While I may not have been alive in the 1980s myself, as a Jew who comes from a long line of Philadelphians, ABC’s The Goldbergs, now finishing its eighth season, resonates with me in many ways. From watching Murray (Jeff Garlin) yell at the TV during Sunday Eagles games to watching Pops (George Segal) smear cream cheese on his morning bagel, I feel right at home.
The Goldbergs is the 1980s-set sitcom created by and based on the life of Adam Goldberg, a Jewish writer, director, and filmmaker from the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown. The series, which premiered in 2013, is adapted from a groundbreaking program of the same name that premiered on radio in 1929 and transitioned to TV in the 1940s and '50s.
Over the course of its run, the current incarnation of The Goldbergs highlights Jewish traditions and culture. Pops, who often speaks Yiddish, references his family heritage back in Russia, and there have been several Hanukkah-themed episodes. In one of my favorite episodes, Barry (Troy Gentile) tells his mother that he plans to spend the holiday with his longtime love Lainey (A.J. Michalka) instead of with Mom, so she plans an extravagant party for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah—with chocolate fountains, expensive presents, over-the-top decorations, and more.
But the onscreen Goldbergs have yet to celebrate the other, arguably more important, Jewish holidays. Passover, one of the most historic and eventful holidays in Judaism, has so many stories and traditions to explore that it feels like a missed opportunity not to integrate it into the show. Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, is one of the holiest days of the year for Jews, and would make for an excellent storyline as well. I would love to see more Jewish holidays and traditions displayed as The Goldbergs continues.
Something truly special
The Goldbergs’ family dynamic may reveal much of creator Adam Goldberg’s perspective on his zany Jewish family, but it is also clear that the characters in the show largely rely on Jewish stereotypes for characterization. Beverly (Wendy McLendon Covey), the mother of the three Goldberg children, is an overwhelming caricature of a Jewish mother. She is overly affectionate, can be found in the kitchen cooking up a brisket, and would do literally anything if it meant protecting her kids. While much of Beverly’s role on the show is to provide humor, if you have a warm, protective Jewish mother too, then you will relate to her ongoing antics.
Beverly is married to Murray, a grumpy sports fanatic and furniture store owner. Murray’s character is also based on Jewish stereotypes—he is frugal, cold, and pessimistic. While it is certainly easy to laugh at Murray's apathetic remarks about “not being a moron” or “not touching the thermostat,” it feels necessary to note that Jewish fathers possess positive qualities as well. Although it isn’t always evident—and showing affection may not come easy—it is clear to see through his actions that Murray loves his family and would do anything for them.
The Jewish family isn’t complete without the matriarchs and patriarchs: the Pops, Bubbes, Zaydes, and Mumums. In The Goldbergs, Pops is very involved in his grandchildren’s lives—he even lived at the Goldberg house earlier in the series before moving to Florida. Pops is always there to give Adam (Sean Giambrone) advice on any topic, spoil him with gifts, and accompany him to the movies. For a multitude of young American Jews, Pops reminds us of our own dear grandparents, and that is truly something special.
Proud to be Jewish
The Goldbergs is a much-needed representation of the Jewish American family—especially those of us living on the East Coast. Just like in the show, it’s the small moments and generational traditions that make us proud to be Jewish, no matter what. When anti-Semitism is rampant in the US, it is essential to have our culture depicted on screen. And fans of the show got good news this month: it’ll be back for a ninth season, and in the meantime, all seasons are available to stream on Hulu.
Image description: A scene from The Goldbergs, showing a woman with elaborate blonde hair and a blue sweater feeding a chocolate to a man in a sweater vest. They’re at a table with wineglasses and a menorah.
What, When, Where
The Goldbergs seasons 1 through 8 are available to stream on Hulu.