True Crime Podcast ‘The Girlfriends’ Season 2 Leans Into its Jewishness

"Our Lost Sister" explains how Jewish values compel us to support victims of crime and to bring perpetrators to justice.

I wasn’t looking for Jewish content when I first started listening to “The Girlfriends,” a true crime podcast from Novel. I wasn’t even looking for true crime content, per se, but the premise was irresistible: A group of women, all exes of a murderous doctor, teaming up to bring him to justice? Secrets revealed and friendships made along the way, while a family finally gets answers? It sounded absolutely gripping — and it was. It was also extremely Jewish.

Right from the get-go, we learn that the titular girlfriends and the criminal they unmask are all Jewish, and moreover, that many of them had initially looked past their ex’s red flags because of his prominent standing in the relatively small Jewish community of Las Vegas. In fact, there’s a case to be made that, before his crimes were uncovered, Bob Bierenbaum used his status as an “eligible Jewish doctor” to keep a steady stream of women available for him to abuse, both before and after he murdered Gail Katz, his estranged wife.

The host of the show, Carole Fisher, is explicit when describing her tempestuous relationship with Bob. She admits that “a Jewish doctor with a pilot’s license” was such an intriguing combination that she gave him multiple chances before his paranoia became simply too much. Even after their relationship ended, she tells the audience that she second-guessed if the way he treated her — which included not only extreme rudeness to her family, but throwing a tantrum where he accused her of infidelity and giving him an STI based on absolutely no evidence — was really as bad as all of that.

But that was all season one. At the end of the first season, Bob was behind bars, and the family of his victim, Gail Katz, seemed to have found some closure. The titular girlfriends had unearthed evidence that led to Bierenbaum’s arrest (and eventual conviction) , and it’s clear that the women who worked together on this are going to remain firm friends.

There was just one loose end. The torso Gail’s family had buried, which they had believed was Gail until DNA testing proved it to have been that of a Jane Doe, still wasn’t identified. (Gail’s remains were never found — it’s presumed that Bob threw her body into the Atlantic Ocean from a plane.)

Which brings us to season two.

Season two of “The Girlfriends” is titled “Our Lost Sister,” and follows the women of season one — with Carole Fisher and her self-described “mouth like a sailor” again serving as host — as they attempt to identify the torso and bring some peace and closure to the murdered woman. Season one ended with a heartbreaking reading of the names of women who had gone missing in New York from the time of Gail’s disappearance to the present day, but season two begins with the attempt to find just one name: the name of the “lost sister” of the girlfriends, the woman whose torso hasn’t yet been identified.

Season one was a distinctly Jewish podcast, but season two, which recently aired its third episode, brings the Judaism to a new level. The little Jewish touches from season one are still present — where season one had new friends bonding over an elaborate spread of bagels and pastries, season two has old friends gathering for a Hanukkah party, to give one example — but season two’s Judaism leans into the spiritual aspects of Judaism as much as the cultural, which is extremely welcome.

The first episode of season two is called “A Double Mitzvah,” and Fisher takes the time to introduce the audience to the concept of mitzvahs; she explains the Jewish ideas of the duty we owe to bring justice to our communities and the duty we owe to those who have passed on. Identifying the lost sister’s remains and speaking her name — honoring her by marking her passing and attempting to bring her killer to justice — is a double mitzvah, which the girlfriends intend to fulfill.

Each episode of “The Girlfriends” begins with a content warning, and rightfully so. The show covers themes of abuse, physical and sexual violence, murder, the loss of family members and more. Fisher also warns for her (frankly endearing) tendency to swear, and informs the audience of resources they should get in touch with if any of the themes on the show resonate with them.

I’m generally slightly wary of true crime, even as I understand the appeal. There’s a line between curiosity about the darker side of humanity versus voyeurism, even exploitation, that much true crime media crosses. One reason I’ve loved “The Girlfriends” so much is how compassionate the show is, including their insistence on centering victims, not perpetrators, and their work in season two with a partner, the DNA Doe Project, which seeks to identify John and Jane Does to bring their families some closure.

If you had simply asked me to check out a “Jewish true crime podcast,” I would have probably said no. Frankly, the phrase brings to mind gruesome descriptions of hate crimes. “The Girlfriends” is decidedly not that. When I stumbled upon the show description, I could sense the sincerity behind the project, and the positive intentions (and outcomes!) — and I was right. Rather than focusing on crimes against Jews, it shows a “Jewish true crime,” and explains how Jewish values compel us to support victims of crime, to bring perpetrators to justice.

I can’t wait for the next episode. I hope they find the name of their lost sister. She deserves it, and so do they.

Ellery Weil

Ellery Weil, PhD (she/her) is a writer and historian specializing in Jewish women's history at the turn of the 20th century.

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