These days, it seems, memorable Jewish television characters are scarce. But it wasn’t always so. So without further ado, here is one yid’s (that’s me) Top 10 Jewish TV Characters:
1) Herschel Pinkus Yerucham Krustofski, “The Simpsons“: He may be Krusty the Clown to you, but in my eyes, he’ll always be Rabbi Krustofski’s son.
2) Josh Lyman, “The West Wing“: My favorite show of recent years. Others may pick the earnest Toby Ziegler, whose Jewish roots were explored more deeply in the series, but I’ll take Josh’s pragmatism and accomplishments over Toby’s uncompromising idealism any day.
3) Adam Schiff, the longtime D.A. on “Law & Order”: The consummate mensch, Schiff represented both the liberal Jewish-American professional class and the New York Democratic establishment. I’ll never forget the episode where he fights aggressively–taking on the governor and other high officials–against applying the death penalty to a convicted murderer–while at the same time allowing his wife, in a coma after suffering a stroke, to die a peaceful and graceful death. Schiff’s departure from the series was a big loss, but at least it was for a good reason: He left the D.A.’s office to take a job pursuing Holocaust restitution cases.
4) Hesch Rabkin, “The Sopranos“: A the other end of the legal spectrum, we’ve got Hesch, the music mogul and friend of Tony who provides shrewd business advice to his mafia friends. I’m well aware that this Jew isn’t one of our tribe’s proudest products; it’s ethnicity, not ethics–Semitism, not scruples (I couldn’t resist that one)–that prevent him from becoming a made man. Still, I’ve got a soft spot for this old-school Bad Boy Jew and his role of sage and fixer for the Sopranos.
5) Joel Fleishman, “Northern Exposure”: The perfect fish-out-of-water-character, a New York Jewish doctor transplanted to small-town Alaska, where a guy can’t even find a decent bagel.
6) Jerry Seinfeld: “Seinfeld” oozed New York Jewish culture, from its chocolate babka to the tzimmes at its singles event–and at its center was Jerry, the Jewish boy from Queens who became a big-shot fancy-shmancy comedian but still called his momma.
7) Ross Geller, “Friends”: Yes, I realize that his sister Monica was also Jewish, not to mention Rachel Green. But dorky, romantic, often-annoying Ross was my favorite. And his Hanukkah Armadillo, a valiant attempt to solve the December Dilemma for his son and counter Santa Claus’s dominance–puts him over the edge as the top Jew on “Friends.”
8) Ellenor Frutt, “The Practice”: The heart and soul and conscience of the titular law practice, Ellenor stuck to her values with a passion that was contagious. She was unapologetic about being “overweight”–or normal weight, to the rest of us–and unwavering in her decision to become a single mom via artificial insemination.
9) Harvey Lipschultz, “Boston Public”: Insensitive and even racist (and sexist and homophobic) at times, Lipshultz makes the list for one reason: As an elderly Jewish public school teacher at an inner-city school, he represents a significant and often-overlooked strand of American Jewish history, those many idealistic teachers who spurned med school and law school in favor of giving back–returning to the very schools that made them into people who had the option of saying no to law and medicine in the first place. It was never clear if his disdain for political correctness came from true conviction, senility, or an inability to handle the crumbling of the world he knew.
10) Adam Mesh, “Average Joe”: Back when reality shows were fresh and actually captured our attention and our hearts, he was the lovable boy-next-door who was spurned by the great beauty in favor of the hot stud. I didn’t much care for his revenge-fantasy “Adam Returns,” but certainly cheered when he told producers to send home the bus-load of hotties that showed up mid-series.
Some runner ups: Lillith from “Cheers” and “Frasier”; Andrea from “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Natalie from “Facts of Life,” and Rachel Cohen, Lisa’s imaginary friend on “The Simpsons.”
Also, I feel a need to note that characters like Seth Cohen from “The OC”–home of the original Chrismukkah–Willow from “Buffy,” and Ari Gold from “Entourage,” among countless others, aren’t on the list because I never got into watching those shows.
So, who’d I miss? Who’d I get wrong? Use the comments box to let the world know about your favorite Jewish TV characters.