Note: This article is the grand prize winner of The Norman E. Alexander Award for Excellence in Jewish Student Writing. About 60 high school contestants from around the country answered the following question: “Who do you think should be in the Jewish-American Hall of Fame?” The contest is sponsored by the Jewish-American Hall of Fame and The Jewish Week Media Group.
Amy Sherman-Palladino found her “inner Jew” the same day she found the recording “2,000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.” The director, writer and producer, born in Los Angeles to a Jew from the Bronx and a Southern Methodist from Gulfport, Miss., explains about her upbringing in a 2013 New York magazine essay, “I was raised as Jewish. Sort of.” The moment she heard Mel Brooks speak, she realized, “That was Jewish. That’s how it’s supposed to sound. And feel.” Years later, she has crafted her own comedy, allowing Jews today to find their inner Jewish.
Over the course of her career, Sherman-Palladino has created three shows: the mother-daughter series “Gilmore Girls”; “Bunheads,” a series about dance; and most recently, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the Amazon Prime show for which she has received four Emmy Awards (the most a woman has been awarded in one year). The latter tells the story of Midge Maisel, an Upper West Side Jewish woman whose seemingly perfect life is upended when she discovers her talent for stand-up comedy. For the title character, Sherman-Palladino has written fast-paced, witty comedy routines that include no shortage of Jewish jokes.
For a Jew in New York City, such as myself, finding other Jews is as easy as finding a kosher deli in 1958 Manhattan. Despite the plethora of Jews in my area, I have seen few portrayals of Jews in the media. With the release of “Mrs. Maisel,” I was introduced to the role model I’d always wanted: a bold, clever woman defying norms, making others laugh, and going to synagogue for Yom Kippur. Yep, I thought, that’s who I want to be.
With anti-Semitism on the rise, Sherman-Palladino has crafted a show that has brought a positive turn to the Jewish-American narrative in the media, balancing news of terrorism and hatred with characters who demonstrate the spirit of American Judaism. Her show has flocks of New York City Jews, including me, signing up to play extras. Why? Because sometimes it takes being transported to the past (with a little help from pin curls and swing dresses) to understand how to face the present.
Some people say Jews are funny because they’ve been oppressed. There is truth in this statement because there is power in staying funny when bigotry is on the rise. Ask those who know me — they’ll tell you I can always crack a joke or enjoy a good laugh. Hatred is not a laughing matter, but it never hurts to show that there is a sunny — and funny — side to the story of any people. That behind the vigils, behind the mourning for lost lives, there is comedy, there is brisket. Sherman-Palladino has revived the Jewish-American story from 60 years earlier, and perhaps that is precisely what we need when the story we are living seems as if it should be one of the past — one that should have only been witnessed by the 2,000-year-old man.
Julie Levey is a rising senior at The Spence School in Manhattan.