“The Simpsons” 25th anniversary marathon on cable network FXX — now airing every episode, plus the 2007 feature film — includes a surprising insight for careful observers: The award-winning cartoon sitcom is one of the Jews’ best friends.
For millions in North America and globally who have never actually met a Jew, “The Simpsons” has showcased us in a knowing, sympathetic, yet realistic way. The series has portrayed numerous important aspects of modern (and ancient) Jewish life in brilliant 23-minute bites. If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on “The Simpsons,” they — and we — would be well served.
Jews are part of the fabric of Springfield (The Simpsons’ home town), arguably a modern American version of Chelm, Yiddish folklore’s fabled village of nitwits. On the show, a Conservative synagogue (or Orthodox; it’s deliberately vague, like much in the series) has the unlikely moniker of Temple Beth Springfield. There’s a preserved-in-amber “old neighborhood,” straight out of New York’s Lower East Side (“Tannen’s Fatty Meats”), plus a Jewish “Walk of Fame,” featuring Sandy Koufax, Joan Rivers, Albert Einstein and Lorne Michaels.
Still, Springfield has lots of clueless gentiles, beginning with Protestant minister, Reverend Lovejoy, who keeps the local rabbi in a separate “non-Christian Rolodex,” and an elementary school principal who thinks Yom Kippur is a made-up holiday. No doubt in observance of the High Holy Days, the marquee of Lovejoy’s neighboring (but unneighborly) church reads: “No Synagogue Parking.” On a visit to New York, bad boy Bart Simpson mistakes three bearded rabbis for the Texas rock group ZZ Top. Homer, the family’s lovable doofus dad, is shocked to learn from his daughter that Mel Brooks is Jewish. He is so confused, he asks, in another episode, “Are we Jewish?”