Libby Stein-Torres joins a growing pantheon of Jewish female cartoon characters
It’s a Hanukkah miracle—in just a few short days, the Disney Channel’s animated series The Ghost and Molly McGee will air a Hanukkah episode, “Festival of Lights.”
The episode centers around Molly’s best friend, Libby Stein-Torres, who is Jewish. The official synopsis reads: When a town-wide blackout occurs on the final night of Hanukkah, the people of Brighton seek refuge in Libby’s mom’s bookstore, the only place in town with light.
Premiering earlier this fall, Ghost is about Molly, a plucky Thai-American girl (one of Disney Animation’s first Thai-American protagonists, after Anne in Amphibia), who befriends Scratch, the crabby blue ghost haunting her family’s new house. Molly is voiced by Ashly Burch, a former writer and voice actress for Adventure Time, while Scratch is played by Dana Snyder, who kids of my generation know best as Gazpacho from Chowder and Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
I’ll admit that before hearing about the Hanukkah episode, I didn’t pay much attention to the show. I thought that, as a college student, I was too old for it. But now that I’ve tuned in, I can say that Ghost does have a cute premise, a fun animation style, and big-name talent behind the voices. (In addition to Snyder and Burch, Lara Jill Miller plays the role of Libby.)
It also has great Jewish representation. The first episode I watched was “Mazel Tov, Libby!”, in which Molly and Scratch are invited to Libby’s bat mitzvah. Molly tries her best to liven up the small and quiet party, while Scratch attempts to play a huge prank at the bat mitzvah by conjuring a giant swarm of bats. Also, there’s a gag about middle-schoolers turning into zombies whenever a slow-dance song is played at the party. It was fun, funny, and surprisingly accurate and respectful. Libby herself is shy and accident-prone, but also very caring and devoted to her family and friends (and her pet turtles). As someone who's been a huge fan of Disney and animation since I was little, I’m excited to see more of her character.
Libby is only one of a growing group of great Jewish female cartoon leads. Here are a few others:
Angelica Pickles of Rugrats
“Chanukah! You have to CHHHHH when you say it.”
This was a show I grew up with as a kid in the early 2000s, and it —and its Hanukkah and Passover specials—was definitely a cultural reset. Before this show, not many other popular kids’ shows had the guts to include Jewish holiday specials, much less ones focused on the protagonists’ family. Sure, Angelica (voiced by Cheryl Chase) was bratty and a bully, but not so nasty that you didn’t want to laugh at her crazy antics or even root for her if things went wrong.
Isabella Garcia-Shapiro of Phineas and Ferb
“Oh, um, we don't celebrate Christmas. But I got the coolest stuff for Hanukkah. Eight straight days of dreams come true!”
Isabella (voiced by Alyson Stoner) was a sweet but tough Fireside Girls troop leader who had a massive crush on Phineas throughout the series. I loved how she was a protagonist you were supposed to root for, rather than an unapologetic bully like Angelica. She and her mom often shared their heritage on the show, in songs like “Mexican Jewish Cultural Festival.”
Kelsey Pokoly from Craig of the Creek
“It’s similar to Elven, but no, this is cursive! I recognize it from my Bubbe’s birthday cards.”
Kelsey (voiced by Noël Wells) is the type of character I would have loved to see when I was little. She’s an adventure-seeking kid who loves wearing capes, wielding PVC pipe swords, and dreams of becoming a fantasy author one day. (I wonder who else was like that as a kid...hint hint). Her big bushy hair and chubby build is never the butt of the joke, as it might have been on a similar show in an earlier decade. Craig has also been praised for its positive representation of Black and LGBTQ characters.
Princess Rebecca from Elena of Avalor
“On Hanukkah night, we cook up plenty to eat...Bimuelos and latkes make such a good treat!”
Voiced by Cuban-Jewish actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, in 2019 Rebecca became Disney’s first Jewish (and first Latina Jewish) princess. Rebecca is adventurous and willing to do anything to help her family and new friends celebrate the holidays. The show’s debut Hanukkah episode was criticized for substituting Sephardi traditions with Ashkenazi ones. For example, although Rebecca helps Elena bake bimuelos for the party, she tends to use far more Yiddish phrases than Ladino ones, which would have been more authentic. Nevertheless, representing Latina Jews was a step forward for Disney, and I hope to see more of Rebecca and other (albeit more accurate) Jewish leads like her from the Disney franchise soon.
Libby Stein-Torres definitely fits the bill. It makes me proud to see how many great Jewish female cartoon leads have emerged in the past decade or so. When I was young, the best I could do was theorize about which Disney princesses could possibly, secretly be like me. There was Ariel (with whom I share a Hebrew name), and Sally of Nightmare Before Christmas. (Her dad’s last name is Finkelstein). Even Belle and Anastasia could have been Jewish...right? But Jewish kids today don’t have to guess or pretend. They can see and hear explicitly Jewish characters —including main characters—on the screen, and so can the rest of the world.