Could Jewish-themed television shows connect Israeli and Diaspora Jewry? - analysis

By doing so, we can help foster a deeper sense of pride and connection among Jews everywhere.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (photo credit: COURTESY AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

“A Jewish Davos conference,” is how President Isaac Herzog categorized the launch of his new flagship initiative to bridge the gap between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, last week, at the opening ceremony of the annual Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly. 

Herzog, who has served as chairman of the Jewish Agency and a member of a family deeply rooted in Jewish communities internationally, has decided at the beginning of his term that one of his main pillars would be promoting Jewish Peoplehood. Yet the unstable political situation and then the promotion of the suggested judicial reforms, have caused Herzog to be focused a lot more on internal Israeli issues, as the responsible and senior figure promoting dialogue.  

The venture, “Kol Ha’am – Voice of the People: The President’s Initiative for Worldwide Jewish Dialogue,” is intended to launch a first-of-its-kind global council for Jewish dialogue, the President said last week. But if Herzog wants to actually succeed in this triumph, he will need to make sure that this won’t just be an annual conference of the usual suspects in the Jewish community.

A basic assumption should be that at this extremely sensitive time in Israeli and Jewish history, all sides need to learn about each other. That is precisely the moment we are at regarding our relationship as a nation. American don’t know enough about Israeli Jews and Israelis have no idea about what being an American Jew is all about.

By the way, it's not just an Israeli-American issue. What do American or Israeli Jews know about half-a-million French Jews? Unfortunately not a lot. What we need is an introduction to each other, someone, to open the doors to these Jewish communities and cultures and afterwards to meditate and become storytellers of the unique and beautiful traditions we have as a people.

 Jewish characters, Monica and Ross, on the classic sitcom Friends. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Jewish characters, Monica and Ross, on the classic sitcom Friends. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Herzog’s idea is important and smart, but this type of high-level conference needs to also be supplemented by actual grassroots activities, promoting exposure and connection between Jews around the world. Here are just a few ideas:

One creative way to achieve this connection and gain knowledge about other Jewish communities is through media, specifically through the power of a Netflix series.

Netflix has become one of the most popular streaming platforms around the world and it has the power to reach millions of viewers with diverse backgrounds and interests. By creating a series that showcases different aspects of Jewish life and culture, we can bridge the gap between Israeli Jews and the Diaspora.

One idea for a Netflix series is to create a reality show that features a diverse group of Jews from different backgrounds and experiences. This show could follow their daily lives and struggles, exploring their unique Jewish identities and what it means to be a Jew in today's world. By showcasing the diversity of Jewish experiences and perspectives, we can help Israeli Jews and Jews in the Diaspora better understand and connect with each other.Whether it is a French-Jewish Kardashians series, or a Big Bang Theory-type show starring Jewish nerds, different types of Judaism need to find their way to the screen.

For most Israelis and definitely, Jews around the world, Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City) and Rachel Green (played by Jennifer Aniston in Friends) are the epitome of what it means to be a Jewish woman in the US.

On the other hand, Ari Gold (played by Jeremy Piven from Entourage) and Jerry Seinfeld are the models of masculine Judaism in America. But guess what? They don’t represent most Jews in America, definitely not the engaged Jewish community. Anything Jewish featured in American TV or movies is usually very cynical or negative.

Imagine the hit Friends series that would have the same amount of Jewish characters it originally had, but instead of Rachel Green being an unemployed and unaffiliated Jewish-American Princess, she would be a young and idealistic Jewish-American philanthropist. What if Monica Geller (played by Courteney Cox) had a small Kosher catering service for Jewish weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and circumcision events? Her brother, Ross Geller (played by David Schwimmer) could have easily been a nerdy rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College.

Unfortunately, Israeli and American Jews are exposed to American Jewry through shows such as My Unorthodox Life, where its main characters usually see Judaism as something negative and old school.

Another idea is to create a series that showcases Israeli stories to the world, as well as to Jews in the diaspora. While shows like Fauda and Shtisel have gained popularity, they only present a very specific and at times extreme example of Israeli life. Instead, we can create a series that presents a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of Israeli culture and society.

How about a Netflix comedy series displaying the lives of new immigrants to Israel from around the world and their obstacles in becoming Israeli citizens? How about a reality show displaying Israel’s new billionaires, after selling a tech company that they have established? What about a drama series that gives a glimpse into Israeli and Jewish volunteer work in Africa, based on the values of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world)? By doing so, we can help foster a deeper appreciation of Israel and its place in the world.

Furthermore, we can use a Netflix-type platform as a tool to highlight the accomplishments and contributions of Jews around the world. This can include featuring Jewish artists, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and activists, showcasing their work and their stories. By doing so, we can help foster a deeper sense of pride and connection among Jews everywhere.

 Character Rachel Green from Friends. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Character Rachel Green from Friends. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Another way to do this is through technology. Israel is known as the "Startup Nation," and we have a wealth of innovative companies that are changing the world. By partnering with Jewish communities around the world, we can create new opportunities for collaboration and innovation. For example, we can encourage Israeli startups to work with Jewish communities to develop new technology solutions that address pressing social and cultural issues.

Media as a tool for connecting Jews in the diaspora with Israeli Jews

Media is another powerful tool for bringing Israeli Jews and the diaspora together. By partnering with Jewish media outlets around the world, we can create new platforms for dialogue and exchange. We can also work to promote a more nuanced understanding of Israel and its place in the world and to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions. Nowadays, there is no go-to-place for dialogue between Jews around the world.

Every country, or Jews that speak the same language, live in their own little Jewish bubbles but have no true opportunity to learn about contemporary Jewish life or host a debate or dialogue between different kinds of Jews from different areas around the world. We need to break the barriers between Spanish-speaking Jews and English-speaking Jews; Hebrew-speaking Jews and French-speaking Jews. No media outlet that currently exists actually sees itself as such.

In conclusion, there are many creative ways to connect Israeli Jews and the diaspora. By embracing new technologies, fostering cultural exchange, promoting media engagement, supporting sports, and investing in economic and philanthropic projects, we can build a stronger, more unified Jewish community, rooted in our shared heritage and values. It is up to us to seize these opportunities and build a brighter future for ourselves and future generations.

Let's also hope that Herzog and his dedicated staff are able to join forces with the top leaders and funders in the Jewish world, in order to create something new, refreshing, and effective, in order for all Jews around the world to be able to take part in this fascinating and needed initiative.