Although I haven’t seen the recently released, New York, I Love You, I have a pretty good guess as to what it’ll be like – well, the Hasidic part, at least: over-the-top, misinformed, melodramatic, and generally inaccurate. How can I be so sure? Because that’s how Hasidim are always portrayed in Hollywood: Fiddler on the Roof, Yentl, A Stranger Among Us, Kadosh, various episodes of Law and Order…These characters are never anything more than caricatures – and negative ones at that.
In fact, the only time I’ve ever encountered Orthodox or Hasidic Jews portrayed accurately was in the movie Ushpizin, when the actors and writers themselves were religious. Perhaps an additional reason that Ushpizin felt so real was because – as the story was told to me – the lead Hasidic actress in the movie actually got the writers to make her character more fiery and forthright than the script had started off. Apparently, in her experience, Hasidic women weren’t nearly as docile as the original version had depicted them.
My friend, Mayim Bialik, who’s an observant, bordering on Orthodox Jew herself, did not have much say in the matter when she was given unrealistic dialogue in her recent portrayal of a Hasidic woman on the television series Saving Grace. Despite the fact that she and I discussed the role before hand, there was not much poor Mayim could do when she was fed lines like (this is not an exact quote): “Our Torah tells us to not to cook a kid in his mother’s milk. This is the reason we have two refrigerators – one for meat and one for dairy.” (For the record – and they made this mistake in “A Stranger Among Us” too – no one has a dairy fridge and a meat fridge for kosher purposes. If an Orthodox family has two refrigerators – and I know some who do – it’s just for extra storage!)
I don’t think Hollywood plans to make any changes in regards to its portrayal of Orthodox Jews any time soon, so leave the Hollywood Hasidim in Hollywood, and stay tuned for Jew in the City, Season 2! (Due out in 2010.)