What Broad City Meant to Millennial Jewish Women

Photo: Matthew Peyton/Comedy Central

For years, depictions of contemporary Judaism onscreen tended to be the purview of a certain brand of nebbishy, neurotic Jewish man, from Woody Allen to Mel Brooks to Jerry Seinfeld. While I saw shades of their characters’ experiences in my own, I never felt truly felt represented onscreen until the first season of Broad City, back in 2014. In their onscreen alter-egos Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer reflected a distinct millennial Jewish sensibility (one that was queer and feminist to boot) possessing its own unique language and culture. With its references to DevaCurl and IBS, Birthright trips and family vacations in Florida, not to mention Bob Balaban and Susie Essman as Ilana’s parents, Broad City created a vision of contemporary American Jewish identity that felt, for the first time, like something I could relate to.

While the women share some of their predecessors’ cultural angst, they also have an unabashed self-confidence and pride in their identities (like when Ilana gives herself the nickname “Nicki Minashkenazi,” an example of how the show metabolizes mainstream pop-culture references from a uniquely Jewish perspective). In honor of the show’s finale tonight, we asked eight Jewish women writers to share the moment from the show that most made them say “damn … same.”

Ilana’s intergenerational trauma (“Lost and Found,” season five)
One of my favorite recent Broad City developments has been Ilana’s realization that she would be a great psychologist, partly from all the time she has spent dealing with her own mental-health issues (something I too have thought of myself, not to brag). While Ilana has always had a streak of darkness to her, her quintessentially Jewish angst really comes to light this season, particularly in the episode where she finds out she’s 16th-cousins with a Holocaust survivor via a 23andme-type genetic testing app and then busts him out of his nursing home to go to drag brunch hosted by Alan Cumming.

“I just found out I have the richest history a millennial Jew can have — I’m related to a Holocaust surviiiiivooooorrrr,” she exclaims to Abbi, before they bop exuberantly to the strains of Hava Nageela.

Ilana is thrilled to have a real Holocaust survivor relative upon which to bounce her theories. As she puts it to her new cousin Saul: “I’m writing my personal essay on inherited trauma. For example, I experience anxiety diarrhea three to eight times daily … now do you think that somatic expression tracks back to your horrific experience somehow, for sure?” To which a bemused Saul responds, simply: “No.”

This experience of feeling somehow “special” because of one’s personal connection to one of the greatest horrors of the 20th century, even if you grew up in middle-class comfort in Long Island, hits a little too close to home. A couple of years ago, I shared what I thought was a similarly ~deep thought~ with my therapist. Like Ilana and many other 21st century Jews, I have always been fascinated by the idea of intergenerational trauma; I wondered, could my myriad anxiety and attachment issues be something to do with the fact I was the descendant of a Holocaust survivor? “Hmm … I suppose it’s possible,” said my therapist kindly. It’s one of the unique pleasures and pitfalls of finally having TV characters to which you can really relate: it shows you that no matter how obscure and niche you think your neuroses may be, you too are also a total cliché. —Anna Silman, senior culture writer, the Cut

Sitting shiva (“Knockoffs,” season two)
Of course, sitting Shiva can be devastating, but this is Broad City, and Ilana’s grandmother’s shiva turns out to be a total party, thanks to Abbi’s Big Day. (For those unacquainted, Jewish families hold shiva after someone dies. It’s basically a days-long food-and-mourning orgy for the immediate family of whoever has passed. It also involves a lot of deli meat.) Real BC fans will remember that this episode, “Knockoffs,” also features the iconique scene in which Abbi penetrates hot-boy-hallmate-turned-daddy Jeremy with his super-fancy dildo, then ruins said dildo in the dishwasher and has to purchase a new bootleg one, which she brings to Grandma Esther’s shiva along with her totally new sense of “I just pegged” dignity.

This whole episode is delightful on several levels, but I love the shiva scene because it perfectly portrays all the tiny moments that have happened at, like, every single shiva I’ve ever been to: There’s always somber prayer and song (looking at you, Eliot). There’s usually an uncomfortable family revelation (the Wexlers once went to a swingers’ party!). And you know there will always be those cardboard-y shiva cookies that are sorta-tasteless but dipped in chocolate so you’re like, sure. (Kudos to the BC prop team for also sourcing rainbow cookies and a Costco-sized tub of popcorn.) But I actually uttered a soft “aww” when, at the end of the scene, Abbi reveals she pegged to celebrate Grandma Esther’s memory. Ah, perfection. —Jessica Goodman, senior editor, Cosmopolitan

Birthright … sorry, “Birthmark” (“Jews on a Plane,” season three)
The jokes in Broad City’s two-episode “Birthmark” arc were almost too familiar, like they’d been crafted explicitly for someone with my precise life experience. The plot, that Abbi and Ilana are attempting to go on a trip styled after those organized by Birthright, the nonprofit that sends young Jews to Israel for free, is set up in part one. The second episode, “Jews on a Plane,” packs more Judaism into 21 minutes than a phone call with my mother (just kidding, I’ve never been able to get off the phone with my mother after only 21 minutes). There’s the weird Birthmark/Birthright emphasis on getting laid, as if the easiest way to have sex in your early 20s is to get on a plane and fly to another country. (This joke has not aged well.) There’s the requisite encounter between messy American Jews who refer to things as “the bomb” and unsmiling Israeli soldiers who are looking for actual bombs. There’s even a kosher meal on the plane that costs $36, which is amazing not just because airplane food is expensive but because the number 36 has significance in Judaism — it’s two times 18, which Jews consider the luckiest number. I felt like I could have written the entire thing myself, and it was an odd feeling, tinged with appreciation (“I feel seen!” as they say) and secondhand embarrassment, because of course our own preoccupations are always a little embarrassing. Abbi, stop targeting me! But also, please write another episode about your dad, because he is exactly like my dad. —Izzy Grinspan, senior editor, the Cut

The bandage dress (“Fattest Asses,” season one).
Growing up, I struggled to find clothes that fit my Jewish Hips™. That struggle ran in my family, and although I was petite, having curvier-than-average hips for someone my size made me feel out of proportion and off-balance.

When Abbi buys her too-expensive Hervé Leger bandage dress and plans to return it, but never does, I remembered when, a few months after moving to New York when I was 22, I attended my first sample sale in one of those warehouse-esque spaces. By chance, I bumped into one of my sister’s friends, a tall, hourglass-shaped Jewish woman I deeply admired. She always looked so put together and in control of her figure that she made me wonder if there was some finishing school for young Jewish professionals I missed. At the sale, she spotted me trying on a teal blue Hervé Leger bandage dress and insisted I buy it. It hugged my hips instead of hiding them, and for the first time I felt the power of my proportions, rather than being encumbered by them. Although I was a teaching assistant making $34,000 a year, I didn’t hesitate, and charged the $400 dress marked down from $1,000. Abbi and her dress (which she rewears in several episodes — a TV rarity) exhibited a phenomenon that largely defined my young adulthood: When you find shit that fits, you never stop wearing it. —Ali Drucker, writer

Ilana’s curls (“Sliding Doors,” season four)
As a young suburban Jewess, I spent countless hours attempting to figure out what the fuck to do with my hair. The stereotype of Jewish girls is that we’ve got corkscrew-curly hair, but mine was somewhere between curly and straight, a wavy situation that would look good air-dried on a Monday, then air-dry into a sort of sad flannel blanket — limp yet fuzzy — on a Wednesday. I’d blow dry and then straighten it mostly for predictability purposes: I couldn’t even take the most calculated of risks at the most important time of my entire life. It’s an experience that every wavy-curly-ish-haired Jewish girl who’s ever gone to school with Coach wristlet girls will relate to — which is why Broad City’s fourth-season premiere is so genius. We’re introduced to Ilana and Abbi in an alternate universe, one in which Ilana spends hours every morning straightening her hair into a strange sort of flat bowl, thanks to years of bullying from her goyishe college friends. At one point in the episode, Ilana gets soaked by a sprinkler and flips out over her sopping wet, now-curly mane.

“Oh my God, this is bad!” says Ilana.

“No! It looks so good like that!” Abbi says. “Why do you straighten it?”

“Because I look like a True Jew if I don’t straighten,” says Ilana.

Abbi looks at her: “I think you’ve got a Rosie Perez–vibe going, if you poufed it up.”

Ilana is jubilant, finally set free from the Hot Tools prison of her own design: “Now I’m doing it like this every day for the rest of my life, dude! And it’ll save me two hours every morning so I’ll never be late for work again. Bonus Jonas!”

I’m not going to pretend that, as an adult, I have completely accepted that all of my physical traits that do not match Kirsten Dunst’s. I still straighten (then curl … goddess help me) my hair probably once a week, usually just on those days when I want to make sure that my hair will definitely look the same on both sides of my head. But whenever I’m on the fence about an air-dry, I think of Abbi’s wisdom and Ilana’s simultaneous discovery of confidence and time management, and I go ahead and poof it up. —Rachel Handler, staff writer, Vulture

Florida (“Florida,” season four)
Like Ilana and Abby, I too have momentarily left the rise and grind of New York City and fallen deep into the fully chilled out, finally freaking sunkissed, mode of Jewish Florida. I have slapped on SPF 100 and eaten “real fruit that hasn’t been licked by a bodega cat.” My Ashkenazi curls have bloomed in the humidity and I’ve ditched my NYC black for floral pinks and flowy pastels. I’ve spent every Thanksgiving week of my life in Key Largo, Florida (a privilege I truly appreciate — thanks grandparents), roaming the aisles of Publix, surrounded by the warmth of 80-degree Novembers. And I, too, have realized it’s all a shiny lie.

At some point I realized that, despite the constant mass exodus of 60-something Jews from the Northeast to every inch of “America’s limp dick,” Florida is only pretty on its shiny exterior. Don’t be fooled by the Star-of-David-clad grandmas who dot the streets or the PERFECT weather. In reality, there are guns everywhere you turn — you can literally buy them at K-mart —  and on any given street, you’d be lucky to see less than four MAGA signs.

This episode calls to me because it says something I have long tried to articulate. I love my Thanksgivings in Key Largo, but the older I get, and the wider my eyes become, the harder it is for me to escape the truth. As a Jewish queer adult woman, I’ve realized that even though “NYC is one giant delayed orgasm with anxiety at every turn,” the sweet warmth of Florida has already been taken by people who don’t wince at the sound of Tr*mp’s name. Florida, as it is built, is not made for me or the people I love. —Hannah Rimm, writer

The Holocaust Museum of Abbi (“Philadelphia,” season three)
Surrounded by various tchotchkes in Abbi’s childhood bedroom, Ilana calls the space the “Holocaust Museum of Abbi,” in a Freudian slip that will resonate if you too were mostly taken to Holocaust museums as a child. For a long time, I could only associate a city with what Holocaust museum or memorial it offered rather than the place itself. Jewish kids like myself knew about the Holocaust well before teachers talked about it as a footnote in their World War II unit in middle school history class. Anyone else read the picture book version of Anne Frank’s diary when they were seven and now think about what her being the icon of Jewish girlhood has done to the psyche of millions of secular Jewish girls who were taught that the person who wrote this universally transcendent relic of adolescence wasn’t any more special than them? Not to mention Anne’s bedroom is literally a museum now. And that’s what makes this moment so perfect; for so many of us the Holocaust is often present someplace in our minds, but not necessarily weighing it down.

Abbi and Ilana are able to nonchalantly move past the slip because they get that knowing about the Holocaust from a really young age is just part of our upbringing. It goes without saying, the Holocaust was not funny, but sharing lingering neurosis that stemmed from childhood exposure can work like an inside joke, and I am honestly grateful to be in on that one with Broad City. —Quinn Joeli, writer

Yom Kippur (“Hack Into Broad City” web series)
A few years ago, Abbi and Ilana posted a “Hack Into Broad City” video on Instagram about fasting on Yom Kippur. I watched it at least four times in a row and made my mom watch it (she loved it). I was fasting, and I couldn’t believe that someone made relatable Yom Kippur content without being heavy handed or trying to explain it to a non-Jewish audience. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the biggest Jewish holidays and non-Jews don’t really know they exist. While Yom Kippur is on par with Christmas in terms of importance to the religion, you don’t see many references to it in pop culture; and let’s be honest, Yom Kippur is about atonement, which doesn’t exactly make for sexy content. Seeing the short about fasting in 2015, was the first time I saw Yom Kippur represented in pop culture, and I was like “they didn’t have to make this, so many of their viewers probably didn’t get it. But they did!” And that was a beautiful thing. It felt like very specific content made for me

Seeing “Broad City” portray Jewish millennial women, played by Jewish millennial women, I felt the same way I felt when I saw the Rugrats Hanukkah and Passover episodes. That “holy crap I see myself on TV” feeling of validation. My favorite part of Broad City is that the Jewishness is woven in so seamlessly that sometimes I forget that maybe the joke or reference would only really be picked up by a Jewish audience. It never felt like a caricature (which, even though I love it, Maisel can feel like). They decided to really go there with jokes about hair, IBS, mental health, etc., and they celebrated their identity, saying things like “Jewish goddess.” The show was just so out in the open, so free from the worry that I constantly have that people aren’t going to like or accept or might even be openly hostile to that part of my identity. Ilana and Abbi’s comedy and their Jewishness were so unburdened by that. —Sarah Gray, associate editor, Business Insider

What Broad City Meant to Millennial Jewish Women