There was a Seinfeld teaser during the Super Bowl, and it made me miss the show terribly. Seinfeld stands as one of my favorite TV shows of all time. I was relatively young when it originally aired, but the older I get, the better the reruns are. Every time I fly on a plane, I’m reminded of Jerry sitting in first class devouring an ice cream sundae beside an international supermodel, while Elaine sits squashed into an economy-class seat gazing grimly at her kosher meal of mystery meat.
We have Seinfeld to thank for so many “inside jokes” and witticisms in everyday American life that I often forget just how large a role Judaism played in the show. It wasn’t just that three of Seinfeld’s four main characters were played by actors with Jewish backgrounds, it was the fact that Jewish undertones colored the scripts of the show’s most famous episodes. From the Soup Nazi - a fearsome chef who would turn away patrons at the slightest misstep - to the newly converted Jewish dentist who Jerry lamented became Jewish for the jokes, Seinfeld always had a way of bringing non-political Jewish culture to the masses.
Even Yiddish words were littered throughout the script - from kibosh to shiksa - teaching Americans across the cultural board catchphrases of a language once relegated to a relatively tiny group of people. Indeed, Seinfeld brought the Chosen People to living rooms across the United States. In fact, I’ve had many a non-Jewish friend tell me they learned all they needed to know about Judaism through Seinfeld.
This “show about nothing” also revealed to the world that Jewish people are normal. In a way, it beat back the sort of anti-Semitism that’s bred by ignorance. Today, when Israel – and Diaspora Jews in its wake – is being increasingly isolated, we could do with a show that reminds non-Jews that we’re just like them. Most Americans could instantly relate to the themes and jokes of Seinfeld – we all have a crazy friend, like Kramer; another who couldn’t hold a steady job, like George; and a girlfriend that couldn’t dance to save her life, like Elaine. Perhaps if these characters were still around it would keep encouraging non-Jews to relate to us.
It gets me wondering how a Seinfeld episode written in 2014 would look. Would George and Jerry discuss the nuances of texting after a date? Would there be a catchphrase for incessantly updating one’s Facebook status? Instead of creating a coffee table book, would Kramer have a scheme for the next big blog?
Perhaps a Seinfeld episode of 2014 would start off with the gang planning their meeting at Tom’s Restaurant via a group WhatsApp message, only to be chastised by the newly-converted Jewish dentist for using their smartphones on Shabbat. George would arrive with a new SodaStream to Jerry’s great shock and horror, and a debate would ensue as to whether or not he is morally obliged to return it to the store. Elaine would accidently order 100 dresses from an online sale due to a typo on her iPad, and Kramer wouldn’t get it why his latest date dumped him for posting on YouTube a raunchy clip she sent him via a email.
The real beauty in Seinfeld was its ability to turn both the banality of everyday existence into something hilarious, and help us spot the ridiculous nature of the trials and tribulations that overwhelm us daily. As life today continues being as complicated as ever, we could all do with a little “serenity now!”
Yael Miller lives in Washington, D.C.
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