Remember March of 2020? When we thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would have an end date? That it might just last a few months? That our childcare situations might one day go back to normal? Well, happy Omicron winter, my fellow parents! The joke is, once again, on us.
As some parents are grappling with whether to send their kids to school, vaccinated or otherwise, and as school closures feel like an inevitability, a lot of us are getting help from the only reliable form of childcare this pandemic has to offer — the screen. And honestly? Go us for taking care of ourselves. This is not the time to be sanctimonious about kids and screentime. There is certainly nothing wrong with plopping your child in front of the TV or iPad for however long you need to regain your sanity and get some work done.
With that in mind, I’ve assembled some fun Jewish and Jew-ish shows for you to plop your kids in front of as you work, take a breather or yell into the abyss (or just into your pillow, that also works). These are shows for both younger and older kids, and to be honest, a lot of times, you might enjoy plopping yourself right next to them as they watch.
As parents of Jewish kids, I know a lot of us love pointing out Jewish actors in shows, and while there are many, actual Jewish characters can be a little harder to find. But it’s still so nice for our kids to watch shows where they see a representation of themselves on screen.
Not all these shows come with an abundance of Jewish content, but all of them have prominent characters who are explicitly Jewish, doing a variety of things, from saving the day to being literal babies to being undisputed fashion icons to, yes, lighting Hanukkah candles and having bar and bat mitzvahs. They also feature diverse Jewish representations of characters who are interfaith and Jews of Color.
From generation to generation! If you grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s, you may have watched the original “Shalom Sesame,” which is a crossover between “Rechov Sumsum,” the Israeli version of “Sesame Street,” and the original American series. The series first aired in 1986, then later in 1990 and 1991. Twelve new episodes later aired in 2010 and 2011. They feature amazing Jewish stars like Emmy Rossum and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Also, if you want more “Sesame Street,” we have a list of Jewish guests who have appeared on the show.
“Shaboom!” is one of very few cartoons created explicitly for an American Jewish audience. The BimBam initiative gave us 15 episodes that follow “magical sparks” Gabi and Rafael and helps kids learn about Jewish traditions and holidays while expanding their Hebrew vocabulary. It’s Jewish content that feels fun and quirky and not too didactic, so that’s a win.
Our favorite Jewish interfaith family is back on TV. The original 1991 show featured Didi Pickles as the Jewish mother of Tommy Pickles, our intrepid baby protagonist. It gave us some of the best Jewish holiday specials ever made: “A Rugrats Chanukah” and “A Rugrats Passover.”
The 2021 “Rugrats” reboot is surprisingly delightful and evocative, and as a bonus, features Henry Winkler as Zayde. What more can you ask for?!
This late ’90s and early 2000s ABC animated show is now available to stream. It tells the story of 7th grader Pepper Ann Pearson, whose mother Lydia Pearson is Jewish, and her middle school misadventures: dealing with puberty, class dynamics and being an interfaith kid. There’s even one episode titled “A Kosher Christmas.” Fun fact: Pepper Ann’s tomboy-ish sister is dubbed by the one and only Jewish mom Pamela Adlon. If you want your young kids to know what it was like to grow up in the early 2000s, this show is it. The fashion, the dubbing, the music — it really will take you back.
The Ghost and Molly McGee
This 2021 show tells the story of Molly McGee, an upbeat girl who ends up bound to a very cranky ghost. Molly’s best friend Libby Stein-Torres is Jewish, and there are already two explicitly Jewish episodes in this highly enjoyable and well-crafted new Disney show, including a bat mitzvah episode and a Hanukkah episode. Plus, Libby is both Jewish and Hispanic, which makes for great diverse Jewish representation. This show is so much fun!
We all would do well to remember that Francine Frensky, arguably the best character on “Arthur,” is Jewish! Frensky’s Jewishness occasionally gets mentioned in the show, especially in the episode “Is That Kosher?” — a rare Yom Kippur episode! — and in the surprisingly Jewish Halloween episode of the show. Arthur ended its long run earlier this year, but there are still so many wonderful episodes of the show to watch and rewatch.
Phineas and Ferb
Everyone on TikTok is obsessed with “Phineas and Ferb” co-creator Dan Povenmire, but it’s also nice to remember that the show about two boys and their summertime adventure (and their daring pet platypus) also features some fun Jewish representation. Isabella Garcia-Shapiro, who has a crush on Phineas (and later becomes his girlfriend) is Jewish and Mexican, and her Jewish identity is mentioned in a handful of episodes. Her grandmother makes latkes for a latke festival in “Lots of Latkes,” she talked about celebrating Hanukkah (“We don’t celebrate Christmas, but I got the coolest gifts for Hanukkah! Eight straight days of dreams come true!”), and one episode features a Mexican Jewish cultural festival. Plus, Isabella is dubbed by millennial icon and Missy Elliot “Work It” dancer Alyson Stoner, which makes her even cooler!
Crime-fighting high schooler and feminist hero Kim Possible had herself a nice Jewish boy! Yes, Kim’s sidekick, childhood best friend and eventual boyfriend in this animated Disney show, Ron Stoppable, is Jewish. Ron fits the stereotype of the nebbishy Jew, but we still love him!
Ron’s Jewish identity is mentioned in a few episodes, including “Ron the Man,” in which he extolls the virtues of having a bar mitzvah — “It’s ferociously cool! You go to temple, you read the Torah, you become a man!” — but later finds out his rabbi never signed his bar mitzvah certificate, leading him to question whether he is, in fact, a man and not a boy.
Elena of Avalor
“Elena of Avalor” featured the first Latina Jewish Disney princess, Princess Rebecca, in the episode called “Festival of Lights.” In the show, Elena helps Rebecca celebrate Hanukkah with her bubbe and brother after their ship is wrecked and they cannot return home for the holidays. They make a dreidel, retrieve and fix their broken menorah and cook variations of traditional Hanukkah foods.
While Rebecca is supposed to be Sephardic, the episode is a bit of a mish-mash of Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions — still, the result makes for a fun watch, and it is a win for Jewish representation. Princess Rebecca also shows up in other episodes of the show, including “Coronation Day” and “The Birthday Cruise.”
Miss Nanny, the Muppet Babies’ teacher, in the new revamped version of the 1984 show, is Jewish. Not only that but in the reboot, she is dubbed by Jewish mama Jenny Slate. In “Mitzvah for Miss Nanny,” she teaches the baby muppets about Hanukkah and mitzvahs while wearing Hanukkah-themed leggings. It’s precious.
Peg + Cat
This animated show based on the 2012 book “The Chicken Problem” stars Peg and her sidekick Cat as they work on their arithmetic and problem-solving skills — with some help from important figures from fiction and history. There are quite a few episodes with Jewish scientist Albert Einstein, including a Hanukkah one that will make you have very deep thoughts about dreidels.
Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum
This lovely PBS show follows Peruvian American Xavier Riddle, his sister Yadina, and his best friend Brad as they go on adventures to a secret museum, where they travel through time to learn about important diverse historical figures. Xavier’s neurotic and nervous best friend Brad Scott Meltzer is Jewish, and he has a dreidel in episode four of the show. His character is based on Brad Meltzer, the Jewish creator who wrote the series of books the show is based on: “Ordinary People Change the World.” Fun fact: Metlzer’s wife recently mentioned bar mitzvahs on “Family Feud”!
Aside from Brad, the show mentions a handful of incredible Jewish historical figures: Episode two of the show is about Harry Houdini, episode 28 is about Jonas Salk, and episode 31 is about Albert Einstein. But the most Jewish episode is episode four, which features the story of Israel’s first and only female prime minister, Golda Meir.
There are two fairly central Jewish characters in the classic Nickelodeon ’90s cartoon “Hey Arnold!,” though only one is explicitly Jewish in the show — Harold Berman, Arnold’s bully turned sometimes friend. Harold has his bar mitzvah in the episode “Harold’s Bar Mitzvah,” and even chants some Hebrew prayers.
Another Jewish character is the ever-cheerful Eugene Horowitz. While Horowitz is never identified as such in the show, the creators have confirmed that he is indeed Jewish. Also, his last name is Horowitz.
The “Lizzie McGuire” reboot may be dead in the water, but the original, nostalgic show about Lizzie and her middle school days, and the follow-up movie, are still available on Disney+, including those charming little animated montages of Lizzie. Of course, my favorite character in the show is Lizzie’s Jewish best friend, the very lovable David Gordon, or as his friends call him: Gordo.
Like Adam Lamberg who plays him, Gordo is Jewish, and in the final episode of season one we get to watch Gordo become a man while having his bar mitzvah.
This series, created by Adam F. Goldberg and based on his Jewish childhood, was recently renewed for a ninth season. The show follows the story of the fictionalized Adam Goldberg in the ’80s, his two siblings and his Jewish parents, including the big-haired and big-sweatered Jewish mom Beverly Goldberg. (Jeff Garlin, who plays the father in the show, will not be returning for future seasons after allegations of misconduct.) The ’80s vibes, Pennsylvania references and Jewish jokes are plentiful in this family show.
The show recently lost an important father figure: Grandpa Albert “Pops” Solomon, who was played by the indomitable George Segal, and who passed away in March of last year. May his memory be a blessing.
The Wonder Years
Just like the original “The Wonder Years,” the 2021 reboot of the iconic coming-of-age show takes place in the ’60s. Except this time, the show has a majority Black cast and follows a B,lack teen in Montgomery, Alabama grappling with race, taking us back to the days after the shooting of MLK.
Fred Savage, who starred in the original series, is an executive producer and director on this show, created by Saladin K. Patterson. It follows 12-year-old Dean Williams and is narrated by Don Cheadle as adult Dean.
Just like in the original show, the cast of characters includes one Jewish friend: the only white friend in Dean’s social group, Brad Hitman, who is played by Julian Lerner. This January, you will see Brad having his bar mitzvah in the penultimate episode of season one.
There’s something so special and smart about this reboot. As far as binges go, I’d suggest watching this show together with your kids, if you can.
What a day it was when “The Nanny” finally became available on a streaming service. The show about everyone’s favorite bridal shop employee turned nanny, and the queen of Jewish fashion, Fran Fine, is finally here to delight us in full binge-able glory.
Yes, “The Nanny” isn’t perfect, especially when it comes to race and fatphobia, but it still holds up pretty well and is, surprisingly, a great family-friendly watch. Even my 3-year-old is enraptured by it! It must be the power of Fran Drescher.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” recently aired its final episodes, much to our chagrin, but the family-friendly cop comedy gave us one of our favorite Jewish characters on TV, the Jewish detective played by Jewish dad Andy Samberg: Jake Peralta, who is the true MVP.
Plus, with Stephanie Beatriz in it, you get to tell your kids that they’re watching Mirabel from “Encanto” — trippy!