From neurotic to meshugana: The best retro Jewish characters now streaming

    We’ve been following Jewish stories in period films since movies began. Who hasn’t sung along with Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof or cheered the efforts of Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List?

    But not every Jewish story has to take place in the shtetl. Plenty of Jewish film and TV characters capture a brighter side of the twentieth century. Not to mention a deeper sense of what it means to be Jewish in America.

    Here are some recent movies and TV series you may have missed. All of them focus on Jewish characters from different eras.  Stream away!

    1Café Society

    Café Society is Woody Allen’s 2016 film about the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1930s. It centers on Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a boy from the Bronx just trying to make it in Tinseltown, and his Jewish family. It is one of Allen’s most Jewish movies. In one scene, Bobby’s mother says to her husband, “You don’t have a traditional Jewish soul. You’re stupid.”

    2The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel 

    Set in 1950s New York, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is about a devoted housewife and mother turned standup comedian. Whether she’s baring it all on stage (literally) or trying to find the perfect cut of meat for the rabbi, she is entirely and unabashedly Jewish. Her family, especially her hilarious parents, round out this portrait of mid-century Jewish life. Though Rachel Brosnahan (Mrs. Maisel) isn’t Jewish in real life, her co-star Alex Borstein, proudly is. During Sukkot she even posted a photo of her sukkah on Instagram.

    3A Serious Man  

    This quirky look at faith and fate from the Coen Brothers stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, a physics professor at a 1960s Minnesota university whose life is coming apart at the seams. His wife is leaving, his jobless brother isn’t, and someone is trying to keep him from getting tenure. He seeks advice from three rabbis, but it’s not clear if anyone can help him.

    4The Goldbergs

    Fast forward to the 1980s, a time of ugly sweaters, big hair, and soaring pop ballads. It’s there you’ll find The Goldbergs. The ABC show, which premiered in 2013, is a semi-autobiographical story about creator and showrunner Adam F. Goldberg’s childhood. (Spoiler alert: It was meshuga.) In an episode from 2015, the Goldberg family celebrated “Super Hanukkah” during the holiday season. Of course, the mom, Beverly, went all out.


    Another show about the 1980s, GLOW, (Glamorous Ladies Of Wrestling) is Jewish on screen and behind the scenes. Executive Producer Jenji Kohan and actors Alison Brie, Jackie Tohn and Marc Maron are all Jewish. In the episode “This Is One of Those Moments,” there is even a bris, and Tohn, who plays the wrestler Melrose, regularly talks about being Jewish on the show. Tune in for the wrestling, and stay for the Yiddishkeit.

    Kylie Ora Lobell is Jewess in Chief at Jewess, a Jewish women’s website, as well as a freelance writer for Aish, Chabad, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and The Forward.