Gastronomic Blasphemy: Yom Kippur on Broad City and Yidlife Crisis

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It’s hard to know what to make of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s latest video-clip on Yom Kippur.   On the one hand, I am somewhat-astonished that they would portray themselves as even keeping Yom Kippur. (Somewhat because…nothing on the show is really meant to astonish anyone. The comedy is centered around their half conscious indifference toward just about everything. And their petty first-world-problems in New York City, which they take as meaningful, make me – and many others – feel cynical.) On the other hand, the fact that they even try to do Yom Kippur – because it is “Jewish” – is not astonishing at all and hits on a transgressive theme we find in some Jewish comedy.

The sacrifice they make in this episode is – of course – ironic. For one day, they won’t simply fast; rather, they won’t eat their bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches which are, throughout the clip, within the viewers frame and are within their reach.

Both Ilana and Abbi are endearing.  When they recount their bad deeds (Ilana calls that act a “Jewish” thing) we can see that they are comically naive.  They are, like children, a little naughty.  (Think of the tradition popularized by Mark Twain of the good little bad-boy.)  The “worst” thing done – at least for the moment – is Ilana’s trick on Abbi. While Ilana distracts her by asking Abbi about her Oprah poster, she sneaks a bite from a granola bar.

The conversation turns toward a discussion of blow jobs because Abbi said she “wishes she had something in her mouth.” Ilana distracts her a second time and takes a shot of whip-cream in her mouth. Abbi catches her.

But it’s too much, says Ilana. She’s dying. She can’t fast any more, so she and Abbi come up with a comical “loop hole” of sorts. If they don’t eat their ham-and-cheese sandwiches, they may be doing something deeply wrong. To kill the guilt and fear they just concocted, they quckly eat their sandwiches.

They feel good after doing it. And that’s really what its all about on Broad City: feeling good about what you do, whatever that is, even though that feeling is, like all else on the show, a passing amusement.

Rather than read this as simple blasphemy – what, after all, is worse than eating on Yom Kippur? – we can read in their gestures as indicative of a kind of Jewishness that is based on something American: always doing what one wants. After all, American Jews are free and…not just Jewish. This theme is nothing new.   Yid Life Crisis plays with the theme of eating on Yom Kippur in its first episode.

The difference – it seems – is Jewish literacy. While Abbi plays a foil to Ilana, in the end she gives in. And they share in the “deed.” In Yid Life crisis, the same thing happens. But, at the very least, they are speaking Yiddish. Either way you roll it, the jokes “edginess” is based on a kind of blasphemy. But one is more indifferent and illiterate than the other.

The kind of Jewishness that has the upper hand is “gastronomic.”  On this note, Ted Merwin, a scholar who just published a book entitled Pastrami on Rye: an Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli, thinks that the “gastronomic” type of Jewishness is having its last gasps.     Jewishness, he thinks, needs to turn elsewhere if it is to survive.

What’s fascinating about both of these clips is the fact that instead of eating Jewish food, all the characters eat treif.   But can the celebration of treif and the transgression of Yom Kippur spell out the survival of Jewishness? Can turning transgression of food taboos, ironically, give life to a new kind of “edgy” and comical Jewishness?   And what does it imply that the survival of Jewishness must be at the expense of Judaism which it should continuously mock?

The practice of mocking Judaism is nothing new. The indifference to things that are Jewish by American Jews, however, is.   And while Yid Life crisis pitches all of its shows to Jews with a strong sense of Jewishness, Broad City has a wider audience. And its Yom Kippur episode is a drop in the American bucket.   In the end, it seems more and more obvious that happiness is greater for many American Jews than Yiddishkeit. (The millennial generation, which is appealed to by Broad Street, is after all the audience.)  With this in mind, I can, in fact, say that I am surprised by that Broad Street would even stage this Yom Kippur transgression.  Perhaps there is still hope.

If people still keep something Jewish, then there can be a punch line. If they don’t, I wouldn’t expect Broad City, Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, et al to tell any Jewish jokes in the near future.   One wonders, like Noah Baumbach, whether many millennials even care.

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