Judaism Gets a Surprising Shoutout in the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Netflix Docuseries

In "America's Sweethearts," DCC director Kelli McGonagill Finglass shares a sweet glimpse into her interfaith household.

There are few thing that feel less Jewish than the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. The DCC — or America’s sweethearts, as they’re known — are a group of 30-40 tall, supremely thin, deeply tanned and mostly blonde dancers. The football team they cheer for make their home in the heart of conservative, Christian Texas. That’s not to say that cheerleaders or tanned, blonde women or football players can’t be Jewish or that Jews don’t live in Texas. There is no one Jewish look, occupation or place that Jews live.

But the point still stands. There don’t seem to be any current Jewish DCC. (Though queer, Jewish and Australian former DCC Jinelle Esther is absolutely worth checking out.) And in Netflix’s new docuseries “America’s Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,” a series which follows the cheerleaders from audition to training camp to making the team, Christianity takes a prominent role.

In the beginning of episode four, titled “God Loves Dallas,” a group of DCC veterans attend a service at a Texan megachurch. As the pastor preaches about having a vision and purpose for your life (presumably through Jesus), the audio cuts over DCC director Kelli McGonagill Finglass — who herself is Christian — watching training camp candidates cheer on the field. In episode six, DCC team leader Claire facilitates a locker room prayer circle, telling other cheerleaders about the importance of forgiveness as a Christian.

So the fact that Judaism is included in “America’s Sweethearts” is some serious whiplash.

In episode five, viewers get a rare look at Kelli at home. The usually made-up-to-a-tee director, who was a DCC herself in the ’80s, has her hair in curlers and dons leggings. The first Cowboys game of the season is looming and she needs to look over the cheer practice schedule. But first, she sits out in her serenity garden to feel close to God. Giving the audience a tour, she points out a statuette of a sleeping dog.

“This is where my Sugar’s laid to rest,” Kelli says of her late dog. “She’s here and I’ve got 18 flowers around her because my husband’s Jewish, and 18 means life in Hebrew.”

Not only does Judaism get a shout-out but the information is correct and also wholesome?! Baruch Hashem!

ICYMI, the Hebrew word “chai,” spelled with the letters chet and yud (חי), means “life” in English. Per My Jewish Learning, “Chai also refers to the number 18. That’s because each Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent, and the sum of chet (numerical value of 8) and yud (numerical value of 10) is 18. As a result of its connection to the word for life, the number 18 is considered a special number in Jewish tradition.”

The moment is a brief one, and yet it offers a sweet glimpse into the interfaith household Kelli shares with her husband Joel and their kids, Ryan and Samantha. Social media provides slightly more context, with Kelli sharing the family’s 2022 Easter-Passover celebration and Ryan wearing a chai necklace in multiple Instagram posts.

It’s refreshing to see the world of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders become intentionally more inclusive across the board in “America’s Sweethearts.” The CMT reality show “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team,” a forerunner of the new docuseries, always felt particularly white, Christian and fatphobic. By contrast, “America’s Sweethearts” spotlights Kelli’s interfaith Jewish home and a Desi rookie candidate named Anisha, and features Kelli telling the women that they need to properly fuel their bodies.

Of course, “America’s Sweethearts” isn’t the end-all-be-all representation of any marginalized identity. Nor is the Dallas Cowboys organizations’ treatment of their cheerleaders above reproach. (Feel free to google how much DCC cheerleaders make and seethe.) But in a show that is perhaps the pinnacle of Americana, seeing Judaism simply exist in that context is an unexpected bonus.

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

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