With Jerry Seinfeld set to make his standup debut in Israel on Dec. 19 in Tel Aviv, it seems an appropriate time as any to revisit some of the more Jewish-themed Seinfeld episodes in anticipation of his visit. Of course, comedy in itself is somewhat of a Jewish institution, with some of the most famous comedians and comics being members of the tribe. Maybe it’s because neuroses, nonsensical banter and cringe-worthy situations – hallmarks of shows like Seinfeld – are simply hilarious to audiences, but Jewish comedians like Seinfeld, Larry David, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, and the Marx Brothers have also succeeded due to their perfecting the art of the schtick.
Seinfeld, created by David and Seinfeld, is perhaps the most Jewish television sitcom of the last few decades. Set in New York City (New York itself is home to some 1.7 million Jews), it introduced both Jews and non-Jews to some of the most conspicuous Jewish traits and sayings – I mean, how many of you knew what a shiksa was before hearing George and Elaine discussing it on TV?
While the themes weren’t always Jewish per se, there were always subtle hints of Seinfeld and David’s heritage present, from Jerry and George’s eccentric parents to Seinfeld’s own mocking of his religion. Of course, David takes the ‘neurotic Jew’ bit even one step further with Curb Your Enthusiasm, but that is another list, for another time.
Maybe for when David decides to do a standup show in Tel Aviv?
The English Patient
In The English Patient, we are introduced to some of the most Jewish characters to ever appear on the show: the Mandelbaum family, led by father Izzy (played by Lloyd Bridges), his son Izzy Jr., and his incredibly old father. Izzy Mandelbaum is the archetypal Jew: even as a senior, he’s headstrong, stubborn, and believes that he can beat Jerry, who is considerably younger than him, in a weightlifting competition. Mandelbaum and his relatives, who own the Magic Pan crepe franchise, may seem like eccentric old men, but to Jews, they’re incredibly relatable, like your zaide who refuses to take “no” for an answer or your uncle who always challenges you to an arm wrestle. And even while their behaviour can be slightly vexing at times, they do always know how to make you laugh.
Photo: Pics About Space
Every Seinfeld episode featuring Morty and Helen Seinfeld is riddled with jokes that reek of Jewish temperament, particularly when they’re set in a retirement centre in Florida. The Pen is arguably the most hilarious and iconic of them all, introducing a cast of senior characters who are armed with countless questions and tend to, as the saying goes, make mountains out of molehills. Causing a giant controversy over something as seemingly innocuous as admiring one’s pen is quintessential Seinfeld comedy. For every Canadian and American whose parents “snowbird” out in Florida, they can also undoubtedly relate to the mayhem that is Del Boca Vista.
Many Jews seek counsel from their rabbis after encountering problems in their daily lives, though they aren’t always entirely satisfied with the rabbi’s solutions. In The Postponement, Elaine makes the mistake of confiding in an overzealous rabbi with a cable show about her being jealous of George getting engaged to Susan Ross. Needless to say, Susan isn’t entirely pleased when she and George hear the rabbi discuss it all on television, particularly when George queried if “going to a prostitute while you’re engaged is considered ‘cheating.'”
The Hamptons is iconic for several reasons, mostly for George’s “I was in the pool” excuse, and also due to one singular word: shrinkage. For Jews who keep kosher, we can all relate to Jerry’s girlfriend at the time, Rachel, who cannot partake in the fresh lobster Kramer unknowingly stole from a commercial lobster trap. When Rachel tells George’s love interest about George’s “shrinkage”, she decides to leave in the middle of the night, prompting George to seek revenge, serving Rachel and everyone else a batch of scrambled eggs for breakfast. Of course, lobster was the secret ingredient.
The Shower Head
While anti-Semitism is most definitely real, there are many Jews out there who sometimes take it a bit too far, throwing around the term ‘anti-Semite’ around without proper justification. The most candid representation of this is Jerry’s uncle Leo, known for his signature, “Hello!” who, in the episode The Shower Head, thinks that the cook at Monk’s Cafe cooked his burger medium instead of medium-rare “because he’s an anti-Semite.” Jerry then wittingly responds saying, “The point I was making before Goebbels made your hamburger…,” referring to Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Later in the episode, Leo claims his own girlfriend is also an anti-Semite, to which Jerry quips, pointing at him, “Can you blame her?”
The Fatigues in particular presents a theme relatable to any Jew regardless of their age: dating, and finding a partner who is Jewish. During the episode, Elaine learns that her rather morbid employee Eddie dons his intimidating persona only because it’s hard to find a girl, “especially someone Jewish.” Coincidentally, Kramer is putting on a Jewish singles night, which introduces an entirely different, but equally relatable, Jewish challenge: cooking Jewish food like brisket, kugel, and kreplach (all of which tasted terrible, by the way).
The Serenity Now
At a bar mitzvah of the son of Elaine’s former boss, Mr. Lippmann, the lucky 13-year-old tries to cop a field and french kiss Elaine. This leads to Elaine’s learning of her ‘shiks-appeal’, which is what causes Jewish men to lust after non-Jewish women (shiksas). “Jewish men love being with a woman who is not like their mother,” says George. Consequently, Elaine gets invitations to six more bar mitzvahs.
The Raincoats (Part II)
It is in The Raincoats where Jerry and his girlfriend Rachel perform one of the most unspeakable sins: they make out during Schindler’s List. Unfortunately for Jerry, Newman catches them in the act and tattles to Jerry’s parents, which even for a fully grown adult has severe consequences. It is when Rachel’s staunchly Jewish father learns of the incident, however, that he forbids the two from dating again. There are also several Schindler’s List references made throughout the entire episode. Apparently, Jerry came up with the concept after he learned that during the making of the film, Steven Spielberg would watch episodes of Seinfeld to cheer him up because he, naturally, became depressed.
The Yada Yada
The Yada Yada is chock-full of Jewish jokes, and features now infamous Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston as dentist Tim Whatley. After learning that Tim converted to Judaism, Jerry begins to suspect that he did so only for the jokes – which reminds me, “did you hear the one about the rabbi and the farmer’s daughter?” The Yada Yada is the ultimate Jewish Seinfeld episode, showing the Jewish Jerry sitting down on a kneeler in a church confessional, having a priest tell him that “it’s no sin” to be Jewish, and playing on anti-Semites with “anti-Dentites”. Racism, religion, ignorance, conversion, Jew jokes, and more, all packed into a 23-minute episode. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.
In The Bris, Jerry and Elaine become nervous when they learn they’re going to become godparents to their friends’ new baby. It is in this episode that we are introduced to the mohel – again a first for many younger Jews and non-Jews who have likely never heard of the term, or a circumcision in general – who is definitely one of the most memorable Seinfeld characters. Botched circumcisions, religious Jews with shaky hands, Kramer trying to rescue the baby from losing his foreskin – all motifs in a show that will forever be remembered for its witty use of Jewish humour, whether it’s in your face, or behind the scenes.
See you in the Holy Land, Jerry.