Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rant #1,340: A Missed Opportunity

OK, I am going to be talking today about one of my pet peeves, so if you don't want to read on, please don't.

It is something very personal to me, and something that should be very important to my fellow Jews, but I don't think that it is.

We are in the joyous holiday season. Everyone is scurrying around, trying to get as many presents as they possibly can leading up to the big day.

My big day is probably different than yours. It isn't Christmas on December 25, it is the first night of Hanukkah, on December 16.

When you turn on network TV, all of the shows are doing their Christmas shows. Many of the Christmas shows done by classic shows are also shown, and let me tell you, some of them are real classics.

I really enjoy them.

But growing up, I was pretty much on the outside looking in.

Christmas is a wonderful holiday, even though let's face it, its religious part is not what it once was, pretty much co-opted by the need to buy, buy and buy some more.

Anyway, there were scant mentions of my holiday on network TV back then.

One of my favorite holiday episodes is from "That Girl," where Hanukkah is basically the punch line to the entire episode. If you haven't seen it, either go to YouTube or watch it on MeTV--I guarantee it will be shown this year.

But by and large, even with a large contingents of Jews in Hollywood--not just actors and actresses, but writers, directors and the like--Hanukkah has pretty much been ignored by network TV.

I remember several years ago, Fran Drescher of "The Nanny" fame fought CBS tooth and nail to have a Hanukkah-themed episode. She lost that fight, but in retaliation, carried a menorah through a holiday episode of her show.

Now we come to the present time. Network TV shows feature the "modern family" of everybody from WASPS, straights, gays, people with major psychological problems, nerds, blacks, Asians, Hispanics ... you name it, network TV has it--including Jews.

There are Jewish characters on many shows, and yes, most of the time, the characters' religion is played up as a plot device, as it often is on "The Big Bang Theory."

But ABC did something last season that was potentially monumental in my mind.

The placed a new show, "The Goldbergs," on their fall schedule.

VOILA! I said. Finally, network TV had grown up to include a real, honest to goodness Jewish family on its schedule! Kudos to them.

And then I watched the show.

Not only was it a poor ripoff of "The Wonder Years"--a show which also featured a Jewish character, best friend Paul Pfeiffer--but it may as well have been called "The Fitzpatricks," "The Anzalones," or "The Johnsons," because the family featured on the show was about as ethnic as "The Muppets" are.

No mention of Judaism here, even with an "authentic" Jew, George Segal, part of the ensemble cast.

And then, last season, I thought that perhaps things would change once they got into the holiday season, but alas, the show sidestepped the entire issue of Judaism and the holiday experience entirely.

The show is, somehow, a hit, sandwiched in among other hit comedies on ABC. So season two premiered, and still nothing.

I figured that by the holiday season, now that the show was a hit, the sitcom could venture into uncharted territory based on its success--a show about a real Jewish family (sitcom real) celebrating the holidays as any Jewish family would--not with a Christmas tree, not by drinking egg nog, but by lighting a menorah and eating potato latkes.

And last night, with their holiday episode, once again, they completely sidestepped the subject, making it more of a New Year's show than anything else.

The show was about somebody approaching the older boy for a fake modeling job, the mother getting into the act, the younger boy trying to bring his grandparents and family together, etc.

Nothing about Hanukkah. Not even in the background of the house.

No menorah, no decorations, nothing.

When the family ventured out of the house, yes, you did see Christmas decorations at the mall and at the movie theater where they saw "E.T., The Extra Terrestrial," which, as you know, was a film by the very Jewish Steven Spielberg.

But nothing about Hanukkah.


The show is a production of Adam F. Goldberg, purported to show a similar type of family that he grew up in. In fact, at the end of the show, they included some actual video of his family celebrating the New Year--not Hanukkah.

Look, even Jewish families who have a very tenuous connection with their religion at least have a menorah up and glowing during the holiday season.

But for this show, nothing.

ABC is missing the point here, missing a perfect opportunity to show that Jews are just like everyone else, but they do have their own end of the year holiday.

They are missing the point, entirely--I mean the show is called "The Goldbergs," and we're not talking about Whoopi Goldberg here.

Most importantly, they are missing an opportunity to educate. As we all know, crime against Jews and Jewish institutions are on the rise not only in the U.S., but around the world.

Just this past week, there was an incident at a Jewish institution in Brooklyn, where an assailant attacked a rabbinical student, and was shot to death by police in an episode that will never be lumped into the latest anti-cop rhetoric we are hearing.

And the assailant allegedly was yelling anti-Semitic slurs, although the incident is not being looked at as a hate crime because the person had a history of mental illness, I presume.

Entertainment is the way we relax, and it is also the way we learn about things we didn't know much about.

And yes, I do blame the entertainment industry for hiding the fact, that we are not so homogenous as they would like us to believe.

I also blame my Jewish brethren, who often want to fit in so much into the fabric of this country and the world that they readily forget who they are.

I know a lot of Jews would take me to task for that, but sorry, I have found that often the most virulent anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.

And it really pains me to say that, too.

Again, I enjoy the holiday season, enjoy all the goings on revolving around the season, but when it comes down to it, I celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Christmas is simply a day off for me, a day where my family goes to the movies and eats Chinese food.

We do not have a phony "Hanukkah bush" up in our house.

We have a menorah burning very brightly.

I had high hopes for "The Goldbergs," but they are simply sidestepping the entire situation. I don't know if ABC put pressure on them to do so, or the producers and writers on the show--who are mainly Jews--have simply decided that this will not be the show to be the groundbreaker that I feel it should be.

And that is really, really sad, because it could be a platform, in a comedic way, of helping viewers learn about something not necessarily new, not necessarily different, but something that maybe they didn't know too much about.

It might even help us understand each other a bit better, and maybe, just maybe, stem the tide of anti-Jewish sentiment that always comes up around this time of year.

All this through a mere TV show? Yes, why not? If millions watch it each weak, you start with those millions, and the feeling can spread to everyone they touch, and then spread to everyone they come in contact with, and so on and so on.

And yes, I am a bit hurt that the show doesn't do that and I have to ask, what is stopping them?

What a missed opportunity!

(I have to go for my twice-annual eye exam, so in order to prepare for this test, I am not going to be writing my column tomorrow. Please check back here on Monday. Speak to you then.)

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