Gilmore Girls - secretly Jewish?


Plenty of American television shows feature Jewish stories. There's The OC's nebbishe Seth Cohen, Friends' Holiday Armadillo, or Toby Ziegler in The West Wing.

But Gilmore Girls on the face of it isn't Jewish at all. The drama, which debuted in 2000, and this month, seven series later, returns to Netflix for four special episodes, told the story of mother and daughter best friend pairing Lorelai and Rory, divided only by 16 years.

A huge hit in the US, it developed a cult following in the UK for its well-crafted characters and warm, erudite dialogue.

On the surface, there's not much going for it as a Jewish show, aside from the fact that Carole King's Where You Lead is the theme. In one episode, Lorelai was gifted a chupah for her impending wedding. There is a local rabbi, but the synagogue doubles as a church and you'd be hard pressed to find kosher food at Luke's Diner.

The main characters aren't Jewish and their background is downright WASPy. Only Rory's overachieving frenemy Paris Geller is almost definitely Jewish.

The drama unfolds at a family Friday dinner

Nevertheless, I'd argue that Amy Sherman-Palladino's series is one of the most Jewish out there. For one, it's all about broiges. Serious, family schism-type broiges, wherein mother and daughter don't speak for more than a decade.

While other programmes feature family arguments as a passing plot device, the entire premise of Gilmore Girls is the friction between the older, conventional Gilmores and the younger, more progressive ones. In true Jewish fashion, every conversation is imbued with double meaning; Lorelai's mother, Emily, is master of the passive-aggressive aside, and the central relationships are all predicated on guilt - "I am reduced to calling you and asking are you coming?" she complains to Lorelai. Incidentally, Kelly Bishop who plays Emily played the Jewish mother in Dirty Dancing; surely no coincidence.

The drama unfolds every week at a family Friday night dinner, seasoned with resentment and disapproval. What could be more Jewish?

Like many a Jewish family, the Gilmores are fiercely competitive, and heavily invested in academic success. Lorelai restores relations with her parents so they will pay Rory's school fees, and when Emily and husband Richard aren't expressing disappointment in their daughter, they come across as the archetypal Jewish grandparents, shepping nachas at Rory's achievements.

The Gilmores also talk Jewish: quickly and enthusiastically, digesting current affairs and culture, engaging in five conversations simultaneously, and sparring like rabbis debating Talmud. It's the kind of dialogue honed by years of argumentative seders and Shabbat lunches dissecting the sermon. Sherman-Palladino is rivalled only by The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin for the wordiness of her scripts - it was once rumoured he had actually written the show. If two Jews have three opinions, three Gilmore women will have at least five.

Like Jewish life, Gilmore Girls follows a calendar of often inexplicable festivals. OK, so Rory and Lorelai may not avoid bread or dwell in a leaf-topped hut, but they do enjoy all manner of curious fiestas. At various points, Stars Hollow, their home town, hosts the Living Art Festival, the Old Muddy River Bridge Knitathon, the winter carnival and a 24-hour danceathon. They'd be quite at home celebrating Purim or Tu b'Shevat.

Thanks to Sherman-Palladino's Jewish father, she grew up "the kind of Jewish that included Chanucah, Star of David paraphernalia, and the occasional trip to temple". More importantly, she grew up steeped in Jewish culture and specifically Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. Watching Brooks's 2,000-Year-Old Man skit, she recalled understanding that "that was Jewish. That's how it's supposed to sound… fast and furious and human and exhausted and hilarious." It's a style she replicated in Gilmore Girls, with its knowing references and witty repartee.

So there you have it: the non-Jewish heroines of Gilmore Girls - two of the funniest, most fabulous female characters ever to grace the small screen - might well also be some of television's greatest Jews.

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