Glee star Lea Michele
Glee star Lea Michele Photo by Reuters
Text size
related tags

On a Tuesday night in April, millions of people will gather together for the tale of four Jewish children, each of whom embodies contemporary Jewish consciousness in a different way. The evening is filled with song, multiple narratives and insights into Jewish identity. I’m talking, of course, about the award-winning Fox television series “Glee.”

For those of you not in the know, “Glee” is the TV show of the moment. At once an escapist fantasy and the most realistic depiction of high school angst this side of Claire Danes, “Glee” is also — thanks largely to co-creator Brad Falchuk, son of the current Hadassah national president — among the most “out” Jewish shows to grace the small screen. Like the show’s gay, disabled, multiethnic and differently sized kids, what’s interesting about its Jewish characters is how their difference marks them as “other,” but, precisely as it does so, includes them in a very 2011 world in which difference is the one thing we all have in common.

As it happens, the four Jewish characters in McKinley High School’s glee club map quite neatly onto the four children of the Passover Seder, and the way each of them performs his or her Jewishness shines a different light on American Jewish identity, and on the themes of the Passover holiday.

Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) is the “Wise Child” — to a fault. She endlessly touts her Jewishness in one way or another, from Barbra Streisand songs to protests at Christmastime. She is also an irritating control freak, just like the unctuous Wise Child, who asks annoying, detailed questions about the statutes, laws and ordinances that God has commanded.

The Haggadah obviously wants us to praise this kid, but most years I just want to slap him. Just like Rachel, he’s a know-it-all and a drama queen. “Look at me!” the Wise Child brags, just as Rachel does. Look how smart and good I am! Like Rachel in her goody-two-shoes sweaters, the Wise Child is intolerable. Rachel is a quintessential Jewish stereotype — smart, Semitic-looking, Magen-David-wearing — and yet she performs her Jewishness in the same way she performs her many solos on the show: in your face, turned up to 11. The Wise Child is the same way.

Read more at the Forward