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Jewesses with Attitude

The all-singing, all-dancing, Jewish girl on Glee

I have fallen head-over-heels in love with the new Fox series Glee.  Often called the "anti-High School Musical," Glee is a series about a group of high school misfits who find their place in the unpopular Glee Club, featuring Rachel Berry -- a Jewish girl -- as the lead female character. The show uses all the usual high school stereotypes (cheerleaders, jocks, freaks, geeks, etc.), to create a deliciously witty and hilarious satire.  The students of the Glee Club represent the standard marginalized groups you would find in a high school and it is led by, you guessed it, the strong-willed Jewish girl.

Glee never explicity states that Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele, is Jewish, but I think it is safe to say she fits the mold.  Rachel Berry is an outspoken, ambitious, academic overachiever, extremely talented in the performing arts and the target of the popular girls' bullying. She looks like the pretty girl from your Hebrew school class with long dark hair and, well, a bit of a schnoz.

Everytime a female Jewish character shows up in pop culture, I cannot help but enter into the "good for the Jews, bad for the Jews" line of analysis.  At first, I was not so sure about Rachel Berry.  Rachel is outspoken to the point of bossiness and just a little full of herself. She is, in effect, "that girl," the one who reminds the teacher he forgot to assign homework.

But Rachel's character flaws are countered by her courageous actions.  In the pilot, Rachel Berry speaks out against the Glee Club's former creepy advisor for innapropriately caressing male students during rehearsal, resulting in his termination.  In the first episode, she attends a Celibacy Club meeting in order to get closer to the boy she likes. (Feministing wrote about this scene here.) Fed up with a pointless activity, Rachel makes this speech:

Rachel: Did you know that most studies have demonstrated that celibacy doesn't work in high schools? Our hormones are driving us too crazy to abstain. The second we start telling ourselves that there's no room for compromise we act out. The only way to deal with teen sexuality is to be prepared. That's what contraception is for.

Cheerleader: Don't you dare mention the "C" word.

Rachel: You want to know a dirty little secret that none of them want you to know? Girls want sex just as much as guys do.

Male student: Is that accurate?

These actions are courageous, but it is in the second episode that Rachel Berry truly shows her chutzpah.  In this episode, the Glee Club hires a ball-busting, big-shot choreographer.  The choreographer shows up and kicks out the ugly, overweight, and disabled kids, giving the remaining students a list of things they need to work on. In Rachel's case, it's a nose job. (If you weren't convinced that Rachel was Jewish, this would seem to confirm it.)

When Rachel has to decide whether to stay or quit, she thinks for a moment and says, "Barbara Streisand."  She then delivers an inspirational speech about how Barbara Streisand became a show-biz star without changing herself to fit traditional ideas of beauty. Her speech inspires the other misfits to think of role models who overcame their disabilities or perceived shortcomings. In the end, Rachel inspires the group to fire the choreographer and run Glee themselves.

I have decided that Rachel Berry, despite her bossiness, is a female Jewish character to be proud of.  She follows in the tradition of so many Jewish women we know and love, with the courage to speak her mind, and the ability to lead and inspire change -- not to mention her talent in the performing arts.  I cannot wait to see what she does next!

The following video is an interview with Lea Michele about Glee and the character of Rachel Berry.  If you would like to see more of the show, check out the full trailer.

15 Comments

Dude, her nose is NOT big.

Dianna didnt get a nose job it kinda shows if you do and my uncle is a plastic surgeon he said it's 100% real but however she did get a rhinoplasty I researched why it's because she got punched in the nose in high school

Dianna Agron got a nose job? Do you have proof? If so, she didn't get a very good nose job, since her nose is still pretty big.

Actually Dianna Agron did not have a nose job to hide who she was, she was punched in the nose during a party when she was in high school and had to get rhinoplasty.

You can see that her nose isn't really different in those pics : http://www.sydney4women.com.au...

When casting a character, physical appearance is obviously what you focus on. In the show, Kurt is athiest. Would you be furious if Chris Colfer was actually a Christian? No, because acting is acting. Someone who is less culturally Jewish can still play one on TV; she's acting. And yes, Dianna Agron was raised in a more Jewish household, but she also got a nose job, which kind of exemplifies the whole point. I don't think you can be such a great representation of your heritage if you change yourself to hide it.<input id="gwProxy" type="hidden"/><input onclick="jsCall();" id="jsProxy" type="hidden"/><div id="refHTML"></div>

Well, it really all depends on what denomination you belong to. If you follow Reform or (I think) Reconstructionist Judaism, all you need is one Jewish parent, of either gender, to be considered Jewish. In Conservative Judaism, you will be accepted in theory if your only Jewish parent is your father, but you might still run into so issues because of your non-Jewish mother. In Orthodox Judaism, you will not be accepted in the community if your mother is not Jewish. Of course, if you go through an official conversion, you will be accpeted anywhere.

It theory it should be like you said, and in fact "if you identify yourself as being Christian, but don't follow Christianity, no one in their right mind is going you say "YOUR NOT A CHRISTIAN!!"". But if your mother is Jewish, that's completely different. Whatever you say, the Jewish community will see you as Jewish. But if your father is Jewish and your mother not, then the community will kind of accept that you are not Jewish.

That's up to her own beliefs my friend. If I am "born jewish" and I convert to Islam, then I become a muslim. If someone is born Catholic but recognizes themself as Jewish, then they are jewish. If they don't have any religious beliefs but still identify themsleves as Jewish, guess what? Their still Jewish. If you identify yourself as being Christian, but don't follow Christianity, no one in their right mind is going you say "YOUR NOT A CHRISTIAN!!"

Quite possibly. But isn't one only deemed Jewish if one's mother is Jewish? Hence, Lea Michele is Catholic...

The character "Puck" is Jewish in the show too. A vastly different take on Jewish boys although he does have the stereotypical Jewish mother (hinted at in later episodes).

I think she's talking about the character not the actress, for one thing. And for another, stereotypes don't have to be negative, and there's nothing negative about the way they are referenced in this blog entry.

Lea Michele is of Jewish descent in real life too - her real name is Lea Michele Sarfati, her mom's Catholic but her dad's Sephardi. She played Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof and performed as Anne Frank too.

Yes, Rachel does mention she is Jewish in the third episode, I believe.

If you watched the show, Rachel mentions she's Jewish.

Pretty depressing that what makes a character Jewish is having stereotypical character traits and a big nose. In fact, as far as I can tell, the word "Jewish" these days is used mostly as a description of physical appearance or of personality traits, instead of describing someone's religious beliefs and/or ethnic heritage.

Rachel Berry is supposed to be the daughter of a mixed-race gay couple. I don't know if she is Jewish in some way, but I do know the ethnic background of the actresses on the show.

Diana Agron, who plays the pretty blonde cheerleader, is Jewish and had a Bat Mitzvah.

Jessalyn Gilsig, who plays the teacher's hot blonde wife, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. She married her Jewish husband, a high school football star, in a Jewish ceremony.

And finally, Lea Michele, who plays the aforementioned Rachel Berry, is the daughter of a Sephardic Jewish father and a non-Jewish Italian mother. She wasn't raised Jewish. That makes her less Jewish than Gilsig, and certainly, Agron.

Yet out of all these women, Michele is the one who is somehow the "Jewish" one, mostly due to the mindset of people like the writer of this blog. Kind of proves my initial point, doesn't it?

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "The all-singing, all-dancing, Jewish girl on Glee." 17 September 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/glee>.

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