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TV’s Newest Jewish Character

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It seems the Jewish community can now claim another Jewish character on television: Lois Griffin, from the Fox animated sitcom The Family Guy.

In last Sunday’s episode, it’s revealed that Lois Griffin’s mother, Barbara Pewterschmidt, is Jewish. The episode revolves around Lois and her husband, Peter, discovering what it means to be a Jewish family (in the typically off-the-wall fashion of The Family Guy).

Much of the content of the episode is not fit for reproduction here, but the premise brings up some interesting notions about Jewish identity and intermarriage. The family takes for granted that family members are now Jewish simply because Lois’ mother was Jewish, even though they have never done anything Jewish in practice. And while exploring their heritage, which includes joining a synagogue and holding a Passover Seder, Peter has a moment of crisis when he is visited by the ghost of his Catholic father, who tells Peter not to abandon his faith. The last act of the show then becomes about navigating the challenges of living in an interfaith home.

Having these issues played out on The Family Guy might not be the best venue to elevate conversations about intermarriage, children of intermarriage and Jewish identity, but the fact that one of televisions most popular sitcoms based an entire episode around these issues shows us just how common they have become. Art (and I use that term somewhat loosely here) is a reflection of life, and perhaps giving these subjects a prominent role will help remove their stigma and pave the way for more interfaith families to begin their own Jewish journeys.



2 Comments

  1. You know, you guys, it often seems that while trying to present an accepting point of view, you are doing the opposite - in this case, by denigrating the notion that a family with Jewish ancestry is not Jewish because they haven’t “done anything Jewish.” Everyone has to start somewhere. Most of us did not create the circumstances into which we were born. You may want to think about what it would be like to be from an interfaith family and hear this message. Can you talk to us instead of at us or about us?

    Family Guy episodes aside - it’s a pretty offensive show, in my opinion - Jewish heritage and ancestry…are real. Most of us don’t just pull ideas about our Jewish heritage out of the air. We’re not randomly grasping into an imaginary ether. It’s part of our lives, even as a backdrop.

    I encourage you to read “Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes.” Yes, the issues are common - and it sounds, from what I’ve heard, likely to become even more so as intermarriage rates increase.

    Some of us just want to learn how to live Jewish lives, embrace Jewish values, and develop a spiritual practice. If the goal of religion is to cultivate a relationship with God and to live a God-centered or God-directed life, what possible difference can it make who a person’s family is - or was? I wish Judaism as a faith technology were accessible to anyone who wants it. I don’t think that is an unreasonable thing to want. This is about God, not about tribalism. I don’t know why everyone hates children of intermarriage…it seems so un-Jewish. I wish people would rethink their priorities and prejudices, instead of treating children and grandchildren of intermarriage as if we are somehow delusional for wanting to identify as Jews, or too dirty to be worthy of Jewish learning.

    Comment by Sara — October 12, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  2. Sara,
    I apologize if my comments were interpreted as offensive. My point was simply that the Griffins - who had been portrayed as Catholic up until this point - were so quick to call themselves Jewish without any past exploration or real interest in the religion.

    Of course JOI’s position is one that if the Griffins (or a real-life family in their situation) decide to start exploring their Jewish heritage, we as a Jewish community should lower every barrier and provide all the tools necessary to do so - regardless if it’s the father or the mother who comes from a Jewish background. Or even if the family wants to explore Judaism because they are attracted to Jewish values. Everyone is welcome.

    We don’t believe - and we say this quite often - that children of intermarriage are any less Jewish than children of in-marriage. Our big tent is big enough for everyone. It’s more about personal identification than anything else. We work day in and day out to make sure Judaism is accessible to everyone who approaches because we know that’s the best way to ensure a strong and vibrant Jewish future.

    Comment by Levi Fishman — October 22, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

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