“Impeachment: American Crime Story” has allowed Monica Lewinsky to provide television audiences with a whole, unadulterated account of her experience in the wake of the infamous 1998 presidential scandal. The ongoing FX series, produced by Lewinsky herself (as well as by co-stars Beanie Feldstein and Sarah Paulson), chronicles the entirety of the scandal — from the inciting affair itself, to her confidence in Linda Tripp, to the slow burn of subpoenas, affidavits and, eventually, confessions. With just one episode remaining, the question of how Lewinsky will choose to end the series has me on the edge of my seat.
There’s a lot to love about the series, from the brilliant lead actresses and delightful guest star appearances (Billy Eichner as Matt Drudge, anyone?) to the careful suspense drawn throughout each episode, but as a Jewish viewer, I’ve also been particularly interested in how, if at all, Monica Lewinsky’s Jewishness would play a role in the show.
I remember my heart skipping a beat when, right before their first on-screen kiss, President Clinton asks, “What kind of name is Lewinsky, anyway?” to which Lewinsky responds “Jewish.” I thought that perhaps this quick exchange was an indicator of future episodes, and of a retelling of this historic event that made space for explicit mentions of Lewinsky’s Jewish identity.
At first, I was disappointed to be wrong. Aside from a few brief, offhanded mentions of holidays or logistical details, there have been very few references to Judaism — both in general, and as it pertains to Lewinsky’s story — in the series. I initially felt that this absence of explicit Judaism was a loss in the show. However, as the series has progressed, I’ve begun to realize that Lewinsky’s self-portrayal, and, specifically, her recovery, is an unmistakably Jewish one.
It is entirely significant that Lewinsky chose a Jewish actress, Beanie Feldstein, to represent her in the show. There is a virtually infinite number of actresses who could have emulated Lewinsky’s likeness and mannerisms, but the fact that Lewinsky cast Feldstein — a fellow Jewish girl from Los Angeles who, since the beginning of her public life, has been unapologetic about and proud of her Jewish identity — suggests that Lewinsky intended to represent her own Jewishness in the show, even if not always in explicit terms.
This is not to say that Feldstein was only cast because she was Jewish — though previously only seen in more comedic roles, “Impeachment” has proved that Feldstein has the dramatic acting chops to be a bona fide star. But it’s also powerful that Feldstein serves as one of the show’s executive producers. After Lewinsky’s story has been mishandled, appropriated, satirized and invalidated over the past 20 years, I can only imagine that Lewinsky took extreme consideration when enlisting co-producers for her self-directed series. Not only does it seem that Lewinsky wanted a Jewish face to represent her, but she wanted a Jewish voice and perspective behind the scenes, too.
As the series has progressed, I have also noticed that its recurring themes have a great deal of overlap with Jewish cultural values. From as soon as Lewinsky’s character receives her subpoena, her anxiety is remarkably counterbalanced with courage. As much as neuroticism has taken the form of an ugly and pervasive stereotype of the Jewish community, so has the idea that Jewish people are motivated — both historically and culturally — to trudge forward in the face of adversity. Similarly, although his presence proved detrimental to Lewinsky’s fight for immunity, Lewinsky family friend Bill Ginsburg’s offer to take Lewinsky on as a client (as well as his constant interjections of “honey” and “sweetie,” which could be read as patronizing but I seem them more as familial) are also emblematic of the unconditional support that members of the Jewish community provide for one another.
Today, Lewinsky’s recovery, as well as her advocacy work, fits the bill of a quintessential Jewish story. Her story is one of resilience, perseverance and bravery, and while “Impeachment” might not explicitly say it, the values of and voices in the show are distinctly Jewish.
Now, it is simply a matter of how the show will end. As I see it, “Impeachment” has two avenues it can pursue: It can emphasize the long-term consequences of Lewinsky’s slander and mistreatment, or it can allude to how she has taken ownership of her narrative and continues to fight against the stigmatization of and misinformation about her story. I eagerly await the show’s finale, titled “The Wilderness,” and hope that, despite the traumatic nature of this account, that the series will end in some form of triumph — or, at the very least, with an inkling of hope. It is a Jewish story, after all.