The 50 Best Jewish Pop Culture Moments of 2018

What a year it was for pop culture and the Jews. I mean, we can probably say that every year. But truly, in 2018, Jewish celebrities permeated pop culture. The Band’s Visit – a musical set in Israel — swept the Tony Awards. Timothée Chamalet became the internet’s boyfriend. We found out Drake was a DAD. Jewish actress Rashida Jones had a (secret) baby with Jewish musician Ezra Koenig. There were outstanding seasons of Schitt’s Creek, Big MouthThe Marvelous Mrs. MaiselFauda, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, all which feature Jewish protagonists.

Like last year, we’re here to bring you the 50 best Jewish pop culture moments of the year. Things that qualified for this list include: a TV show, movie, musical, or song that deals with Jewish material or features a member of the tribe. We then narrowed it down to the best 50. It wasn’t easy, but we do it just for you.

This list is ordered, building up to our favorite moment (hint: It has to do with Yom Kippur and a song that will be stuck in our heads forever).

50. Barbra Streisand cloned her dog. In an interview with Variety, Streisand revealed that she had cells taken from her beloved dog Samantha so she could clone her, and that two of her current dogs were clones of Samantha. The internet went appropriately wild, and Babs ended up writing a New York Times op-ed defending her decision, ending with the iconic line, “You can clone the look of a dog, but you can’t clone the soul. Still, every time I look at their faces, I think of my Samantha…and smile.”

49. In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Peter Kavinsky stole our hearts. And no, neither the character nor the actor (Noah Centineo) are Jewish. But he should be!! Regardless, in our headcanon, Peter Kavinsky is a Jew and the perfect boyfriend.

Peter Kavinsky

48. For the film On the Basis of SexKesha wrote a song inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s great. Kesha explained why she took on the job: “It was amazing to see Ginsburg’s story of leading a campaign that successfully changed laws that discriminated against Americans purely on the basis of their sex, as the film title suggests.”

47. John Mayer made a music video that he said was made “with a company that usually does birthday and Bar Mitzvah videos.”

John Mayer

Honestly, it probably wasn’t made there (we investigated, it doesn’t seem to exist), but we did love how he embraced the bar mitzvah staple: the green screen.

46. Jewish actor Timothée Chalamet brought his mom to the Oscars, which was the absolute cutest.

Chalamet ended up losing the Best Actor award, but he won our hearts.

45. Marvel’s Jessica Jones depicted a shiva shockingly accurately. In season 2, episode 2, the non-Jewish show takes Jessica to a shiva. We were so surprised at how well it was done, from the Tupperwares of food to the minyan to the Hebrew condolences at the very start.

44. Natalie Portman said some stuff about Israel. She also starred in Annihilationa sci-fi film, and Vox Luxa pop opera horror film. But this is about Jewish pop culture here: Portman, born in Israel, received the Genesis Prize this year (think of it as the Nobel Prize, but for Jews), but refused to attend the ceremony. She clarified why: “Because I care about Israel I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.” We’re proud of her for showing you can have nuanced feelings about Israel.

43. Netflix’s hit prison drama, Orange is the New Black, got super Jewish in its latest season. There were bat mitzvah flashbacks and an entire storyline about a black Jewish woman. We love the representation!

42. The HAIM sisters dressed as the Sanderson sisters for Halloween. An iconic crossover: our favorite Jewish sisters dressed as our favorite witchy sisters (two of which are played by Jews: Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler):

41. Troye Sivan, the 23-year-old pop star who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Australia (but was born in South Africa), released his album Bloom. It’s so damn good. As Rolling Stone wrote, “Well beyond the already stellar dismissal of heteronormative storylines in pop love stories, Sivan finds a wealth of ways to bring about fresh reflections on age-old themes with undeniable charisma.”

While we’re on the subject of Troye Sivan, we must mention two related moments:

41a. This parody of the “Dance to This” music video (Troye’s song with Ariana Grande) by two children is a masterpiece (watch the original, then the parody, then the original again. You will be amazed):

41b. Two NJBs got engaged at a Troye Sivan concert in October. Troye joyously shouting “MAZEL TOV” at Radio City Music Hall to Judah and Daniel, the newly engaged couple, made our entire year.

40. Sarah Silverman received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and called out anti-Semitism while she was at it. “You know, in a scary time when anti-Semitic crime is up 57% since 2016, it’s not lost on me how lucky I am to be given a star and not have to sew it on my clothes,” Silverman said, referring to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. “I’m not sure if that’s gallows humor, or it’s funny cause it’s true humor.”

39. The Bachelor was *almost* a Jew. Jason Tartick, Becca Kufrin’s 3rd-place-finisher, was widely regarded as the front-runner for the position of the next Bachelor. And he is Jewish! Unfortunately, Colton Underwood will be the next Bachelor so we won’t get to watch a season with the franchise’s third-ever Jewish lead (though he did used to date Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman, so there’s that).

39a. There was one other Jewish Bachelor contestant this year: chicken-suit wearing David Ravitz. (There was not a single Jewish contestant on Arie’s season.) We interviewed David here at Alma, and he told us “my mom’s a Jewish matchmaker in a sense. Constantly talking with her friends, trying to set me up.” Same, David.

38. Speaking of reality television… Jewish drag queen Miz Cracker shined this season on RuPaul’s Drag Race. What made her stand out is that “she drew her strength to do drag from her experience of being an outsider as a Jewish person — she felt that if she could be proudly Jewish, she could be anything.”

37. Israeli actress Yael Grobglas also had a stand-out season of television, but not on reality TV. Grobglas plays Petra on Jane the Virgin, and during season 4, Grobglas’s Petra had a sexual awakening and grew in her relationship with Jane (Gina Rodriguez). Many fans hailed queer Petra, and applauded Grobglas’s portrayal of her. We are so here for it. 🙌

36. Natalie Portman returned to Saturday Night Live in early February and gave us “Natalie’s Rap 2. It was a follow-up to her iconic digital short “Natalie Raps” (2006). And oh my god, it was so good. (Plus, Andy Samberg’s bit was just ICONIC!!) Okay, before you go on, you have to watch it again. Promise?

35. Katrina Lenk was a genderbent Tevye for the “MisCast Gala,” where Broadway actors and actresses play roles that they would never be cast in. Katrina – who despite not being Jewish made multiple appearances on our best of 2017 list — singing “If I Were a Rich Man” while playing the fiddle and ending the song with “If I were a wealthy woman” is just so good. A true talent.

34. In a year of secret babies, Rashida Jones and Ezra Koenig‘s secret baby wins. (Is there a competition? NOW THERE IS!) We wrote a comprehensive timeline of their relationship, but let’s talk about the baby. Rashida and Ezra welcomed their son Isaiah in August. Mazel tov!

33. Okay not really Jewish, but were are here for the big nose representation in A Star is Born. Lady Gaga’s nose was a STAR. Gotta love a big schnoz!

32. Andy Cohen traveled to Israel for the first time. The Bravo host and TV personality was there to be the international ambassador for the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade. But that didn’t stop him from taking time to tour the country! (And he smartly turned off comments on his Instagram posts, because of the crazy comments celebs get when they visit Israel.)

31. Jonah Hill and Beanie Feldstein became sibling goals. As Beanie catapulted into stardom this year, Jonah has been a supportive big brother. He even went so far as to get a tattoo of her name. We wonder what their mom thinks…

30. In August, two movies that dealt with anti-Semitism debuted. We’re grouping them together even though they are very different, because we want to keep this list to 50 things:

30a. Operation Finale is about the capture of Nazi Adolf Eichmann. At Alma, we spoke with Nick Kroll about his role in the film, where he said, “Obviously, there’s a rise again in anti-Semitism — but also racism and xenophobia, right-leaning fascists, and totalitarian regimes around the world. There continue to be genocides and Holocausts to this day… it’s our responsibility not only to never forget, but to do our best to never let it be repeated, to Jews or to anyone around the world who is being discriminated against or terrorized for who they are.” Amen, Nick!

30b. BlacKkKlansman, based on the true story of a black cop who goes undercover in the Ku Klux Klan, features a nuanced understanding of anti-Semitism and how it lays at the heart of white supremacy. It should be required viewing, especially in the wake of Charlottesville and Pittsburgh.

29. While we’re on the subject of history and anti-Semitism and Eichmann, Rachel Bloom’s Drunk History episode about Eichmann is a must-watch. It’s honestly maybe our favorite-ever episode of Drunk History. Rachel ends the episode with, “Fuck the Nazis, man. I’m alive. I’m 97.4% Ashkenazi.” Fuck the Nazis, indeed.

28. There was a moment in time this year (sometime mid-April) when the internet believed that Brad Pitt was maybe dating an Israeli MIT professor named Dr. Neri Oxman. We’ve since learned he wasn’t, but we got to learn about Neri Oxman, and honestly, that was worth it.

27. Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy hidden in a list of midterm endorsements.Which, honestly, was a great and politically savvy way to do it: News outlets couldn’t write about the announcement without writing about the candidates Schumer endorsed.

26. Saturday Night Live‘s Jewish women parodies:

26a. A spot-on parody of a Haim music video (which was outrageously cut for time):

26b. Kate McKinnon’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg will have our heart forever. (Plus, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg rap is amazing.)

25. Meghan Amram, the Jewish comedian and Good Place writer, got nominated for an Emmy for her web series “An Emmy for Megan,” which was specifically written with the goal of getting nominated for an Emmy. She unfortunately didn’t win, but we’re so proud of her for even getting the nom.

24. Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s animated comedy about puberty, Big Mouth, returned for a second season. It was full of Jewish jokes and the realities of growing up as a Jewish teen in Westchester, New York. If you haven’t watched yet, what are you waiting for?

23. There’s a Jewish Disney princess now! Because Wreck-It Ralph lives in the Disney universe, Sarah Silverman believes the character she voices — Princess Vanellope — is the first Jewish Disney princess. We’ll take it!

22. In very important Jewish newsFran Drescher wants to reboot The Nanny. (Definitely not an official statement, and the chances of this happening are probably slim to none, but reboots *have* been super popular…)

21. Barbra Streisand shared a New York Magazine cover with Ethiopian Jewish activist Naomi Wadler. It’s an amazing photo.

20. In Cardi B’s music video for “Barier Cardi,” there are twin Jewish male models wearing Stars of David necklaces. We analyzed their every appearance, and thanks to Jewish geography (they were in ZBT at Indiana, if you were wondering), we actually found them.

Cardi B
19. Speaking of Jews in Cardi B music videos, this was also the year we got that Maroon 5 music video “Girls Like You,” which featured hella Jewish women.(Maroon 5 is led by Jewish frontman Adam Levine, obvi.) There was our queen Aly Raisman wearing a shirt that said “Always Speak Your Truth,” Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Tiffany Haddish, and Beanie Feldstein.

19b. Okay, also on the subject of Jewish ladies in music videos is Jewish rapper Drake’s “Nice for What” video which included Black Jewish ladies Rashida Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Tiffany Haddish. The song is also a jam:

18. The Band’s Visit swept the Tony Awards, winning 10 awards including “Best Musical.” It means a lot to Jews to see themselves portrayed on stage not suffering or dying, but just living. Band’s Visit star Sharone Saygeh told us, “It’s also been incredibly exciting for me to represent Israel and the Middle East — and also just represent Israel and the Middle East with such human characters and not stereotypes about the region.”

The Band's Visit

17. John Mulaney’s Jewish wife jokes were the highlight of his new stand-up special, Kid Gorgeous, and we are obsessed with Anna. Also, I know like 10 people with the below screencap as their cover photo on Facebook, which means it’s really broken through the pop culture landscape:

John Mulaney

16. Schitt’s Creek stole our hearts this season. Alexis found herself (she’s honestly the best Jewish character on TV right now) and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the “Simply the Best” clip when Patrick sings to David. (And David’s lip-sync.) Thank you, Dan Levy and Schitt’s Creek, for bringing joy and happiness in what was a terrible year.

15. And on the note of Jewish characters on television – albeit very different Jewish characters – Fauda season 2 was remarkable. As The New York Times wrote in its review of the season, Fauda creators “saw how certain circumstances in their world could be synthesized into entertaining, even gripping melodrama — the intimate web of shared history and culture; the normality of high emotion, hatred and nihilism; rigid notions of family and honor; the photogenic density of the weathered Palestinian cities in the West Bank, perfect for car and foot chases.”

13. Ariana Grande’s tribute to Mac Miller in “thank u, next” made everyone cry. Ariana’s self-love bop will be remembered long past 2018, but we particularly love her tribute to Mac Miller, the Jewish rapper who unfortunately passed away from a drug overdose in September. Wish I could say ‘thank you’ to Malcolm / ’cause he was an angel.

13. Drake is a Jewish dad! More secret babies!

12. Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the big screen:

12a. Even if you have reservations about Felicity Jones’s accent and ability to play RBG, On the Basis of Sex – the biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg that tells the tale of the first case about sex discrimination that she won — is really, really good. (Even though there were no scrunchies.) (Also it was written by her nephew, which we love.) (And Armie Hammer plays Marty, which RBG seems very pleased with.)

12b. The documentary RBG was so. damn. good. It featured her iconic dissents, her workouts, her love story with Marty, her nomination to the Supreme Court, and so much more.

12c. Not on the big screen, but the first official biography of RBG was also released this year: Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart. De Hart told Alma about the deep impact Judaism had on RBG’s life.

11. On Dax Shepard’s podcast, Mila Kunis shared how her family does Shabbat. It’s really neat to see such a high-profile celebrity be so open about the Jewish ritual, and we love her Shabbat ethos: “Friday night, we’re all going to get together, and we’re all just going to talk. And we’re gonna talk about the week.”

THE TOP 10: 

10. Everything Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Seriously. EVERYTHING. We adore Rachel Bloom, and how the show’s Jewish humor helps subvert Jewish stereotypes. The music is amazing. It’s all so good. And as it airs its fourth and final season, we are so appreciative that this show exists.

9. A Jewish mom, Jessica Mulroney, was at the center of the Royal Wedding. (Do you think I could write about pop culture in 2018 and not mention Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry!?!) Jessica Mulroney — maiden name Jessica Bronstein — played a critical role at the wedding. Her twin sons held Markle’s veil as she entered the chapel, and her daughter was a bridesmaid.

Jessica Mulroney

Jessica Mulroney is in blue, right behind Meghan:

Jessica Mulroney

Mulroney, widely regarded as one of Meghan’s BFFs, has also been key in Meghan’s royal style. Sidenote: it’s also kinda established that a Jewish designer, Misha Nonoo, was the matchmaker who set up Meghan and Harry. Love a Jewish matchmaker.

8. Karlie Kloss converted to Judaism and married Josh Kushner. Wow. We’re still not over this, tbh. (Please read our comprehensive timeline of their relationship.) Kloss, 26, and Kushner, 33, married after a 5-month engagement and a 6-year relationship. Mazel tov!

7. Israel won Eurovision!! This may not matter to Americans, but Eurovision is a very, very big deal across the pond. (Seriously! My Israeli colleague described it as like “watching the Super Bowl.”) The winning entry in the song competition was “Toy” by Israeli singer Netta Barzilai. This means in 2019 Eurovision will be hosted in Israel. Ahh!

6. It’s kind of ridiculous that this is in our top 10 Jewish pop culture moments of 2018, but it’s just so absurd that it has to be: Kylie Jenner made matzah ball soup and documented it all on her Instagram stories. It was a journey.

Kylie Jenner matzah ball soup
5. Disobedience, the Orthodox Jewish lesbian romance film starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, premiered this year. Based on Naomi Alderman’s novel of the same name, it got a lot right (and a few things wrong) about Orthodox Jewish communities, but we truly loved it for its portrayal of queer Orthodox Jews. And Rachel Weisz! We adore Rachel Weisz!!! (She was also amazing in The Favourite!)

4. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 2. It’s arguably the most Jewish show on television, and season 2 did not disappoint. (Although, disappointingly, Zachary Levi — who plays a very handsome Jewish doctor — is not a Jew.) There were major Jewish moments: from a plot line about the little-known Jewish holiday Tisha B’av, to an episode centered on Yom Kippur, to a joke about the Mi Sheberach prayer. It was all very Jewish.

3. Did you think Ruth Bader Ginsburg wouldn’t be in our top 5? Then you thought wrong!! Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a letter to a rabbi that she plans to wear a Hanukkah scrunchie year-round. Her love for scrunchies is honestly so important.

2. The 2018 Met Gala was themed “Catholicism.” What the heck were Jewish celebs supposed to wear? (We had some suggestions.) (We would also love a Jewish-themed Met Gala, but the Susan Sontag theme of 2019’s Met Gala is very exciting.) After the fact, we addressed how Jewish celebrities and designers interpreted the Catholic Met Gala, but we have to focus on just one: Lynda Carter.

Not only did Lynda Carter wear the most Jewish headpiece, she carried a bag made by the one and only Judith Lieber (a Holocaust survivor) as well as a dress by Jewish designer Zac Posen. Carter isn’t Jewish — but she’s married to a Jew, and her kids are Jewish.

As I wrote in Kveller, “Carter made a major statement wearing a crown that had the Hebrew words לעולם אל תשכחי embossed on the front. In English, the Hebrew leolam al tishcechi means ‘Never Forget’ in the future-female tense. And in the back of her hair was a Star of David barrette.” Lynda Carter has some serious chutzpah.

1. The top slot? Ben Platt’s Yom Kippur song, a 10-second jingle with actress Molly Gordon about the holiest day of the Jewish year. (Their Hanukkah song just isn’t as good, sorry Ben!!) The Yom Kippur ditty is so catchy, so unique, and honestly, it’s been stuck in our head since he posted it.

Happy 2018.

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