Before popular Canadian comedy series “Schitt’s Creek” swept the Emmys this week with a whopping nine wins, the show’s Eugene Levy, Dan Levy and Sarah Levy headlined Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s virtual Main Event on Sept. 16.
The show follows the wealthy Rose family after they lose everything and move into a tiny rural town they once purchased as a joke. As they learn to embrace their new neighbors, the show emphasizes how people from different backgrounds can enhance each other’s lives.
Eugene Levy, the Canadian Jewish actor known for his roles in “SCTV” and “American Pie,” as well as for his iconic eyebrows, and his son Dan Levy are executive producers. They also star as the father-son duo Johnny and David Rose. Sarah Levy, Eugene Levy’s daughter, plays sunny local waitress Twyla.
The family members discussed identity, ritual and the importance of community to cap off a showcase of Jewish Federation’s response to the unprecedented challenges facing the local, national and global Jewish communities this year.
Alison Lebovitz, former co-chair of National Young Leadership for the Jewish Federations of North America, moderated the actors’ discussion. She noted that the show’s focus on a family living together in close quarters took on a new meaning during 2020 quarantines.
“What should we take from the Rose family, and from the ‘Schitt’s Creek’ community, as a lesson of how important community is, especially in times of crisis?” she asked.
Dan Levy said the ultimate goal of the show was to prove that community is the key to true happiness.
“Ultimately, being in a community that is open, accepting and supportive without question creates a safety net that allows people to be unabashedly who they are,” he said. “And I truly believe that when you honor people for who they are, they become their best selves and they contribute back into society with a tremendous amount of love and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and passion.”
Before watching the Levy family address 10,000 viewers from Jewish Federations across the country, 1,000 audience members from the Greater Philadelphia area joined a separate Zoom to hear representatives from Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia speak about the organization’s community outreach during the economic and health crises.
“This community has raised $2.6 million in response to the pandemic,” campaign chair Sherrie Savett said. “Money raised was given to numerous local agencies and organizations that has impacted more than 280,000 lives. With your support, we have provided masks and monthly food deliveries to more than 424 Holocaust survivors. We helped eight summer camps open safely, which meant that 640 kids were able to have a Jewish day camp experience.”
She said that Jewish Federation distributed more than 65,000 masks within the community, including to every resident of Federation Housing, every client of the Jewish Relief Agency and to teachers at 72 Jewish day schools. Funds also went to rabbis to distribute among congregants struggling financially and to Jewish day schools to help them reopen safely.
“This is our story, your story,” Savett said. “We are one people responsible for one another. And together, we are showing up, changing the world and reimagining reality.”
Main Event co-chairs Jeffrey Schwartz, Susan Schwartz, Lisa Studner and Brett Studner spoke about how Jewish Federation helped them find community as young adults and instilled a desire to give back.
“Jeff and I find so much meaning and connection within this incredible Jewish community and have enjoyed coming together with you all today, particularly during these difficult times when being a part of a community has become more important than ever,” Susan Schwartz said.
When the Philadelphia audience joined the national audience, they also heard from the first two Jewish Changemakers cohorts. This group of college students and young professionals completed a three-week online professional development fellowship created by the Jewish Federations of North America in response to the cancellation of other Jewish leadership programs during the pandemic. They received mentorship from professionals in their fields and planned service projects together.
When the headliners took the virtual stage, Lebovitz asked Eugene Levy whether the story of “Schitt’s Creek” draws from his personal history.
He responded that the fish-out-of-water story draws from his own experiences growing up Jewish in the predominantly non-Jewish community of Hamilton, Ontario. The interfaith marriage between Eugene Levy’s Jewish Johnny Rose and Catherine O’Hara’s Christian Moira Rose also reflects the real Levy family. Eugene Levy is Jewish, his wife Deborah Divine is Protestant and his children Dan Levy and Sarah Levy are a “delightful half-half situation,” as Dan’s character David Rose likes to put it.
The family also spoke about Jewish milestones. Dan Levy confessed that he was reluctant to study for his bar mitzvah as a boy but appreciated his coming-of-age ceremony and Jewish traditions in general more as he got older. Sarah Levy shared that she had never had a bat mitzvah, but was open to the idea.
“Let’s do it in Israel, honey,” Eugene Levy said to his daughter. “Next year in Jerusalem.”