As I scroll through Netflix to find a movie to watch, I see… a lot of movies about a girl in a Catholic school, and oh, here’s another movie about a girl in a Catholic school… which leads me to a big question: Where are the movies and TV shows about Jewish high school girls?
Hint: There aren’t a lot of them. Actually, there are almost none.
There are so many movies about Catholic schoolgirl protagonists — “Saved!,” “Yes, God, Yes” and “Ladybird,” to name a few.
OK, Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert) from “Mean Girls” (2004) is Jewish; she mentions that “her parents get her gold hoop earrings for Hanukkah.” But she never says anything about Judaism after that.
If there is a Jewish character in a high school story, he’s almost always male, and rarely female: Ben from “Never I Have Ever” is the most recent high school-aged Jewish character on TV.
There are some shows that highlight Jewish girls in their bat mitzvah years, like Becca Peterson in the bat mitzvah episode of “Pen15” (Hulu), Ren Stevens in “Even Stevens” (Disney Plus) and Jessi Glazer on “Big Mouth” (Netflix). There is some wonderful Jewish female 20-something representation in “Broad City” (Hulu) and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”(Netflix). But we all know that there is a lot of life lived between the bat mitzvah and young adulthood — why aren’t those years on our screens?
There are hardly any Jewish female high school characters on TV at all! The only characters that come to mind are Rachel Berry from “Glee,” Willow Rosenberg in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Paris Geller from “Gilmore Girls,” Erica Goldberg from “The Goldbergs” and Yael Baron from “Degrassi: The Next Class.”
Erica Goldberg from “The Goldbergs,” played by Hayley Orrantia, is the most recent addition to our list of high school teenage Jewish girls, but her Jewishness is almost never mentioned. We only know that she is Jewish because she celebrates Hanukkah with her family in various Hanukkah episodes across the show’s nine seasons. Yael Baron of “Degrassi: The Next Class,” played by Jamie Bloch, is another relative newcomer to high school TV. Yael is nonbinary and is assumed to be Jewish because of their Hebrew name, but they have never mentioned anything about their religion.
Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele, is probably one of the more well-known characters on the list above — and at least she says she’s Jewish many times throughout the show. Willow Rosenberg, played by Alyson Hannigan, is another LGBTQIA Jew. When asked if she has any plans for Christmas, she responds with: “Being Jewish! Remember, people — not everyone worships Santa!” That’s a good start. But it’s not enough.
Paris Geller on “Gilmore Girls,” played by Liza Weil, is Jewish. To be honest, I’m surprised there are not more Jewish people on this show — it takes place in Connecticut, after all. The audience knows Paris is Jewish because she mentions that her bat mitzvah dress had menorahs sewn in the collar (iconic). But otherwise, her Jewishness is rarely mentioned.
I am pleased to report that all of the actresses who play these women are at least half Jewish in real life, except for Hayley Orrantia, who, though not Jewish, is the only woman of mixed race on our list. There are almost no non-white Jewish young adult girls on TV — Missy from “Big Mouth” is the one notable exception, and she is in middle school. There’s also little size diversity on this list.
I would love to see a comedy show at a public high school about a diverse group of Jewish high school girls and nonbinary friends, just going through normal teenage things — dating, joining clubs, school. They are from all different sects of Judaism. Some of them are from single-parent families or mixed families; all have different career goals for themselves. The fact they are all Jewish bonds them together, but they are also just regular teenagers who happen to be Jewish.
I believe Jewish characters should be played by Jewish people, and I also know that Jewish people come in all different sizes, sexualities, abilities, ethnicities and genders. Every type of Jewish person deserves to be identified and represented on screen — not just American Ashkenazi Jews who are often assumed to be Jewish (like me, because of my brown curly hair).
I would love to see a television show or movie with a lot of different female and nonbinary Jews of all different sizes, religious sectors, backgrounds, sexualities and abilities, so that teenagers can see themselves represented on screen. Christianity doesn’t have to be the default religion in television and film — and “Jewishness” doesn’t have to only look one way in the media.