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Queer Jewish Difference

by Ethan Tussey

by Rachel Silverman for IN MEDIA RES

Because neither Jewish identity nor lesbian/gay identity is a necessarily seen identity, beginning in the mid nineteenth century and continuing through the Second World War, attempts made to find biological and social differences between Jews and Christians and between homosexuals and heterosexuals occurred in conjunction. In 1964, Sontag’s

Notes on Camp identified the combination of the Jewish moral sensibility and the gay aesthetic as the shapers of modern American culture. In 1993, Tony Kushner’s award winning play, Angels in America, partnered a gay man dying of AIDS with a Jew. And in 1998, NBC pioneered the television landscape with the first-ever principal gay characters on the show Will & Grace. Will, of course was gay, and Grace Jewish.

Since then, a number of television shows pushing the boundaries of gay representation on television have included Jewish characters: Queer as Folk’s (2000) lone lesbian couple features the Jewish civil-rights attorney Melanie Marcus; The L Word (2004) includes the notoriously twisted Jenny Shecter, another Jew; and today’s hit series Glee (2009) again positions Jewish and gay identity in conjunction with the best-friend pairing of Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry.

As the diversity amongst, and visibility of, lesbian and gay characters continues to increase, their Jewish counterparts, however, remain in the dark. The Glee holiday special not only showed Rachel creating a Christmas wish-list for her boyfriend Finn but also her serenading him with “Last Christmas” as they meandered through a Christmas tree lot. And while Modern Family does a great job showcasing gay dads (and mixed race marriages), it completely ignores Jewish identity.

Recently, someone suggested I watch Big Bang Theory to check out the Jewish mother of Howard Wolowitz. But what I soon realized is that Mrs. Wolowitz is never there to be seen. She is simply a voice – a stereotypically Jewish voice.

While in no way am I disparaging the increase and diversity of lesbian and gay representation, I can’t help but wonder: Where have all the Jews gone?

Big Bang Theory-Howard's Mother

Clip from Big Bang Theory featuring Howard's Mother

from The Big Bang Theory (2008)
Creator: CBS
Posted by Ethan Tussey