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9 Surprising Jewish Facts About ‘Little House on the Prairie’

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Incredible news, Kvellers: Amazon is now streaming all seasons of Little House on the Prairie. I repeat, you can now relive some of the awesomest parts of your childhood by binge-watching all nine seasons of Little House on the Prairie, anytime you’d like.

It’s been 45 years (!!) since the TV series, based on author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s wildly popular novels, first aired on NBC. The show followed the lives of the Ingalls family — head of the house Charles Ingalls, his wife, Caroline, and their three daughters, Mary, Laura, and Carrie —and captured what life was like in rural America in the 1800s.

Despite its very non-Jewish premise, Little House on the Prairie is actually very Jewish. OK, maybe we’re exaggerating a bit. But we did manage to find two handfuls of Jewish facts about the show, which, over its years, tackled tough issues like racism, drug abuse, and, yes, anti-Semitism.

So, pour yourself a half-pint, kick back and enjoy these fun facts.

1. Melissa Gilbert, who starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder, was raised Jewish by her adoptive parents. Upon discovering she never had a conversion ceremony, Gilbert questioned her Jewish identity. “You’re Jewish,” her mom told her. “I’m your mother, and I’m Jewish.” 

2. In the episode “Come Let Us Reason Together,” Percival Dalton — whose real name, we learn is Isaac Cohen — leaves his Jewish family to create a new life for himself with his Christian wife Nellie Oleson. In that same episode, Nellie reasons with her parents and her husband’s Jewish father by striking a deal to raise their twins with different faiths. It was decided that their daughter, Jennifer, would be raised as a Christian, and their son, Benjamin, as a Jew. (Has anyone else tried this approach? If so, hit us up!)

3. In “The Craftsman,” an episode in the fifth season, the Ingalls’ adopted son, Albert, becomes an apprentice for a Jewish craftsman named Isaac Singerman. At school, his classmates bully him for being a “Jew-lover.” When his sister, Laura, defends him, she’s accused of being one, too, which greatly upset her. When Isaac dies at the end of the summer, Albert shows his respects by planting an acorn, in order to grow a tree to replenish the wood he used in his carpentry. Singerman had told him that a craftsman musn’t be a “shnorer” — apparently Yiddish was spoken in Walnut Grove! — which is someone who “takes and takes but never gives back to the world.”

4. And speaking of Yiddish, in that same episode, Isaac the coffin maker sings the Yiddish song “Oyfn Pripetchik” as he puts the last touches on a coffin, which would be the very one he is buried in at the end of the episode. The lyrics tell a tale of young Jewish boys learning the value of Jewish traditions from a rabbi.

5. Michael Landon, the executive producer of Little House on the Prairie, who played Charles Ingalls, was Jewish! He was born to a Roman Catholic mother and a Jewish father. His birth name is Eugene Maurice Orowitz.

6. Jewish screenwriter Paul Wolff’s first television job was for Little House on the Prairie — he went on to write for other hit shows, including Family Ties, Fame, and Home Improvement. He wrote the very Jewish “The Craftsman” episode, but originally was hesitant to pitch it once he saw a list of the cast and crew and assumed no one on the show was Jewish. Reportedly, Landon responded positively to Wolff’s script, saying, “You’re a Jew? I’m a Jew!” As Wolff recalled, “He was serious about who he was, about being Jewish. He had been looking for a way to announce it to the world.”

7. Jonathan Gilbert, Melissa Gilbert’s adopted brother, is Jewish and played Willie Oleson — blonde baddie Nellie’s little brother. Gilbert revealed in her autobiography Prairie Tale that the siblings no longer have a relationship.

8. The late David Rose, who wrote the theme song for Little House on the Prairie, was born in London to Jewish parents. Originally, the family’s last name was Rosenberg. (Fun fact: He was once married to actress Judy Garland!)

9. Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura, dated her co-star’s son Michael Landon, Jr. when she was a teenager. Unfortunately, the Jewish couple split when Melissa was 17, but don’t fret: Gilbert went on to date actor Rob Lowe. (They broke up, too, and Gilbert went to New York to star in the play A Shayna Maidel, where she met her first husband Bo Brinkman.) 

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