Shoshanna Shapiro Is the Unsung Jewish Hero of ‘Girls’

As a fellow not-so-religious Jew living in New York City, I get Shosh — and she will always be my Jewish queen.

Twelve years ago, we met Shoshanna Shapiro for the first time. In the opening episode of “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s critically-acclaimed television show about friendship and finding oneself in your twenties, a chipper young woman emerges from behind a red door in a pink Juicy tracksuit and says, “Bonjour, roomie.” And then: “You’re so hip I could puke.” She’s talking to her cousin Jessa Johansson, who seems to tolerate her in exchange for a place to crash. And that’s how Shosh — the Jewish hero of “Girls” — entered our lives. She may not have been the lead of the show, but she was the lead of our hearts.

Shoshanna, played by Zosia Mamet, starts the show as a business student at NYU. She is brought into the core friend group — comprised of Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and her cousin Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke), all girls who are slightly older than she is — by Jessa. Shoshanna worships her cousin, calling her “painfully pretty” and “so fucking classy,” which is why she wants to join the friend group in the first place and which establishes an uneven social dynamic between Shoshanna and the rest of the gang from the very beginning. Even a day where the girls sit in a waiting room while Jessa is supposed to get an abortion is a fun time for Shoshanna. She was probably the best character of the group and it is time that we fully recognize our Jewish hero.

While Shoshanna does not flat-out say that she is Jewish, little details make it clear. Her name is Shoshanna Shapiro, which is very Jewish. Zosia Mamet is Jewish herself. And then there are the romantic clues: In the first season, Shosh has a run in with an old crush from Camp Ramah (a popular Jewish summer camp), Matt Kornstein (played by Skylar Astin, a fellow Jew). He stops her on the street and flirts with her by saying she led “the most intense kitchen raid that he had ever seen in his time as a junior counselor.” It apparently took weeks to plan. Naturally, Shoshanna is immediately flustered. While a relationship between the two doesn’t happen because Matt doesn’t want to be with a virgin, Shoshanna represents all of us who wish for a chance to pursue our summer camp crushes as adults.

Her potential Jewish love interest does not end there. In another episode, Shoshanna talks to Jessa about a guy she connected with on a dating website. She is listing off all of his great qualities and dramatically says: “And! He’s Jewish!”

Then, there is Shoshanna’s relationship with everyone’s favorite 30-something curmudgeon, Ray Ploshansky. While it was emphasized multiple times in the series that Ray is not Jewish, he feels very Jewish-coded. For starters, he is played by Jewish actor Alex Karpovsky. His neurotic energy and cynicism also plays into the trope of the neurotic Jew (very Larry David-esque). It’s almost like the multiple emphases of Ray not being Jewish is an acknowledgement that Ray’s character feels very Jewish to the viewers. Even though Ray and Shoshanna are not a romantic couple for long, their friendship remains strong throughout the series.

Shoshanna’s Judaism shows up in other ways on the show, relying on some positive and some negative stereotypes. She lives in New York City, she has IBS and she is presented as the brainy and studious one. Shoshanna also has some traits that make her reminiscent of the Jewish American Princess archetype, at least early on in the show. She chooses to live in a more expensive off campus apartment to have the ultimate “bachelorette pad,” and when she is in Japan her coworkers comment on her spoiled attitude.

So why is Shoshanna the best character of the show? First of all, she’s hilarious. Her wide-eyed outlook on the world and her fast-talking habit leads to some terrific lines. “Why would you want cold metal prongs stabbing you on the tongue when you can have your food delivered into your mouth on like, a cool soft pillowy cloud?” That was her response to Adam saying his favorite utensil is a fork. Also, the episode in the first season where Shoshanna accidentally smokes a crack pipe has some top-tier comedy. Her running through Bushwick and her subsequent encounter with Ray is priceless. She’s funny seemingly without trying.

Shoshanna is also the best because you can not help but root for her as she grows. The other characters of “Girls” can be a lot more narcissistic and self-destructive, but Shoshanna is a genuinely caring person who shoots for the stars and she gets a satisfying character arc that shows growth and maturity, while still retaining her humor and personality.

The other women of “Girls” don’t seem to appreciate Shosh as much as they should. As Shoshanna phrases it in the iconic Beach House episode of season three, they treat her like she is a “fucking cabdriver.” Personally, I think anyone would be lucky to have Shoshanna as a friend, and the other three women should have realized that a lot earlier.

Luckily, Shoshanna has a happy ending at the end of the show. Spoilers! She gets engaged and realizes that this friend group has been holding her back and she cannot deal with that anymore. I aspire to have that confidence. When the show ends, Shosh has her whole Jewish life waiting to unfurl ahead of her. As a fellow not-so-religious Jew living in New York City, I get Shosh — and she will always be my Jewish queen and one of my favorite television characters.

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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  with “Late Take” in the subject line.

Rachel Rosenfield

Rachel Rosenfield (she/her) is currently a student at Brandeis University and is one of the 2023-2024 Hey Alma College Writing Fellows. She has been a writer for numerous publications, including Bookstr, Trill Mag, Glitter Magazine, Young Hollywood, and more. When she is not writing, she is watching movies, going shopping, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with friends.

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