Netflix, Netflix, Netflix. What are we to make of you this year? On the one hand, the history-changing streaming service has once again raised its prices, much to the consternation of its loyal subscribers. In March, we also lost one of our favorite Israeli shows on the platform, “Shtisel.”
On the other hand, the Netflix overlords also gave incredible Jewish shows and movies, from original productions to bringing over some of the most exciting new seasons of Israeli shows. As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back at the Jewish TV and movies that Netflix had to offer in 2023 — and there was a lot. You are definitely going to want to catch up on these before more content premieres in 2024.
The best Jewish Netflix movie: “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah”
What more can we say about “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah?” It’s Adam Sandler’s most Jewish movie yet — a Jewish family movie no less — and introduced us to his two daughters who are gifted, funny actors in their own rights. This tale about a bat mitzvah feels authentic in its depiction of both Judaism and the pettiness of teenage-hood, and brought us a treadmill-loving rabbi and an over-the-top Israeli DJ we’ll always remember.
The best new Jewish show of 2023: “Jewish Matchmaking”
This one was a hard choice, with many excellent contenders in the mix, but ultimately, I think what “Jewish Matchmaking” did for Jewish representation on TV is so unique and admirable. The reality dating show manages to show the complexity of Jewish identity in a way that feels sensitive and respectable, giving us a diverse crowd of Jews from all over the world. That can be credited to both a sensitive production team and to the matchmaker herself, Aleeza Ben Shalom, who is so loving and respectful to all of her clients.
The best Jewish limited series of 2023: “Transatlantic”
Anna Winger makes killer TV, and “Transatlantic” may be her best show yet. Telling the story of the Emergency Rescue Committee and Varian Fry, who helped rescue thousands of artists and creatives out of Nazi-occupied France, including Hannah Arendt and Marc Chagall, the series stars “Unorthodox” favorite Amit Rahav, Corey Stoll, Gillian Jacobs and Lucas Englander, who is quite revelatory as Jewish refugee and ERC member Albert Hischman. Set in wartime Marseilles, it’s beautiful, evocative and haunting — truly masterful TV.
Best Haredi representation: “Rough Diamonds”
“Rough Diamonds” takes us deep into the world of Antwerp’s Hasidic Jewish community and its shifting relationship with the city’s diamond trade. An Israeli Belgian collaboration, it’s a show that cares deeply about showing a fairly insular community in an authentic, fascinating way, telling the story of a Jewish family where religion isn’t central to the dynamics. When I talked to co-creators and writers Rotem Shamir and Yuval Yefet, I was struck by the amount of thought and research that went into the show’s Jewish representation, including the way they decided to touch on antisemitism in the European country.
Best (and most-viewed) new season of a series: “Fauda”
Season four of “Fauda” premiered this year, and it was the show’s biggest season, filming both in Israel and Europe, and one that is considered by many to be the show’s best. It’s also, according to Netflix data released earlier this month, one of the most viewed shows on the streaming platform between January and June. The show about a covert IDF unit deftly showcases Israeli politics, the price of war and the complexities of Israeli militarism.
And yes, in case you are wondering, season five of “Fauda” is coming, though we’re not sure how the Israel-Hamas war might change the timing of its release.
The most heart-breaking show: “The Club”
Two series offered us incredibly unique portrayals of Sephardi Jews this year – “The Club” and “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,” both of which returned for gutting seconds seasons. Yet it was season two of “The Club,” about the characters who inhabit a club in the popular Turkish city of Istanbul, and which centers the story of Matilda, a Jewish ex-con, and the Istanbul Jewish community in the 1940s and ’50s, that broke my heart the most. I’m talking “Game of Thrones” red wedding kind of grief.
Beyond the heartbreak, the show features a beautiful Jewish wedding and lots of Ladino, and showes us a touching and complex relationship between a Jewish mother and daughter, one that ultimately helps buoy the daughter through her struggles and grief, and helps her find her own voice. At a time when our relationship with Turkey is quite fraught, I think watching a piece of Turkish art that so respectfully paints its Jewish residents is quite special.
Best fashion, food, Sephardi culture and Michael Aloni: “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”
Season two of “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” explores some seriously dark topics, including PTSD, domestic violence and complex family dynamics There were many points when the season felt almost too painful to watch, especially when it comes to our beauty queen, Luna, played by Swell Ariel Or, and her relationship with her husband David, played by Israel Ogalbo. Anyone who is easily triggered by domestic violence and sexual assault should be cautious when watching this season. And yet, I found it generally better TV than the first season, and was still full of Ladino, delicious Sephardi fair and funny quips from its side characters, including Irit Kaplan as Mercada Ermosa, the family’s complex and opinionated matriarch, Kobi Maor as Morduch and Dov Navon as fashion maven Mr. Zachs.
Then there was Hila Saada as the complicated, jilted Rosa Ermosa, who proves to be an incredible business woman and a warrior who defends her family’s livelihood. In all that, Michael Aloni as Gabriel Ermosa proved to be one of the best Jewish dads on TV, someone who cares deeply for the well-being of his children, including that of his illegitimate child with his forbidden Ashkenazi lover, Rochel, played by Yuval Scharf.
Best Sarah Silverman, most coveted Jewish sweater and worst Jewish nose: “Maestro”
Late in the year, we got a nice little gift from Netflix, “Maestro.” I know everyone talked about this movie a lot before it was released, and it genuinely did delight me, proving to be a welcome distraction from the incredibly dark landscape of news. Bradley Cooper does a good, reverent job at telling the story of famed Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein, but I was particularly delighted in the movie by Sarah Silverman as his sister Shirley, who kind of stole the show. Also show-stealing? Bernstein’s Hebrew Harvard sweater, of which you can already find knock-offs on Etsy. Yet we can’t ignore the thing that stole the show months before the movie even came out — Cooper’s prosthetic nose. At the end of the day, I don’t think it ruined the movie, but I’m still not convinced that it was totally necessary.
Best Jew-ish comedy special: “Emergency Contact” from Amy Schumer
“Emergency Contact” may not be Amy Schumer’s best comedy special, but it is full of love and a delightful distraction, and does offer one of the most adorably accurate rallying cry for Jewish solidarity on TV.
Best Ben: Ben Gross in “Never Have I Ever”
As the fourth and final season of “Never Have I Ever” was released this year, we said goodbye to the lovely Ben Gross. I’ve always rooted for Ben, despite the fact that some people said the Jewish love interest in the Mindy Kaling-produced high school comedy was a bit of a Jewish stereotype. But the actor who plays him, Jaren Lewison, makes him particularly endearing, and I do think at the end of the day, Ben Gross is a nice, nice Jewish boy.
Best Jewish makeover: Dan Stein in “Queer Eye”
After four seasons, we finally got an overtly Jewish contestant on Netflix’s beloved reprisal of “Queer Eye.” And of course, it was a Jewish deli man. Dan Stein was referred to by Jonathan Van Ness as a “meat and potatoes” kind of straight guy — and while you might start off unsure about him, when you see beyond his gruff exterior, you grow to really love him. Stein’s Jewish identity was all over the episode in mostly small, in-the-background ways. I have to say, I’m glad “Queer Eye” introduced us to Stein, and I’m really digging his Hanukkah Instagram posts, as well as his deli’s excellent seahorse t-shirt.
Best show we said goodbye to: “Workin’ Moms”
There is hardly a more relatable show for moms with jobs outside the home than the Canadian comedy “Workin’ Moms.” With short, bingable episodes and a viscerally relatable and diverse set of moms, the show is a must-watch, but unfortunately, it aired its last season this year. It’s also pretty Jewish, with creator and star Catherine Reitman paying homage to her Jewish heritage on screen by making her character, Kate Foster, Jewish. If you’re looking for something to binge at the end of the year, this might be the show.
The worst. Just, the worst: “You People”
For a movie with such a promising cast, from Eddie Murphy to Nia Long, David Duchovny and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and co-created and written by Kenya Barris and Jonah Hill, we should’ve been singing the praises of “You People.” Instead, the movie ended up being incredibly and harmfully superficial when it came to Jewish representation, and helped perpetuate stereotypes and disinformation. So, that was a bummer.
What to look forward to in 2024:
We don’t know much about the Jewish and Jew-ish slate of Netflix in 2024. We do know a new season of “Somebody Feed Phil” from our favorite Jewish dad, Phil Rosenthal, should be coming at some point. A show starring Kristen Bell and Adam Brody as a young rabbi is meant to be coming to the platform, as well, which I couldn’t be more excited for. No news yet about season two of “Jewish Matchmaking,” though.
Another show was supposed to be on the list: an Israeli series titled “Bros,” which was meant to exclusively air on Netflix this November — the first original Israeli Netflix production. The show was co-created by Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon, about two best friends and soccer fans whose friendship gets tested. Swell Ariel Or from “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” also stars in the show. But after the October 7 attack in Israel and the ensuing war, the show’s premier was delayed by a few months.
On October 7, Lior Waitzman, a sound engineer on “Bros,” who had also worked on shows like “Tehran” and “Fauda,” went on a morning bike ride from his home in the Southern city of Be’er Sheva. He was preparing to compete in Iron Man. He was killed at the intersection of Sha’ar HaNegev. He left behind a wife, Limor, and a son, Kfir. May his memory be a blessing.