Close to two decades ago, I sat with my cousin on the concrete structure separating Rockaway Beach from the street our grandparents lived on. It was September and we were waiting for Rosh Hashanah to begin. Now that I’m a parent, I can’t imagine letting a nine-year-old hang out at a deserted Rockaway Beach entry without adult supervision but the 90s were special—and I’m sure the adults were glad to have us out of their hair while they prepared for the holiday. Meanwhile, we were doing the essential work of engaging in the great debate of our time: Dylan vs. Brandon.
Neither of us can remember who took which side but looking back, I understand that this was my first time actively participating in pop culture, having the same conversation as many other people, at the same time. That participation was hard-fought and delicately-brokered. My modern Orthodox parents weren’t enthused by the idea of a show about teenagers and sex, so we made a deal. I, a nine-year-old child, would be allowed to watch this show featuring adults playing teenagers, as long as I attended the children’s Mishna class at our shul on Shabbat afternoons.