Warning: Spoilers ahead for Orange Is The New Black season seven.
If you thought last season of Orange Is The New Black was super Jewy, then brace yourself for the most recent and final season. And to those of you who experienced OTINB fatigue and stopped watching after season four, all I have to say is: your loss. You’re missing out on some incredible character development and plot lines. But if you just want the Jewish scoop, you’re in luck! I came here to share all the delicious Jewy nuggets the Litchfield inmates have to offer.
First, some Jewishly themed content, whether they meant for it or not. In season 7, Joe Caputo (played by Nick Sandow), the former Warden of Litchfield Penitentiary, returns to prison to lead a “Restorative Justice” class for the inmates. Caputo asks the women to write a letter to someone they’ve hurt and make amends with them. Basically, the inmates learn how to own up to their grave mistakes and to forgive themselves and each other. Do you see where this is going? With the High Holidays quickly approaching, the similarity between the Restorative Justice class and Yom Kippur is striking. The inmates may not perform tashlikh, the Jewish atonement ritual where you symbolically cast away your sins by throwing breadcrumbs into a river, but the shared sentiment of making amends and atoning for one’s harmful actions by confronting them is most definitely Jewy.
Oh, did you want some more explicitly Jewish content? Here we go.
Let’s start with one of my favorite characters: Cindy Hayes. You might remember Cindy (played by Adrienne C. Moore) best for converting to Judaism in season three, and while it first seemed like a ploy just to get better tasting kosher meals in prison, her character development proves she takes Judaism very seriously.
Cindy has a lot to atone for: She helped frame her best friend Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson for murder to save herself from more jail time, and she scorned her mother and daughter more than once. And oh, not to mention the fact that her daughter Monica is still under the impression that Cindy is her sister, not her biological mother. Welp. Much as she tries, Cindy can’t make amends with Taystee (would you forgive your best friend for landing you in prison for life? I didn’t think so), but before getting out of prison, she apologizes to her mom Lillian, successfully securing a place to stay post-Litchfield.
To prove to her mom and sister/daughter that she’s on the path to a crime-free, stable life, Cindy applies for a job at a Jewish elderly care center. Despite pulling out all the stops — a glowing recommendation from Rabbi Teitelbaum and donning a Star of David necklace — Ms. Wernick, Cindy’s interviewer, is hesitant to hire an ex-felon. When Cindy is told she’s not “suited” to work at an elderly care center with residents who are physically and cognitively impaired, Cindy says, “Sounds like my old cell block!”
Cindy ultimately gets the job, and she did it through the most Jewish value: humor. You can’t change people, Cindy tells Ms. Wernick, but you can change your attitude towards them. “And more importantly, you gotta have a sense of humor,” she says. “And funny is like duct tape… it fixes everything!”
“I suppose we can give it a shot,” Ms. Wernick says to Cindy. “But you should know half of these altacockers will think you’re stealing from them anyways.”
“Oh please, I’ve been black my whole life,” Cindy replies. “I get it.”
Yiddish references and unfortunate truths about racism for the win.
And then of course there is Litchfield’s own Jewish American princess Nicky Nichols, played by the illustrious Natasha Lyonne now of Russian Doll fame. I’m pleased to report that Nicky experiences major character development in the last season, doing a total 180 from constantly making a mess of her life to becoming the ultimate Jewish prison mom.
It all starts when her prison family begins to fall apart. Galina “Red” Reznikov, her former prison mom, is diagnosed with dementia, Lorna Morello (played by Australian Jewish actor Yael Stone) has a psychotic break and can’t come to terms with accepting the loss of her baby, and Alex Vause is getting transferred to Ohio.
Still dealing with her own shit, Nicky finds the strength to pull up her bootstraps and assume the role of the parental figure she once relied on so heavily. Morello’s husband visits Nicky at Litchfield to tell her that he’s having his soon to be ex-wife transferred to Florida to a facility better suited for her mental health needs. Upon learning that Morello’s baby actually died from pneumonia, Nicky does her best to soothe her friend’s pain, but soon realizes the task is too much for her to handle. As she learned from her OG prison mom, accepting that something is out of your bounds is a sign of strength, not weakness.
In the end, Red’s fire burns out, but her spirit is revived in Nicky when we see her, red lips and all, take over the prison kitchen as head chef. L’dor vador, you know?
While there’s still some pain sprinkled into her story line, I’m glad the OITNB writers gave Nicky a happy ending. Having grown up with problematic actual parents, it’s wonderful to see Nicky assume the role of Jewish mom so well, even if it’s in prison.
It’s rare to find a series finale that does a show justice, but I think OITNB did it pretty fucking well. And they did it Jewishly to boot.