The CW’s ‘Nancy Drew’ Takes a Surprising Dive Into Jewish Mysticism

Dybbuks and Shabbat both make appearances in the drama based off the classic novels, thanks to new Jewish character Ace.

Nancy Drew is on TV like you’ve never seen her before, as an 18-year-old detective who solves supernatural mysteries. The mysterious hauntings are not explained away, as they were in the books, but perpetrated by real ghosts, monsters, and demons.

The CW drama Nancy Drew is a twist on the classic book series by Carolyn Keene. Keene’s Nancy Drew books featured Nancy solving crimes with her friends, cousins Bess and George, and her boyfriend, Ned. The new adaptation features these four characters — with notable changes, such as renaming Ned to Nick and making Nancy and George initially enemies — and, much to my delight, introduces several new characters, including Jewish character Ace (Alex Saxon).

In the first season, Nancy and her friends used a wide variety of mysticism traditions to combat the supernatural. In the second season, Jewish mysticism and kabbalah are a key part of the plot — largely thanks to Ace.

Here are the best Jewish moments in Nancy Drew season 2. Spoilers ahead.

1. Shabbat dinner

The episode “The Fate of the Buried Treasure” features a Shabbat dinner attended by Ace, his father Thom (Anthony Natale), and Detective Tamura (Ryan-James Hatanaka). This scene offers a plethora of Jewish representation: Not only do we find out that Ace’s father converted to Judaism after meeting his mother (shout-out to Jews by choice!), but that Detective Tamura is an Asian Jewish man.

The Shabbat scene starts with Thom lighting candles and Detective Tamura coming in with the challah. The table is set with wine and a crockpot and we see a seder plate on display inside the china cabinet.

Tamura comments that Ace looks surprised to see him at Shabbat dinner and Ace replies, “No, this is just my Shabbat face.” Ace notes that he didn’t know Tamura was Jewish, to which Tamura responds that he is half-Jewish. Ace asks Tamura to recite the Motzi. Tamura performs flawlessly and jokes, “I could sing it, too, if you guys want,” which was, frankly, hilarious.

Ace, still suspicious, asks if Tamura picked up the Hebrew that day. Tamura responds, curtly, “My bar mitzvah. Temple Sinai.”

Ace’s gatekeeping of Jewish identity — doubting the Jewishness of Tamura, an Asian man — is sadly a reality that many Jews of Color face in Jewish spaces. But ultimately, the representation of Judaism in such a diverse and positive light is heartwarming to me as a life-long Nancy Drew fan.

2. The father-son bond

In the same episode with the Shabbat dinner, we see a loving depiction of the relationship between Thom and Ace.

The plot of the episode revolves around a sea demon called the Aglacea. To try to defeat the Aglacea, Ace needs a skull fragment of Nancy’s biological mother that is in Detective Tamura’s office.

When trying to steal the skull fragment, Ace runs into his father at the police station. Thom asks his son if he is coming to Shabbat dinner that evening, as it will be just the two of them since Ace’s mother is out of town. Initially Ace tells him he has plans, and Thom replies, “The good thing about Shabbat, there’s one every week.”

This is especially significant as Ace believes he only has three days left to live (because of the whole summoning a sea demon thing). With that in mind — thinking he would not make it to the next Shabbat dinner — Ace tells his father he will be there. Then, Ace breaks into Detective Tamura’s office and takes the bone. Thinking he’s going to die, Ace chooses to spend that time honoring Shabbat with his father rather than running around looking for more solutions that may not work.

Later in the episode after the Shabbat dinner, Tamura threatens the group, saying, “You and your friends, we’re gonna have a real come-to-Jesus when this is over.” To which Ace responds, “Come-to-Jesus? The man had a bar mitzvah. Pick a lane.” Which is, again, hilarious.

3. Dybbuks

Ace’s Judaism in Nancy Drew is never the butt of the joke; rather, he uses it to his advantage in his knowledge of Jewish demons — like dybbuks. A dybbuk is a malicious spirit that typically possesses the soul of a dead person. Although the concept of the dybbuk appears in Jewish writings dating back to the 16th century, it was not a popular folktale until S. Ansky’s play The Dybbuk, first performed in 1920.

After the Aglacea claims its next victim in the episode “The Secret of Solitary Scribe,” the group visits the victim’s log cabin and finds plans for the construction a dybbuk box. Nancy and her crew decide to pursue it as a new way to try and capture the Aglacea and save themselves.

The concept of a dybbuk box was first coined by writer and producer Kevin Mannis in connection with a supposedly haunted wine cabinet that he bought at an estate sale in 2001. Since then, the internet has documented a small number of dybbuk boxes existing, including one supposedly owned by rapper Post Malone. To be clear, however, dybbuk boxes are not part of Jewish tradition or Jewish folklore. They do not seem to be common in Jewish folklore as a means of trapping dybbuks, and seem to be made up by this man, Kevin Mannis, as a hoax.

But back to Nancy Drew. In the episode, Nick notes that “in order for a real dybbuk box to work it needs to be made from a certain kind of mahogany wood, that is blessed by this rabbi who died in 1761.” So, Ace finds an “operational dybbuk box, made in 1756, blessed by the rabbi, all the things” at a museum outside of Boston.

Supposedly, in order for the box to work, it needs to be filled with meaningful objects from a ghost’s life and a totem from their death. Unfortunately, the dybbuk box does not work at trapping the Aglacea and is destroyed in the process.

Although not all the mysticism in the show has thus far been accurate, it should nonetheless be applauded for attempts at representation and inclusion. Judaism is not used as a joke; it is shown through diverse characters to create a deeper understanding of them, and even to offer a solution to the problem the characters face.­ I have not seen a mainstream show give such an accurate portrayal of Judaism as both a culture and as a religion, and I look forward to seeing more in the future.

Read More