Representation Matters (a few Jewish celebrities that make me happy)
I am eight years old. The Olympics are on TV. Not really my thing, but my mom insists that we watch gymnastics. I watch as a girl from my country, Aly Raisman, does her floor routine to Hava Nagila. All I can think is, This girl is so talented. And she’s Jewish! Like me! And she’s proud of it! I don’t care that gymnastics had never interested me. I see a beautiful, strong girl on TV proudly displaying something she and i share. Something I’ve seen all my life, but not with famous people.
A couple years later, my emo phase. I’m out of touch with religion, but I’m getting into the “Emo Trinity.” As I delve deeper into bandom, I find out that Joe Trohman is Jewish. Fall Out Boy is one of my favorite bands, and even in this section of fandom that is full of Christian atheists, I find someone Jewish. Someone like me. He quickly becomes my favorite member.
It’s 2015. I discover that I’m pansexual, and it just seems to alienate me further. I know Jewish people. I know queer people. But no Jewish queer people. Religion and sexuality don’t mix… do they? Meanwhile, an openly gay singer, Troye Sivan, is gaining popularity. Not my genre, but it’s nice to see celebrities so proud of their sexualities. Somehow, I discover he’s Jewish. I read his description of how he celebrates Shabbat. Hey, that’s what I do! Wait… this means he’s a gay Jew! I’m not alone. I am not alone. It’s a powerful message to receive, and even though I still don’t listen to his music, he’s important to me just because of the impact he’s had by being himself.
The primaries for the 2016 presidential election have begun. Looking at the Democratic candidates, it’s obvious which one liberals my age prefer: Bernie Sanders. I can’t blame them. He’s smart, and he understands what we want. He aligns with me so well that I know I’d like to see him running my country. I see posts going around on the Jewish side of activist social media about Bernie being Jewish. The first time I’ve ever really understood what’s happening in a presidential election… and the first candidate I truly like is Jewish. And he has so much support. I see a Jew very similar to me getting attention gaining the support of so many people. When I expressed interest in being the president as a child, my parents would say, “You can be the first woman president and the first Jewish president!” The barrier is not broken, but he changes everything. He shows me what a Jewish person is really capable of.
Mid-2016. My friend forces me to listen to a song from some musical everybody’s obsessed with. Hamilton. I quickly fall in love like I’ve never done with a musical, and I begin to discover the cast. I see a member called Daveed Diggs. Daveed is a Jewish name in my experience, but the spelling is unfamiliar. It might be nothing. I’m likely just getting my hopes up. I try not to think about it. Hamilton is about representation, yes, but not Jewish representation. It’s for people who are black and Latino and even Asian, but not Jews. It’s not important that I’m represented with this particular show. I can let other minorities have their spotlight. Then I’m reading the Hamiltome. I reach an essay about Daveed Diggs and Okieriete Onaodowan and how they portray two radically different characters. Daveed Diggs has experience with split identities, the book informs me. He has a black father and a white Jewish mother. Wait… he’s Jewish? Daveed has the spotlight in Hamilton: his characters are loud and flashy and impressive, spitting out raps faster than anyone else. He is attractive and talented and right in the spotlight, even as a side character. He gets all this attention, and he’s Jewish. Like me. I do more research, try to find everything I can about his connections to Judaism. I talk about him nonstop, and my mom decides to nickname him my “Jewish boyfriend.” I draw him for a project in art class. Hamilton is about representation, yes, and even I am represented.