From television scenes highlighting Jewish rituals to celebrities visiting the Western Wall to Jewish athletes making big moves, 2019 was a very fun year for Jewish pop culture. We saw Jewish representation in new and amazing ways (a Latina Jewish Disney princess!), and Jewish heroines captured our hearts on the small screen (Rachel Bloom, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Natasha Lyonne…) and the big screen (Beanie Feldstein, duh).
May we present Alma’s third annual best Jewish pop culture moments of 2019…
50. Sarah Jessica Parker visited the Western Wall in June 2019. SJP, a Jewish mom and lover of mah jongg, took a trip to the Holy Land with her family. She wrote on Instagram, “It was a privilege and a lifetime of memories.”
49. The Dancing With the Stars champion is Jewish! Not the star Hannah Brown, who was the Bachelorette this year, but her dance partner, Alan Bersten. It was Bersten’s first ever DWTS win.
48. Speaking of firsts… football player Julian Edelman became the first Jewish super bowl MVP. Edelman, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, is one of the few Jewish football players in the league. Our pals at JTA asked: Is Julian Edelman the best Jewish football player ever? The answer? He’s in the top five!
47. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kate McKinnon met for the first time… at a production of Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof. No, we’re not joking. And yes, RBG has seen McKinnon’s impression of her, and wants to say “Gins-burn” to her colleagues (!!!).
46. One of the funniest (and most heartwarming!) shows on television, Schitt’s Creek, completely dominated Halloween costumes this year. We rounded up some of our favorites. (The babies as Moira and David truly won.)
45. This Jonah Hill meme just really made us laugh. (Memes are moments because we say so!!):
44. And, speaking of memes, Ashley Glicken coined “Hot Girl Rosh Hashanah” and changed our lives:
Gearing up for Hot Girl Rosh Hashanah
— Ashley Glicken (@Exce11entFancy) September 15, 2019
(We turned it into a gif sticker, naturally.)
43. Activist Naomi Wadler, known for her speech at the March for Our Lives in D.C., became a bat mitzvah. Mazel tov, Naomi! Mari Copeny — known as Little Miss Flint, due to her activism regarding the Flint water crisis — attended, and posted on Instagram:
42. Ilana Glazer met Dr. Ruth. We can’t even deal:
41. The best Chris (maybe) (definitely not the worst Chris) starred in a mediocre movie about a fascinating true story, but he did wear a Star of David necklace. (It won an Alma award.) Evans also tweeted about Hannah Arendt, which we feel compelled to point out.
39. Jewish designer Misha Nonoo collaborated with her royal pal, Meghan Markle on a capsule collection to help women feel empowered in their clothes. (More details here!) (Jared Kushner and Meghan Markle both attended Nonoo’s wedding, fun fact.)
38. Jewish actress Billie Lourd said she peaked during her bat mitzvah season. Didn’t we all, Billie!
37. This year’s Met Gala theme was super Jewish, as it was based on Jewish intellectual Susan Sontag’s writings. (See our favorite looks here.) One Jewy highlight? Diane von Furstenberg, who honored her Holocaust survivor mother.
— DVF – Diane von Furstenberg (@DVF) May 7, 2019
36. The internet was abuzz learning about “Hot Mayor,” AKA Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. The best part? He’s Jewish.
We sort of work in Jewish news so we just want to make sure our followers know he's Jewish. For news reasons. https://t.co/QdSItUmt91
— Alma (@hey_alma) October 11, 2019
34. Jewish director Rachel Chavkin won a Tony for Best Director of a Musical for her work on Hadestown! In her acceptance speech, Chavkin — the only woman to direct a musical on Broadway this season — called for greater diversity in theater. “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of color who are ready to go. And we need to see that racial diversity and gender diversity reflected in our critical establishment, too. This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be. So let’s do it.”
33. Jewish designer Susan Alexandra (read our interview with her!) made her NY Fashion Week Show a bat mitzvah. It looked like a dream:
30. The entire internet joined together to make fun of Adam Levine at the Super Bowl halftime performance. It was joyous.
The Jewish people no longer claim Adam Levine
— Jake Woolf (@jakewoolf) February 4, 2019
29. Jewish musician King Princess released her debut album, Cheap Queen. A JAM.
28. Actor/artist/activist/our hero Chella Man made his debut as Jericho, a mute crime fighter, in Titans.
27. Our favorite animated show about Jewish teens going through puberty, Big Mouth, returned for a third season. Somehow, the third season was even more Jewish than the previous two, largely thanks to an episode revolving around Passover in a Florida retirement community.
26. Rachel Weisz dominated awards season. No words. We love you, Rachel! Most of our awards show live-tweets revolved around Rachel (no regrets):
Yes, hi, we're here live-tweeting the #GoldenGlobes tonight. AKA we are turning into a Rachel Weisz fan account for the night!!! Sorry not sorry!!!
— Alma (@hey_alma) January 7, 2019
oh look it's Rachel Weisz's husband!! #Oscars
— Alma (@hey_alma) February 25, 2019
You get the idea. #TEAMRACHELWEISZ!
25. The Spy premiered on Netflix, starring Sacha Baron Cohen. As Linda Maleh wrote in Alma, it was the first time she saw her Sephardi culture on screen, saying, “The show had not only lived up to the extremely high expectations I put on it, but exceeded them. For the first time, as a Sephardi Jew, I felt seen by the world.”
24. A very special duet between Ariana Grande and Barbra Streisand occurred in Chicago in August. (Watch it here.) More important: Afterwards, Babs tweeted a photo of flowers Ari sent her and wrote, “.@arianagrande I can’t get over this beautiful arrangement and love your sweet note. Yes, let’s make a date for manicures! I have one at my house every Thursday. Dayenu!” Dayenu! (Confirming our theory on the rise of “Dayenu” on the internet.)
Many google searches landed people on Alma that night:
— Alma (@hey_alma) September 5, 2019
21. Billy Eichner had a lot of exciting things this year. First, a guest appearance on The Bachelor, memorably telling Colton that he may be the first gay Bachelor. (Throwback to when Aly Raisman and Colton dated, lol.) Second, Billy on the Street is now on Netflix!! LET’S GO LESBIANS, LET’S GO! And most important…
20. Billy and Seth Rogen stole the show during The Lion King. As the voices of Timon and Pumbaa, Billy and Seth somehow outshined Beyoncé!? (Billy called them, “Destiny’s Jewish cousins,” the only way we’ll refer to them from here on out.)
19. Brooklyn Nine-Nine had an episode that revolved around a bar mitzvah, and we’ve never seen a more accurate representation of a bar mitzvah DJ. As we wrote in the Almas, from the “Hava Nagila” to the fact that “no one likes hip-hop more than a 13-year-old Jewish boy” to the light-up JUSTIN decorating the room… it was perfect. Yasher koach, B99.
18b. Adam Sandler starred in Uncut Gems. Gabe Friedman at JTA called the movie his Oscar moment, writing, “Sandler is uncannily good. He deploys a subtle but idiosyncratic ethnic New York accent. He oozes an eagerness to please his many clients and the many people he owes money to. He explodes with frustration when conflict caves in on him. Sandler not only keeps up with the film’s frenetic, disorienting pace — he pushes it forward.”
18a. But more important in Uncut Gems? Idina Menzel stole the spotlight, particularly during a scene at a Passover seder (obviously) where she tries on her old bat mitzvah dress. One word: ICONIC.
17. Blair Braverman competed in (and finished!) her first Iditarod race. Mazel tov, Blair! (She also won our best Jewish tweeter award, an equally impressive accomplishment, right?!) Read our interview with Blair here, she’s amazing.
16. Jewish actress Alex Borstein gave an incredible Emmy acceptance speech, where she called out her Holocaust survivor grandmother. Borstein, who won best supporting actress in a comedy series (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) at the 2019 Emmys, said, “My grandmother turned to a guard… She was in line to be shot into a pit. And she said, ‘What happens if I step out of line?’ And he said, ‘I don’t have the heart to shoot you, but somebody will,’ and she stepped out of line. For that, I am here, and my children are here. So step out of line, ladies. Step out of line!”
Borstein explained to Kveller that she wanted to talk about her grandmother because “we’re in a time now of white supremacists and Holocaust deniers on the rise. The more people associate that history with a face that they know is good.”
15. Yemenite Israeli sister band A-WA performed on Tiny Desk!
We’re obsessed with them, if you haven’t heard.
14. Basketball star Sue Bird (who holds dual American and Israeli citizenship) is dating soccer star Megan Rapinoe. They are, quite literally, goals. But the moment that endeared us to them? When Bird penned a note defending Rapinoe’s comments about not going to the White House. Go read it: “So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend.”
13. Jenny Mollen became a bat mitzvah at the Western Wall. The actress, who is married to Jason Biggs (who is, shockingly, not Jewish), shared a series of Instagrams from her bat mitzvah — all with the hashtag #jennysbatmitzvah, obviously! Mazel tov, Jenny!
11. In episode 6 of the third season of GLOW, Melrose (played by Jackie Tohn) leads the women in a makeshift seder in the Nevadan desert. It turns into a conversation about inherited trauma, and Tohn discusses her real-life great aunt who was murdered in the Holocaust.
As Tohn told Alma, “It’s so rare for an actor — a Jewish actor — to get to honor and memorialize her family in that way. I mean, it’s unheard of. And, to get to do that in a time where history is repeating itself, a little bit, on our soil is powerful and shocking and terrifying all at the same time. It’s a heavy thing that I got to talk about my family’s history and inherited trauma from the Holocaust on television. It’s making me tear up right now. It’s an honor.”
10. Andy Cohen became a dad! He welcomed son Benjamin in February. (TBH, his baby shower maybe even deserves its own moment on this list.) Since, we’ve been #blessed (genuinely) with photos of Benjamin:
7. Beanie Feldstein had her breakout role in Booksmart. As we’ve written, 2019 was Beanie Feldstein’s year. In Booksmart, she plays Molly, a straight A student who decides to party the night before graduation. “There can never be too many female friendship stories, as far as I’m concerned. I hope there are thousands,” Beanie said of working on Booksmart.
Beanie also won our Jewess of the Year reader’s choice award. We should really turn Alma into a Beanie Feldstein fansite. One day…
6. Jenny Slate’s special, Stage Fright, premiered. It was an intimate and extremely Jewish portrait of the comedian, and we loved it so, so much. She called it her “late-in-life bat mitzvah,” talked to her grandmas, had a super funny bit about looking like Anne Frank, and discussed Hanukkah versus Christmas.
5. Vampire Weekend released two very Jewish music videos: “This Life,” set at a seder, and “Sunflower,” set at Jewish delis. We couldn’t pick just one to include, they’re both so good, so we’re including both here:
While we’re talking Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, we are so grateful for the show for giving us the gift of Rebecca Bunch, a nuanced Jewish heroine. As we wrote after the show ended, “It’s the story of a Jewish woman finding herself. The show has given us a remarkable way to see ourselves in ways that aren’t a stereotype, exaggeration, or deeply unrealistic. It’s allowed us to sing along and celebrate who we are.” (Plus, Team Alma attended CXG Live at Radio City this year, and it was the most amazing.)
3. Our number three slot goes to Paul Rudd. More specifically, for this Paul Rudd quote from Between Two Ferns: The Movie: “No, I’m not a practicing Jew… I perfected it.” As Alma editor Molly Tolsky wrote, “We, all of us, are perfect Jews. We are all made in the image of God, after all. And that goes for those of who aren’t even sure if we believe in God (hiiiii). A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter how you ‘practice’ it or not. And so I find the concept of actually being ‘perfect’ at Judaism, wherever you are on the sliding scale of observance, incredibly empowering.” (Read the whole essay here.)
2. The second-best Jewish pop culture moment of 2019? The Broad City finale. Bittersweet and perfect. As we wrote, “But what Broad City understands phenomenally well about change is that it’s not all-encompassing, and in many ways, no matter how much their circumstances adjust, Abbi and Ilana are the same two Jewesses we’ve known all along.” We will miss it so much.
1. And taking the top spot this year? Tiffany Haddish’s bat mitzvah, obviously. Haddish celebrated her bat mitzvah on the day her Netflix special, Black Mitzvah, came out.
“I didn’t know anything about Judaism for a long time,” Haddish told Alma. “As I got into that profession as an energy producer, I started learning more and more about the Torah. I could really relate to it. And when I met my father, it really resonated with me. I was like: This is what I am. I did my 23&Me, and it said the same thing. I [thought], well, I can’t deny this. I wanna claim it.”
And claim it she did.
Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of Sarah), who officiated the event, told Kveller, “I see in Tiffany this deep belonging that you feel as part of the Jewish people.” And, as Rebecca Pierce wrote in Alma, “Tiffany Haddish’s joyful bat mitzvah pictures are a reminder that life as a Black Jew isn’t just suffering and discrimination — it’s also pride, laugher, and a sense of community.”
The release of Black Mitzvah and Haddish talking openly about her Jewish identity, then celebrating her bat mitzvah and releasing the photos of her reading from the Torah and Billy Cyrstal (!) having an aliyah: all of it was magical.
Tiffany’s bat mitzvah was by far the best Jewish pop culture of 2019 — and possibly the decade.
Header image design by Grace Yagel.