. The creator of Gilmore Girls returned this year with a delightful show about Midge Maisel, a Jewish woman who finds her (comedic) voice after her husband leaves her. Mrs. Maisel is a show that centers Jewishness in Midge’s identity, and is hilarious.
7. Bette Midler wins a tony for Hello, Dolly! (Or should we say, hellooooooo Beanie Feldstein). Bette gave an epic acceptance speech for her role as Dolly in the 1964 broadway musical. Important to also note: Bette closed her remarks in the press room after the speech by saying “Bette Midler for President.” Plus, Beanie Feldstein makes her Broadway debut in the show and have you heard we’re OBSESSED with her!?
8. FAUDA on Netflix!!! We can’t pick one moment because the best way to watch FAUDA is in one entire sitting (12 episodes. You can do it!) (Also, FAUDA is in caps whenever I text my friends “Have you seen FAUDA yet!??!” so I will leave it in caps). The show is so good that both Israelis and Palestinians love it. It’s an Israeli drama (Fauda translates to “Chaos” in Arabic) that brings its viewers to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (the episodes are in Hebrew and Arabic). While it was added to Netflix in December 2016, it received rave reviewsthroughout 2017.
9. Barbra Streisand’s Netflix special: Barbra returns in Barbra: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic. She’s still got it, obviously. Actually, we’ll just let her do the talking:
10. Larry David & Bernie Sanders are cousins. 2016 may have brought us Larry’s amazing Bernie impression, but 2017 brought us the even more important fact that America’s two most famous Jewish grandpas, Larry David and Bernie Sanders, are actually related. They were very excited about the fact.
11. Drake’s Re-Bar Mitzvah. Our favorite Canadian Jewish rapper (small category, but shh) turned 31 this year and took it upon himself tothrow a bar mitzvah themed birthday party. Drake released music this year (More Life) but his Re-Bar Mitzvah was obviously the most important thing to happen in his 2017.
12. Broad City goes to Florida. This season of Broad City featured the fantastic episode where Ilana and Abbi go to a Jewish retirement community in Florida. As Mandy Berman writes in her Broad City recap on Alma, “Ilana dancing in drag as an old Jewish man is one of the funniest images of the season.” Broad City was definitely on its A game this season, but this episode has to be one of our favorites.
13. The best/worst pickup line of all time on Bachelor in Paradise: “Obviously, you’re Jewish.” Season four of Bachelor in Paradise was a train wreck and a half, but it gave us the gloriously awkward pick-up line directed at the queen of Jewish geography, Lacey Mark (by our highly scientific rankings; check out Alma’s First Annual Bachelor Nation Jewish Geography Power Rankings if you haven’t yet). However the season wasn’t all that terrible because it did give us a love for Nice Jewish Boy Jack Stone.
14. Speaking of love… the love story in Dorit Rabinyan’s All the Rivers. Technicalllly this book came out in 2014 in Israel, but the English translation was released this year, so we’re counting it for 2017. Rabinyan beautifully tells the love story of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who fall in love one winter in New York. As we wrote in 7 Female Israeli Writers You Should Be Reading, “Don’t just read Rabinyan’s All the Rivers as a rebellion because of its banned book status; read it for a heart-wrenching portrait of a doomed relationship (spoiler: the book is all the more powerful when you find out the story is based on her real life relationship with Palestinian artist Hassan Hourani).”
15. Alison Brie’s star turn in GLOW. Alison Brie had a YEAR in 2017. The highlight for her (and us) was her starring role in GLOW, the Netflix series about the 1980s female wrestling league (“Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling”). Alison got in super-shape for the TV show, and did most of her own stunts. She is an inspiration.
16. The Morning Breath, in which two Orthodox Jewish sisters host a live-streamed morning show on Facebook (that’s released as a podcast after) every day of the week. You may know one from her famous Instagram meme account (@girlwithnojob). Honestly, just watch this clip of them when someone posts their livestream to Craigslist and they seemlessly transfrom into singing Hava Nagila:
When someone posts the link to your livestream on Craigslist pic.twitter.com/Mcpwvf2iEV
— The Morning Breath (@TheMorninBreath) November 20, 2017
They often have reality stars on their show (Bachelor franchise, looking at you) but hearing them just chat about Meghan Markle’s engagement or which celebrities are Jewish will always make your morning 100% better.
17. Katrina Lenk in The Band’s Visit singing “Omar Sharif.” The Band’s Visit is a musical that tells the tale of an Egyptian police band that gets lost in a remote village in Israel. Katrina Lenk plays Dina, the Israeli cafe owner who welcomes the band. One of the show’s creators, David Yazbek, explains that Lenk is mesmerizing every time she sings “Omar Sharif”: “The song occurs when Dina is having a moment with the Egyptian bandleader, remembering wonderful childhood times when she’d sit with her mother and listen to the radio and hear music coming from Egypt and Lebanon. I’m so happy people will get a chance to hear Katrina sing that song and see those quiet, incredibly intense moments between Tony [Shalhoub, who plays the Egyptian bandleader] and her.’”
18. Double Katrina: Katrina Lenk in Indecent. We couldn’t forget how Katrina Lenk also starred in the Broadway show Indecent, the history of the 1907 Yiddish play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch.
19. Conan goes to Israel. When Conan O’Brien announced he was visiting Israel, everyone was kind of unsure how it would go. But then it happened, and every single video released was an absolute DELIGHT. Like “When Conan Invites Himself to Gal Gadot’s Apartment” or “Conan Interrogates the Star of ‘Fauda’” or, one of our favorites, “Conan Trains With the Women of the Israel Defense Forces”
20. But Conan wasn’t the only one to take his show on the road… this year, Transparent went to Israel (see, in Alma: What Transparent Season 4 Means to Me as an Israeli). Our favorite moment has to be in episode 6, when the Pfeffermans are on bus headed to Jerusalem and Sarah puts on “What’s the Buzz” from Jesus Christ Superstar and the whole family sings along. (Insert requisite Shame On You, Jeffrey Tambor here.)
21. Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions. Gundar-Goshen is one of our favorite female Israeli writers… scratch that, just one of our favorite writers, period. Waking Lions is a gorgeous tale of moral ambiguity and grief set in the Negev desert. It was published in 2014, but released in America this year.
22. Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply. Another one of our favorite books of 2017 was also a tale of grief, but oh so different. The synopsis of the memoir alone is heartbreaking: “In 2012, at age 38, when she left on a reporting trip to Mongolia, Ariel Levy thought she had figured it out: she was married, pregnant, successful on her own terms, financially secure. A month later, none of that was true….” Levy’s memoir dives into the pain and loss, the dissolution of her marriage, and you will not be able to put it down until the last page.
23. Jeff Goldblum stealing every scene in Thor. I am not a superhero movie fan, unless the superhero in question is Wonder Woman and she’s played by Gal Gadot. BUT: I did see Thor: Ragnarok and was filled with joy/delight/happiness every single time Jeff Goldblum was on the screen. He was larger than life as the Grandmaster (did you see his entrance to “Pure Imagination”?? Like, come ON!) ruling a trash planet. Jeff Goldblum, obviously, is not trash.
24. Gal Gadot hosts SNL. Sorry, just still have Gal Gadot on the mind. When she hosted Saturday Night Live in early October, she began her monologue in Hebrew. Talking about hummus and growing up in Israel. If that isn’t peak Jewish pop culture, IDK WHAT IS.
25. Gal Gadot plays Kendall Jenner. Yes, this deserved its own moment.
26. Gal Gadot’s GQ Cover story. Promise this is the last Gal Gadot moment on this list, but did you read Caity Weaver’s profile of Gal for GQ? No? Go read it now. The best thing we learned: “One of the top five best sounds on Earth is Gal Gadot saying ‘Leonard Cohen.’” The second best thing: the entire passage about how hands-on Gal is (“When you meet her, she will put her hands on you many times, in many different places”). The third best thing: oh, just go read the profile…
27. Unorthodox’s summer camp episode. Totally unrelated from Gal Gadot (but where did she go to camp?) was episode 96 of the wonderfully Jewish podcast Unorthodox: “Notes on Camp.” The episode talks about one of the fundamental parts of the American Jewish experience: sleepaway camp! A very fun listen.
28. Lady Bird prom scene. Lady Bird was, hands down, one of the best films of 2017. And one of the best scenes occurs when Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) shows up at Julie’s house (Julie is played by Beanie Feldstein) and they go to prom together.
29. Sarah Silverman’s new show “I Love You, America” that skewers all of America. One funny bit: She had a white male late-night show host at a desk that she would cut to “when things got uncomfortable.” When she lets him go, he joins up with other angry men’s rights guys. Sarah, seeing him holding a sign that says “Jews Will Not Replace Us,” tells him, “I hate to tell you, but I’m a Jew and I have replaced you.”
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) December 8, 2017
30. The HalloVeen episode of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” (SPOILERS) Ever since the show began, the Halloween episode is structured as a heist. This year, in a twist, the heist ended with Andy Samberg’s character Jake proposing to Melissa Fumero’s character Amy. While the whole series was initially structured around Jake’s man-childness (but also being a competent detective), the slow burning love story of Jake and Amy paid off so well.
31. Steven Spielberg shares his matzah brei recipe on Goop. More delightful and weird than anything else on this list, Spielberg’s “Uncle Morty’s Gourmet Matzos Brie” on Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site has to be read to be believed.
32. Oh, Hello! on Netflix. After appearing on Broadway last year, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll’s cranky old men with weird accents come to Netflix (in a taped version of their show). Kroll’s character Gil Faizon is very proud of being Jewish. As the Wikipedia description of Gil reads,“He is very proud of being Jewish, especially the Israeli settlements, and members of strict Orthodox sects who look at him disdainfully on the bus.”
33. Cazzie David’s mini-series. We’ve said it before, Cazzie David > Larry David (hence we’re ranking her right above her dad). This year, she created a mini-series with her friend Elisa Kalani, Eighty-Sixed, that accurately summed up millennial culture and hook-ups:
34. In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David gets Fatwa’d. One of the plot lines of the new season was Larry creating a Broadway musical about Salman Rushdie called “Fatwa.” Then he gets a Fatwa called against him by the Ayatollah in a particularly funny scene. And THEN, in the season finale, none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda (!!) guest stars playing Salman Rushdie in the Fatwa musical
35. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend again, but how could we forget Patti LuPone as a rabbi?! In the series’ most Jewish song, “Remember that We Suffered,” Patti sings about the sufferings of the Jews with Rachel Bloom and Tovah Feldshuh. An INSTANT classic:
36. Ben Platt Says Goodbye to Dear Evan Hansen. November 2017 saw the last of Ben Platt’s Tony-award winning performance as Evan Hansen in the hit musical.
Today is my last @DearEvanHansen performance, ending a 3.5 year journey with a remarkable family of artists. I am proud of all I gave & grateful for all I received.
I love you, Evan. You changed every part of my life. I’ll carry you with me for the rest of my days.
— Ben Platt (@BenSPLATT) November 19, 2017
Ben Platt made such a huge impact on everyone who saw him — just try not to cry reading all of these messages. And then once you dry your eyes, remember in 2017 Beyoncé saw Dear Evan Hansen! Ben says of Beyoncé’s visit: “It was the greatest moment truly ever. It’s right up there with my Tony and my bar mitzvah.”
It happened. pic.twitter.com/yBVnlY2uiL
— Ben Platt (@BenSPLATT) September 15, 2017
37. Speaking of Jews winning Tonys…Oslo won best play! What a year 2017 was!! Oslo tells the story of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine.
38. More prizes for Israel-related-things: David Grossman’s A Horse Walks Into a Bar won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. Fun fact: The prize was split between Grossman and his translator, Jessica Cohen. The story is shaped around one stand-up set one night in Netanya, Israel and the tale of Dovaleh (the comedian) unfolds through the eyes of Avishai (the narrator, in attendance). As the author Gary Shteyngart aptly points out in his New York Times Book Review, “Jewish humor is celebrated, and, these days, more necessary than ever. It is humor from the edge of the grave. Humor with a gun stuck in your ribs. Humor that requires nothing more than a match and a can of gasoline.”
39. And while it wasn’t a Tony, Natalie Portman won the Genesis Prize this year. The Genesis Prize, essentially the Jewish world’s Nobel Prize, will be presented to Natalie next year in Jerusalem. Do we think it’s awarded to Natalie Portman or her real name Neta-Lee Hershlag?
40. The last prize-related pop culture point: Bob Dylan accepted his Nobel Prize in literature this past June. After loads of controversy — he was the first songwriter to receive the award — he finally accepted it in a private ceremony. In his Nobel Lecture, he said, “Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days.” Listen to the full speech:
41. Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up. Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein sagely wrote in Alma: “Without marriage and children as milestones, how would we know what it meant to be ‘all grown up’? Cue the brilliance of All Grown Up by novelist Jami Attenberg, who seemed to rummage through the trenches of thoughts and feelings I never knew I had about the “polemic” posed by women like me.”
42. The season 3 premiere of Difficult People. Sadly this was the last season of the Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner tour de force, but they blessed us from the very start. The first episode — titled “Passover Bump” — dealt with the aftermath of Trump’s election. And it had the line from Julie: “I haven’t had to sit through a family seder by myself since I was a witch in college.” We will miss this joy of a show.
43. Hot Jew™ Adam Levine released Red Pill Blues with Maroon 5. “What Lovers Do” (ft. SZA) has been stuck in our head since it was released.
44. File under 2017 things you may have missed: Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams starred in a Jewish Orthodox lesbian romance. Yes, you read that right: Disobedience premiered this year at Toronto International Film Festival, based on Naomi Alderman’s novel. (Do you remember Naomi Alderman from #4 on this list?)
45. And in weird 2017 Jewish pop culture things, Justin Bieber sent an Orthodox woman into labor. “A haredi Orthodox woman went into labor after just one song at a Justin Bieber concert in Tel Aviv,” reported JTA, “Then again, Reut Ziskind, 23, from the predominantly haredi city of Bnei Brak, told Ynet she was three weeks overdue by the time she attended the concert on Wednesday.”
46. One of Us, the Netflix documentary that dives into NYC’s Hasidic community, pulled at our heartstrings. Notable: around minute 23, Luzer Twersky explains when he was a young adult going to Blockbuster and renting every movie he could, then watching them in his car because he couldn’t watch at home. When a cop comes up to him and asks him what he’s doing, he explains he’s watching “a great movie, it’s called Crossroads with Britney Spears.”
47. The Esther Perel episode of “Why Oh Why,” a weekly podcast about relationships. The famed Belgian Jewish psychotherapist (that accent!!) gives sage advice for Tinder dating, including the suggestion to have a fake fight on the first date for a little bit of role-playing fun. Listen here.
48. Matisyahu released a new album this year. Tbh, we haven’t heard a Matisyahu song since “One Day” in 2009, but his 2017 album “Undercurrent” is surprisingly good reggae music.
49. Scarlett Johansson and Paul Rudd discover their Jewish roots (but no, they’re not related). Earlier this year, on the Finding Your RootsPBS show, Scarlett learns of her relatives who perished in the Holocaust. As JTA wrote, “Johansson wasn’t the only Jewish actor to learn about a dark ancestral past in Tuesday’s episode. Paul Rudd was also surprised to hear about the anti-Semitism his grandfather faced in England, even after World War II.”
50. … And one last Gal Gadot moment.
May 2018 be filled with as much Gal Gadot as 2017.