New Amsterdam “Sabbath” Episode Gets Closer To Realistic But Misses The Mark

I’m so sick of Hollywood getting Hasidic Jews wrong on TV and movies. It’s a really big lift to get the details correct and approach the characters in a way in which they can portray their humanity. That’s why I was more hopeful when I heard that NBC’s New Amsterdam had an episode with Orthodox characters (Season 2, Episode 14) who were more modern. Less ways to mess up, and they did indeed mess up less, but still many inaccuracies that could have been corrected had they actually bothered to speak to an insider. Let’s go through the Jewish scenes one by one.

  1. The episode is called “The Sabbath.” Already, I’m nervous because they’re going to use Orthodox Jews yet again as devices for their storyline. We can also come to your hospital any other day of the week and just be regular patients in yarmulkes who discuss with each other if anything in the cafeteria is kosher. You’d see our Orthodoxy like that, but not in a weird unrealistic way.
  2. The family arrives and is kind of screaming, but hey the mom’s head is bleeding, so it’s understandable. They are dressed in pretty modern clothes for Orthodox representation, so let’s give the show a point for diversity. The dad is wearing a large black velvet yarmulke, which generally connotes someone from the yeshivish (charedi, but not chasidic) community, but the mom’s hair is uncovered and her name is Stephanie. So this is a bit of an unexpected match, but it’s not egregious, so we will not lose too much sleep over it.
  3. Stephanie needs to tell us she slipped going to “shul.” Now, let’s give them a point for having the women going to shul, but most Orthodox Jews know to translate that to “synagogue.” I hate the notion that the Orthodox Jew must always talk in Orthodox-speak when we know how to translate Jewish words for general audiences, as it’s simply rude or dumb to use words people don’t know.
  4. Mom is going to need to get hooked up to machines, which the teenage daughter is so concerned about. Here she uses English when addressing her father and says “Sabbath.” When we speak to each other we do use Jewish speak, so in this moment, she would have said “Shabbos” or “Shabbat.” Even though she’s an Orthodox teenager, she seems to not know that breaking Shabbos for medical care is OK. Her father has to remind her that “Hashem” allows it. This is pretty silly, and again, bring us in on a Tuesday and you can avoid these weird moments, NBC, and treat us like nearly regular people. Also, bring in Orthodox Jews to tell you not to do this.
  5. Mom starts to have all sorts of weird reactions, she can’t feel her legs or arms, no one knows why. This is fine. Next scene, husband and sons are sitting with her while she’s in her sicker state. This is a tender and human moment showing husband and sons loving mom, even though they’re Orthodox, and we usually see males hating women. So let’s give the show a point for that!
  6. Next scene gets weird. The daughter gets caught watching basketball on the visitor room TV (though let’s give a point for them showing Orthodox girls – not me, but others – watching basketball on TV!) But this is probably the worst part of the show, and man, they were so close to not totally botching it. Dr. Kapoor catches the daughter watching basketball on the Sabbath! Now, to be honest, if you pass by a TV screen that was already on, while you’re in a hospital to distract yourself from your mother’s scary medical episode a little while earlier, it’s probably not the worst thing in terms of Jewish law or practice. What gets weird, though, is that the daughter then turns the TV off once she’s been caught and confesses that she has been sneaking TV on the Sabbath to watch her favorite team play. She explains of course she’d never do anything else to break the Sabbath, but it’s too hard to not watch TV when her team is winning. This is a strange and unrealistic storyline for a girl who otherwise seems into her family and her Judaism. I do believe it’s the writers projecting their feelings of “how could you miss the big game?” onto the character as opposed to understanding why an otherwise well-adjusted girl who seems happy with her life wouldn’t do this. But wait, there’s more. Then Dr. Kapoor guesses this girl has also snuck a treif hotdog from a street vendor, caught a tapeworm from it, and gave it to her mom when she kissed her. Now, this is also a super bizarre take that this girl is now cheating in all sorts of ways, when we have no reason to see that she’s rebelling against something. It’s also a bizarre medical take, the the one time the person eats a treif hotdog, she not only gets sick but passes it on to her mom? Though, let’s give another point to the show for making treif food seem so disgusting! Perhaps they even made some viewers kosher from that.

All in all, one of the least bad takes I’ve seen in a while. But TV shows need to stop using people from our community to as plot devices and just stick us into shows as regular people who happen to be religious.

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