By Andrew Lapin
Once more for the record, Dave Chappelle: Jews don’t really run Hollywood. But anyone paying attention in 2022 saw a great deal of Jewish creativity this year; in fact, it was notable just how many of the biggest pop-culture events fervently embraced Jewish identity.
Growing up Jewish in movies
Two of the year’s big arthouse film releases were autobiographical portrayals of their directors’ Jewish upbringings. In “The Fabelmans,” Steven Spielberg’s account of how he became a filmmaker, a teenager in 1950s America navigates a fracturing Jewish family and antisemitism at school. And in “Armageddon Time,” James Gray’s retelling of his Reagan-era childhood (with appearances from the Trumps), a Jewish family in Queens, N.Y., tries to assimilate into the WASPy upper class while their young son brushes aside the needs of his Black friend.
‘Tár’ and ‘teshuvah’
While the families in “The Fabelmans” and “Armageddon Time” were obviously Jewish, Cate Blanchett’s monstrous fictional conductor in “Tár” was not, which made it all the more surprising when the film not-so-subtly incorporated Jewish themes into its story of artistic success and karmic retribution. The acclaimed drama looks to make big inroads this awards season as it gives audiences a de facto Hebrew lesson.
‘Rehearsal’ for living Jewishly
Gonzo comedian Nathan Fielder staged some elaborate simulations of everyday life in “The Rehearsal,” a new HBO series that proved to be among the buzziest TV shows of the year — and whose late-season pivot to discussions of Jewish parenting caught just about everyone by surprise. As the Internet lit up with conversations about Miriam Eskenasy, the Hebrew tutor Fielder hired for his fake Jewish son, JTA spoke to Miriam herself about the various questions of Jewish identity explored by the show.
‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’
Ken Burns’ PBS documentary relaying how the United States responded to the Holocaust on the homefront and during wartime ignited a fierce national reckoning over the historic treatment of Jews and outsiders. Burns and his Jewish co-directors said they hoped to communicate an important lesson to the country about antisemitism and xenophobia that could challenge America’s founding myths.
TV had Jewish conflicts
FX/Hulu’s thriller “The Patient” dug into an inter-family divide between Reform parents and Orthodox children, even as the show weathered criticism for its casting of non-Jew Steve Carell as a Jewish therapist. Another Hulu show, Ramy Youssef’s “Ramy,” entered its third season with a storyline set in Israel and an Orthodox Jewish supporting character, notable for a series that focuses on a Muslim American protagonist.
‘Russian Doll’ Nazi gold train
Natasha Lyonne’s time-hopping Netflix series returned for a second season, reaching deep into the past to find Lyonne’s protagonist Nadia unearthing generations of Jewish trauma in her family. It all culminated with her exploration of a Hungarian “gold train” filled with treasures that the Nazis supposedly looted from the country’s Jews during wartime. Lyonne was drawing on real-life Holocaust history for the plot.
Some uncomfy Jewish jokes
The “Sex and the City” follow-up on HBO was largely viewed by fans of the original as a trainwreck. Jewish viewers saw something else: bizarre Jewish jokes, from a midseason flirtation with a Holocaust-denier to a season-finale, “They Mitzvah,” that ultimately didn’t happen.
‘Funny Girl’ cast conflicts
The hotly anticipated revival of the biographical musical about Jewish comedian Fanny Brice that initially launched the career of Barbra Streisand, debuted in spring to sky-high expectations. Lead Beanie Feldstein said that taking on the role of Brice was “incredibly meaningful for me as a Jewish woman.” But following poor reviews and ticket sales, Feldstein exited with gusto — and was replaced by Lea Michele, the “Glee” star with Jewish ancestry who’d spent much of her career openly pining for the role of Fanny.
Other Jewish stories from 2022 available to stream:
13: The Musical (Netflix); Ahed’s Knee (VOD rental); American Masters: The Adventures of Saul Bellow (PBS); The Calling (Peacock); Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple TV+); Heirs to the Land (Netflix); Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (VOD rental); Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage (Disney+); Image of Victory (Netflix); Jackass Forever (Paramount+); Last Flight Home (Paramount+); Ridley Road (PBS); Shababnikim (Chaiflicks); Yosi, the Regretful Spy (Amazon Prime).