From their intense and often ridiculous medical scenarios to the messy relationships that take place in and out of the operating room, medical dramas attract audiences through the feelings that run high between the characters. One of my favorite TV shows to highlight that kind of passion is a Canadian medical drama that ran from 2013 to 2017, “Saving Hope.”
Though not as well-known as other medical dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chicago Med” and “New Amsterdam,” “Saving Hope” drew me in by depicting something I had never seen in other medical dramas: a queer romance starring an Orthodox Jewish lesbian, playing out between Dr. Maggie Lin (Julia Chan) and Dr. Sydney Katz (Stacey Farber, who is Jewish in real life).
When we are first introduced to Dr. Lin and Dr. Katz, we see two medical professionals getting off to an awkward start. Dr. Lin is late meeting Katz for the first time, mistaking her for someone else; Dr. Katz, who is frustrated with a piece of medical equipment, is short with her, the tension between them already rising. My ears perked up when Dr. Katz asks Dr, Lin, “Are you Jewish?” Lin’s characters asks why, and she responds, “Because you answered a question with a question.” I immediately laughed at hearing one of the most Jewish things I have ever heard said on a TV show.
I immediately connected to Dr. Katz’s character, a woman of science and of faith with a no-nonsense attitude and a heart for obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Katz is firm in her Jewish practice, “keeping a kosher home” and “leaving early on Fridays.” At one point, she asks a colleague, “do you have a problem with any of that?” in regards to her beliefs — she’s unapologetic, challenging any potential backlash to her identity off the bat. Yet she is also sensitive, as seen in the moments when she advocates for her patients and when she suggests a tender mourning ritual to Dr. Lin upon learning about her past miscarriage.
As a Jewish person, at times I’ve felt awkward negotiating my religion within a work setting — asking for time off for Yom Kippur, for example — and I felt deeply affirmed by how unapologetic Dr. Katz is in her faith. She never compromises the way she practices Judaism while continuing to be a kick-ass doctor.
And as a queer person, I felt touched by the romance between Katz and Dr. Lin, as well as by the journey Katz took to accepting herself in her entirety.
At the beginning of the two women’s romantic arc, there is immediate chemistry. Mutual respect intertwines with playful banter in their interactions together, as evidenced by lines like Dr. Lin’s “You’re a hardass. I’m into that.” Yet even after their attraction is confirmed by a passionate kiss, we see Dr. Katz hesitate to start a relationship with Dr. Lin. As an Orthodox Jewish woman, she had already outlined a different path: marrying an Orthodox Jewish man and living a “traditional” life. She is terrified of the consequences she would face were she to come out as a lesbian, having seen the first-hand devastation of rejection when another queer girl from her community, Nashama, was tossed away from her family — her family even sat “shiva” for her as though, in their eyes, she were dead.
In Dr. Katz’s fear, I see an echo of my past self. While I did not come from an Orthodox background, I also grew up in a community that did not affirm queerness. I recognize the pattern of “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” in Dr. Katz’s moments of distancing herself from the woman she loves; I did the same as a teenager first starting to realize I wasn’t straight. Like her, I couldn’t even imagine a life that went beyond heteronormative expectations.
While there are many individuals who are openly and happily Jewish and queer, it would be a disservice to say there is never any tension between navigating these identities. How many queer Jews have felt betrayed by members of their religious community who told them that queerness was antithetical to Judaism? As Mo Goldberger wrote for Hey Alma,” “Many Orthodox people seem to believe that queer people want to rebel against religion, that the act of coming out is this great ‘screw you’ and goodbye to their communities. Most of the time, it’s not. We, as queer people, are usually saying, ‘I want to stay but I don’t know how.’ We want help and guidance, not judgment and shunning. We don’t want to leave the community; we do it because we repeatedly get pushed away. We get tired of fighting for our right to exist in our own religion. Eventually, we give up.”
Yet Dr. Katz does not give up.
Though she receives some negative reactions from her family and her community, Dr. Katz continues to be proudly Jewish as she embraces her queer self. In her courtship with Dr. Lin, she touches on her heritage in a letter that opens with “Shalom Maggie” and later references Ruth and Naomi from the Book of Ruth (a relationship that many consider to have queer undertones).
“Urge me not to leave you. Wherever you go I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Where you die, I will die. And there I will be buried.”
To which Dr. Lin replies, with a smile in her eyes, “You had me at Shalom,” before leaning in to kiss the love of her life.
While other medical dramas have featured queer and Jewish characters — the “sometimes” Jewish Cristina Yang (who is only Jewish when the drama deems it a convenient plot point, played by Sandra Oh), the bisexual icon that is Callie Torres (played by bisexual non-binary actor Sara Ramírez), or the Jewish gay doctor Levi Schmitt (played by openly gay, non-Jewish actor Jake Borelli) — very few have featured the intersectionality with as much nuance as “Saving Hope.” We see Dr. Katz’s life, her fears, her desires and her hopes informed by her Jewish identity, not as a source of blame or shame, but simply as the way of life she grew up with and chooses.
As an article on the Paley Matters website states, “Canada’s medical/supernatural drama ‘Saving Hope’ introduced Orthodox Jewish lesbian Dr. Sydney Katz in its third season, exploring both her sexuality and faith. While sometimes Sydney’s references to her Jewishness can seem incessant, that strong hold on her identity distinguishes her from the culture of Christian-normative secularity that prevails so heavily on North American television. Plus, she’s a lesbian who got a happy ending.”
And maybe that’s the best appeal for anyone to watch this show: to see a Jewish lesbian get her happy ending.
Late Take is a series on Hey Alma where we revisit Jewish pop culture of the past for no reason, other than the fact that we can’t stop thinking about it?? If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail email@example.com with “Late Take” in the subject line.