Every TV show strives to create new and original ideas that before would have never been shown on large scale networks. For instance: the mikvah, a fairly private ritual that is only known to practicing Jews. It is an essential component to converting to Judaism and it can often be very meaningful.
Black Cindy, in “Orange is the New Black,” goes to the mikvah for the first time when her inmates find a hole in the fence surrounding the jail and escape to go swimming in the neighboring lake. Black Cindy immerses herself in the lake with all the proper ritual blessings for the mikvah. To anybody who has experienced going in the mikvah, this seems like such an authentic Jewish thing, but there is one problem: Black Cindy’s whole conversion process is focused on the individual while Judaism is about community. While it is great that they have a mikvah scene, “Orange is the New Black” is just focusing on this one character’s journey, while in Judaism you need other people to function. To truly understand the beauty of Judaism is to see the Jewish community in action.
Usually, after a person converts she is greeted into the community through some sort of gathering. However, this is not a usual experience. While yes, Black Cindy is in jail, she still does not reach out to other Jewish inmates or rabbis after her visit to the mikvah. We never see her interact with another Jewish inmate or participate in any other Jewish rituals. She does continue to stand with the Jewish people and often gets in fights with her Muslim roommate, but Judaism is so much more than these small interactions of a person acting alone. Judaism is a very communal religion and it is unlikely that Black Cindy would not be able to find any Jewish support, even in a prison.
The writers of “Orange is the New Black” are portraying a different type of Judaism than the one that I know and love. TV shows generally tend to focus on the individual instead of a larger community, which is a core element of Judaism. Another example of this is in “Arrested Development,” when George Sr. decides to become Jewish while in solitary confinement. His experience is solely personal and he never even reaches out to a rabbi for support. Because these two characters are in prison, they cannot attain the strong community that is essential for even basic mitzvot such as prayer with a minyan.
Without a community, practicing many mitzvot would be impossible and impractical. To TV writers, Judaism is just a comical plot point instead of a lifelong commitment to a very intense religion. If writers wanted to write something more authentic, they would show characters practicing Judaism long after the conversion process.
Jewish communities are essential not only for spiritual support, but also for physical support for every Jewish person. One example of supporting Jewish communities is in my hometown of Pittsburgh. Last year, a 5-year-old year was playing with matches before Shabbat and received severe burns all over her body. The entire community rallied together to organize meals and visits for this family. Although my family barely knew the family of this girl, we still wanted to help them in any way possible.
Judaism ties all of us together, and I know that no matter what happens in the world, the Jews will always be rooting for me. Whenever anything occurs in Israel, like with the kidnapping and murder of the three boys, each Jew feels it very personally, as if their own brother or son were missing. Uniting community makes Judaism special, and the writers of this show missed this essential element. If television writers included plot points where Jews banded together, that would show a more authentic understanding of Judaism.
Yael Perlman is a rising senior at The Ellis School for Girls. She is an editor for the Ellisian Times and helps underclass students with their essays through the Writing Fellows Program.