Watching Alex Trebek Was My Jewish Family’s Nightly Ritual

As the host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek represented a fundamentally Jewish value: intellectual curiosity.

Like so many others, I grew up watching Alex Trebek on my TV screen every night at 7 before dinner. It started as coincidence — Jeopardy! happened to air right before our family would eat together — but it soon became a sort of tradition for us.

As I got older, I started to compete with my dad every night, yelling over each other at the TV trying to get our answer in first. It was through watching Alex Trebek steer the Jeopardy! ship every night for all those years that I first came to terms with my affinity for learning, knowledge, and school. Watching Jeopardy! became a ritual for my family, and now looking back on it, it seems almost religious.

As a culturally Jewish but not spiritually religious family, we connect with our Jewish roots primarily through community and tradition, and Jeopardy! became our favorite nightly ritual — a sort of nightly mini-Shabbat when we all came together to take a break from Regularly Scheduled Programming and unwind with Jeopardy! for 30 minutes.

Our love for Jeopardy! soon turned into my dad taking his preteen daughter (me) to our local sports bar for Tuesday night pub trivia. We always lost, but eating fried pickles and racking our brains for facts about sports and war history (my dad’s categories) and pop culture and politics (those were all me) was the ultimate prize. Jeopardy! and the other trivial pursuits that ensued brought me closer to my parents at a critical point in my adolescence when many of my peers were growing apart from theirs.

Alex Trebek spoke often about his never ending quest for knowledge and understanding that propelled him through life. That same desire to know more in order to understand the world and those around us better was fostered within me too through my connection to Jeopardy!. I no longer felt embarrassed admitting that I actually liked school, even when it was cool to hate doing homework. In high school I was on my school’s WorldQuest team (a world affairs-themed city-wide quiz competition), and before the pandemic I played in a weekly trivia night with some friends at a bar in my college town.

More seriously, I took the ethos of Jeopardy! and applied it to my academic life, looking for a university that would foster my sense of intellectual curiosity and then finding the right programs that allowed me to craft my own research concentrations and explore the interdisciplinary subject areas most interesting to me. Alex Trebek has impacted my life more than he ever could’ve known; his legacy seeps into virtually every part of my life and my worldview.

And I’m not alone.

Seeing the outpouring of nostalgia, devastation, and gratitude on the internet in response to the news of Alex Trebek’s passing over the past few days has been immensely comforting. To know I share a common experience of growing up on Jeopardy! and watching Alex every night with so many other people made the news of his death a bit more bearable. Celebrity deaths — and the ensuing memorialization on Instagram and Twitter — rarely make me feel anything. But hearing people’s stories of how Alex enriched their lives has helped me mourn him and everything he represents in my own life.

I also can’t help but note that for Alex Trebek to pass away the day after Joe Biden became President-elect feels unsettlingly fitting to me. The past four years of Trump were another important aspect of my teenage years, setting me on a path of political activism and social justice work. While the walls felt like they were closing in at times throughout the past four years, Alex Trebek remained a constant, reminding us all that staying curious and motivated to continue learning — and seeking out the truth — is all we can ask of ourselves and each other.

I’ve got a lot to thank Alex Trebek for: my commitment to intellectual curiosity, my favorite hobby, and most importantly, giving my parents and I my most cherished nightly ritual. What comes next for my favorite show is unknown, but his legacy will live on forever through the lives of the millions of people like me who grew up with him.

Kate Hader

Kate Hader (she/her) is a third year student studying American studies, social policy, and gender and sexuality studies. Her main interests lie at the intersection of girlhood and pop culture, and in her free time she loves eating cheese and (lightly) competing with her trivia team every week. Kate is a 2020-2021 Alma College Writing Fellow.

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