Ten Jewish pop culture moments from 2015

This year, as always, Jews contributed to the worlds of art, music, literature, film, television, comedy — and even Instagram modelling. Here are some of the moments that made members of the tribe stand out in the increasingly bizarre, fast-paced whirlwind of pop culture.

1. Larry David’s Bernie Sanders impersonation on SNL 

One of the world’s most prominent Jewish comedians imitating the buzzworthy Jewish presidential candidate would have been notable regardless of the act’s execution. But on Saturday Night Live in October, Larry David aced the role he seemed born to play: fellow Jewish curmudgeon and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. From his Brooklyn-tinged voice to his energetic hand gestures, David did a “prettay, prettay, prettay” good job.

2. The opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Fans wearing Storm Trooper costumes ahead of the first public screening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at TOHO Cinemas in Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 18, 2015. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The release of seventh film in the Star Wars franchise was probably the most hyped pop culture event of the past decade, let alone 2015. It shattered a slew of box office records when it opened Dec. 18, earning US$250 million in its first weekend alone. But not only is this a major American — nay, global — happening, it’s a Jewish one, too. The creative minds behind the project are Jews J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek) and Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) who re-wrote an initial script penned by Michael Arndt. Abrams, who also directed the film, said in August that the idea for the movie’s villains “came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again?”

3. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ performance on 8 Days of Chanukah on The Late Show 

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, a 10-piece Motown-styled band, had already been a favourite of hipsters and soul enthusiasts alike. But they won over a new crowd of Jewish fans with the release of their song, 8 Days of Hanukkah” on their recent holiday album. The band’s performance of the song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert showcased singer Jones’ soulful spunk and established the song as the season’s funky new Chanukah anthem.

4. Jon Stewart’s montage of his Jewish moments on The Daily Show

Chuck Schumer made a surprise appearance on "The Daily Show" as Jon Stewart looked back at his Jewish moments as host on July 23, 2015. (Daily Show screenshot)

In July — two weeks before Jon Stewart left the show he transformed into a cultural cornerstone — Sen. Chuck Schumer made a surprise appearance, prompting the comic to show a video of some of the program’s most Jewish moments (which include his pronunciation of several Yiddish phrases and his famous comparison of Easter candy to the items on a seder plate). Warning: Longtime Daily Show fans might get teary-eyed with nostalgia.

5. Lena Dunham’s New Yorker piece about her Jewish boyfriend — or was it her dog?

Lena Dunham and boyfriend Jack Antonoff, guitarist for the band Fun!, attending the "Girls" season four series premiere after party at The Museum of Natural History in New York City on January 5, 2015. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Among her many talents, Lena Dunham, the Jewish creator of HBO’s Girls, can safely count a knack for offending large numbers of people. In March, Dunham penned “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” a humour piece in the New Yorker that jokingly compared the two subjects in its title. We don’t know if her real-life Jewish boyfriend (Fun! guitarist Jack Antonoff) was offended, but several Jews (and non-Jews) took issue with the piece, citing old stereotypes that perniciously compared Jews to dogs.

6. Matisyahu playing at a festival he was disinvited from

Matisyahu may no longer sport a large beard or be affiliated with the Chabad movement, but his Jewishness was front and center once again in August. European BDS protesters successfully forced a Spanish festival to disinvite him from playing for his refusal to declare his support for a Palestinian state. After a wave of public backlash to the decision, Matisyahu eventually was invited back and defiantly played the song Jerusalem in front of a crowd that flew Palestinian flags. “Let music be your flag,” he said during his set.

7. Lil Dicky climbs the Billboard charts

Rapper David Burd, also known as Lil Dicky, frequently references his Jewishness. (Wikimedia Commons)

From the Beastie Boys to Drake, the music industry has seen its share of Jewish rappers. But none have tackled the humour of white (and Jewish) suburban America quite like David Burd, aka Lil Dicky (read our exclusive one-on-one with him here). After creating a series of music videos with millions of views, Burd, a former advertising writer, released a full album, Professional Rapper, in July.  Featuring the likes of Snoop Dogg, T-Pain and comedian Hannibal Burress, the album peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart — and hints that Lil Dicky’s ambition in the industry goes far beyond white-boy comedy.

8. JDate sues over the letter “J”

Item No. 8 is brought to you by the letter “J.” After a successful rise in the Jewish dating game, the matchmaking app JSwipe was sued by older (and larger) competitor JDate for its usage of the letter “J.” Though the suit began in fall of last year, the case stayed under wraps until this summer when a Forbes writer unearthed it for the public, causing a wave of ridicule and commentary. JDate also claimed to own the patent to the matching technology used by a host of other dating apps.

9. Amy and Chuck team up for gun control

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York joins his cousin, comedian Amy Schumer, to launch a campaign for gun control. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Comedian Amy Schumer found herself involved in the gun control debate in the wake of a violent shooting at a Louisiana theatre that was showing her movie Trainwreck. (This happened just weeks after her childhood rabbi called her a “sweet, funny kid who often asked probing and humorous questions” at Hebrew school.) Sen. Chuck Schumer, her second cousin once removed, joined her in launching a campaign for gun control shortly after the shooting in late July.

10. Cindy’s conversion on Orange is the New Black

Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), left, and Flaca (Jackie Cruz) in “Orange Is the New Black.” (Courtesy of Netflix)

In a year filled with big Jewish TV moments — from Don Draper sitting shiva on Mad Men to the hilarious casting of Ilana’s Jewy parents (Bob Balaban and Susie Essman) on Comedy Central’s Broad City — the most memorable had to be Cindy’s growing interest in Judaism (first jokingly, then seriously), culminating with her conversion in the season finale of Netflix’s hit Orange is the New Black.