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A Small-Screen Roundup of Who’s a (Female) Jew

Women are featured prominently in television series more than ever this season. How are the Jewish characters faring?

Among the shows popular with teen girls, only the cleverly written “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has a regular Jewish character, the scholarly witch-in-training Willow Rosenberg, played by Alyson Hannigan. She has bemoaned having to sneak to a friend’s house to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and is clearly uncomfortable brandishing crosses to deter vampires. But her Jewishness has lessened as she’s gone off to college this season.

Jews have made only quizzical appearances in the new twentysomethings shows. In “Jack and Jill,” executive producer Randi Mayem Singer suddenly wrote in Bartholomew “Barto” Zane as Jewish. His ne’er-do-well best friend warns Barto about his snobby, cold, rich intellectual parents meeting his sexy new girlfriend: “Some things do not mix: precious sons in med school and blonde shiksa dancers.” And Kevin Williamson’s “Wasteland” featured a bright, aggressive brunette who was therefore assumed to be Jewish by a guy seeking a date for Yom Kippur. The show was quickly cancelled. Mostly, if the new Jewish women on TV actually called themselves Jewish, they would be the most attractive and sexiest Jewish women on TV yet. But if you flip channels for a moment, you’ll miss the clues to their ethnic identity.

One new Jewish character this season is used—true to TV tradition—for comic relief: well-meaning lawyer Danni Lipton, played by Julie Warner, on “Family Law.” However, breaking with small screen history of the sexless Jewish woman (the frigid archetypal Lilith on “Cheers” and “Frasier”), Danni is given sexual and romantic diversions.

The most prominent character of Jewish background this season is Lily Brooks Manning on “Once and Again,” developed by the creators of “thirty-something” to explore fortysomethings groping for romance amidst divorce. Lily is played by Sela Ward. Lily’s ex-husband Jake, who took over her father’s restaurant with its predominantly Jewish clientele, could be Jewish, but their daughters have had no Jewish education and question their grandfather’s Yiddishisms. Lily did light a menorah and exchange Hanukkah presents before setting up her Christmas tree.

So while the good news is that Jewish women this season are visible, they have only a smidgen of Jewish identity and do not, of course, date Jewish men.