This has been quite the year for Jewish pop culture. Jewish actors, musicians, athletes and writers shined in a year that was full of uncertainty. And so, for the third year in a row, we’ve enjoyed presenting The Almas — our pop culture awards — for our favorite things in Jewish pop culture, from breakout Jewish actress to best Jewish director to favorite Jewish debut novel. We’ve loved looking back on all that 5781 had to offer, from Daveed Diggs’s “Puppy for Hanukkah” to Ben Barnes stealing our hearts in “Shadow and Bone.”
But, before we announced our awards, we turned to our dearest Alma readers to vote on their favorite pop culture moment of 5781. The nominees were: (1) “Schitt’s Creek” sweeping the Emmys, (2) The return of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” (3) Leslie Odom, Jr. and Nicolette Robinson’s cover of “Ma’oz Tzur,” (4) The Bernie Sanders mittens meme, (5) Doja Cat’s viral songs on TikTok, (6) Mandy Patinkin’s home videos, (7) “The Nanny” returns to streaming, (8) Eden Alene performs in Eurovision, (9) Disney releases Kronk’s challah recipe, and (10) Brett Goldstein as Roy Kent in “Ted Lasso” season two.
And the reader’s choice is…
The Best Jewish Pop Culture Moment of 5781
The Bernie Sanders mittens meme.
Yes, grumpy Bernie in his homemade mittens at the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won this hard-fought contest. Because on the day of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration, the entire internet — especially the Jewish internet — decided no, we’re not going to focus on Biden and Harris… we’re all going to fixate on a single picture of Senator Bernie Sanders, sitting with his arms crossed in homemade mittens, looking like the extremely grumpy old Jewish man he is.
Each and every one brought us so much joy:
As Emily Burack wrote in Alma, “Sanders, the senator from Vermont, is a 79-year-old Jewish man from Brooklyn who talks at a loud volume and reminds a lot of Jewish voters of their zayde, the Yiddish word for grandfather — so much so that ‘Zayde Bernie’ became a common nickname in the 2020 Democratic primaries. No matter how much distance he can try to put between himself and his Jewish heritage, Sanders’ voice and mannerisms immediately reveal his identity… His Jewishness is wrapped up just as much in his inability to pronounce the letter ‘r’ as it is his time spent on a socialist kibbutz. You can’t untangle his Jewishness from his politics, no matter how much you want to call him just another old white guy.”
“In a year — well, in the past four years, really — when we’ve dealt with a rise in antisemitism, the worst antisemitic attack in American history, and an emboldened faction of white supremacists, the undeniable grumpy Jewishness of Bernie offered a real sense of catharsis. As Alma writer Amanda Silberling tweeted, ‘During the Inauguration, Bernie Sanders memes offered American Jews a chance to heal from the rampant anti-semitism in the news cycle. In this essay I will — ‘ Of course it’s safe to assume she was half-joking, but yes, in this essay I will emphasize that’s exactly it: As a Jewish writer and just, like, human being, the Bernie Sanders memes were exactly what I needed, exactly when I need them.”
We must admit, these memes still make us smile. So did the heartwarming story of the Vermont schoolteacher who unexpectedly saw her mittens rise to fame. So mazel tov, grumpy Bernie in mittens: You captured the energy of 5781. Despite it all — there was joy.
Our readers still really, really love “Schitt’s Creek.” The Canadian sitcom co-created by Jewish father-and-son duo Eugene and Dan Levy made history at the 2020 Emmys when they swept the night. The beloved series won every comedy category for its sixth and final season, and the younger Levy alone won four awards. “Schitt’s Creek” became the first show in history to pull off an entire category sweep, winning all seven major comedy awards.
In his acceptance speech for best comedy series, Dan Levy said, “Our show, at its core, is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance, and that is something we need more of now than we’ve ever needed before.”
Amen. Mazels, Dan and co!