Sunday marks the end of an era.
After seven seasons spanning a tumultuous decade, “Mad Men” is leaving us for advertising heaven (and I don’t mean McCann-Erikson). By this time next week, Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, Betty, Sally, Pete, and all the other characters we’ve come to know and love (and sometimes hate — I’m looking at you, Megan) will be but a distant memory to be revisited on Netflix in moments of nostalgia. It’s time. But it’s also too soon.
“Mad Men” is nominally the tale of Don Draper, 1960s ad man. But that only scratches the surface of what has morphed into one of the most carefully crafted, framed and nuanced shows on TV. “Mad Men” is the story of America. “Mad Men” is the story of a generation. “Mad Men” is the story of women. And “Mad Men” is the story of the Jews.
The Jewish storyline on the show has always been very intentional. It’s no coincidence that the very first episode includes a rather shocking display of anti-Semitism: We’ve hardly even gotten to know Don when a slick, 1959-style Roger strides into his office to ask: “Have we ever hired any Jews?”
Don’s deadpan answer is even more revealing: “Not on my watch.”
Matthew Weiner confirmed the importance of the Jewish context in an interview with the Forward in March: “I wanted to highlight what I found to be the parallel issue of assimilation to what’s going on with Don in terms identity. I wanted to have this character Rachel Menken who said that she was Jewish. I wanted to talk about the ambiguities of what it means to be an American Jew. And really, how could you tell the story of New York at any time without including Jews?”
More than ten fictional “Mad Men” years later, we’ve come a long way from that first meeting with Menken’s Department Store. Sterling Cooper & Partners (formerly Sterling Cooper then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Cutler Gleason & Chough) hired a full-time Jewish copywriter, the ever-neurotic Michael Ginsberg; Peggy dated a Jewish man; Roger married a Jewish secretary (and then divorced her), and Don revealed his affinity for Jewish mistresses. The company courted Manischewiz as a serious client (and then gotfired). The Jews have arrived. “Mad Men” is a show about reinvention and rebirth. We are, as it were, the perfect example illustrating Don’s signature line: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.”
And so, in honor of our favorite TV show, we bring you the definitive guide of Jewish “Mad Men” moments.
Season 1: Jews are out
“Have we ever hired any Jews?”
What creator Matthew Weiner refers to as America’s “casual anti-Semitism” is on full view in this scene, in which Sterling Cooper meet with Rachel Menken, owner of a Jewish department store on Fifth Avenue — “Ready to sweet talk some liberal Jews?”