Who Are Some Popular Jewish Cartoon Characters from the 1990's and Today?
The television landscape today is so much different from when I was a child. For example, back in the day, only skinny, straight haired young girls were on most television series. No one wore glasses unless they were a nerd or in the process of being “transformed” into a unbespectacled goddess. Now children come in all shapes and sizes and are friends with and/or date others from a different race and no one bats an eye. Even the overweight and nerdy kids have love interests!
Photo from freedigitalphotos.net/digitalart
Another change in the children’s programming landscape is religion. Growing up, there was only one religion portrayed on television, and that was Christianity. Rankin Bass specials ruled the airwaves each holiday season and there was nary a mention of Chanukah. Passover was acknowledged each year with the ABC airing of The Ten Commandments.
In the 1990’s a gradual shift began to appear in cartoons. Jewish characters were being written into children’s programming. As a new mother during this decade, I welcomed this addition and was happy that my daughter could see people on television who were just like her.
Here are some Jewish cartoon characters that have appeared on television over the past two decades.
Rugrats was a Nickelodeon cartoon which debuted in 1991 and lasted until 2004, making it one of the longest running cartoons on television. The original story revolved around four babies-Tommy Pickles, Chuckie Finster, and the twins Phillip and Lillian DeVille. Their nemesis was three year old Angelica Pickles, cousin of Tommy.
On December 4, 1996, Nickelodeon debuted A Rugrats Chanukah, celebrating the Jewish holiday that was, until that point, virtually ignored by network children’s programming. While the grandparents who were driving the storyline were a bit stereotypical with the Yiddish accents and in their appearance, the premise of the show was to share the story of Chanukah with the masses.
It was a huge success and put a stamp on the Pickles family that yes, they were Jewish. Dad Stu was Christian, but mom Didi was Jewish.
Even though they are an interfaith family, in the second Rugrats series All Growed Up, Tommy finds romance at Hebrew School with a girl named Rachel as they undertake their studies for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
This Was a Huge Deal Back in 1996!
Francine Alice Frensky
Arthur PBS Kids 1996-Present
When author/illustrator Marc Brown first published Arthur’s Nose in 1976, he had no idea that almost 40 years later, his characters would be one of the most beloved on all of PBS television.
In 1996, PBS Kids aired the first episode of Arthur. It soared into the ratings stratosphere and the books flew off the shelf. Arthur is an aardvark who is friends with all kinds of “people” (they are all animals like he is). He goes through the same experiences many eight year old third graders do-having homework, dealing with younger siblings, and working through his relationships with his friends.
One of Arthur’s best friends and occasional enemy is Francine Frensky. She really likes Arthur, but is mean to him so he does not find out.
Francine does not start off as Jewish, but as the series progresses, we learn that she is, She tries to skip her cousin’s Bar Mitzvah to play in a bowling tournament, and there is also an episode revolving around the holy day of Yom Kippur. In Arthur’s Perfect Christmas, Chanukah is celebrated.
Francine Celebrates Hanukkah
ABC Disney One Saturday Morning 1997-2000
I vividly remember watching this show and this episode with my older daughter. The theme song was catchy (watch the video below) and it was just a fun program to watch.
Pepper Ann was a 12 year old tween navigating life. Due to her parents’ divorce, she lives with her Jewish mom and younger sister. On the episode A Kosher Christmas, her non-committed way of growing up-celebrating everything but not really being any religion, comes into focus when she has to learn her line for a school play about all of the December holidays. It kind of reminds me of Judy Blume’s Are You There G-d? It’s Me, Margaret.
While my husband and I are raising our children in the Jewish faith, we are still an interfaith family. Some of the points touched upon in the show still hold true today.
Pepper Ann Theme Song
Hey Arnold Nickelodeon 1996-2004
“Hey football head!” was the cry from Helga Pataki to Arnold (who has no known last name). This hit Nickelodeon show ran for eight years and even had a movie of its own. Arnold was an orphan who lived with his grandparents and an eclectic group of characters in their boarding house.
When not at home, Arnold had an equally eclectic group of classmates, one of them being the bully Harold Berman. He is larger than the others, as he had been held back a time or two.
In one episode, it is Harold’s Bar Mitzvah. The kids at school do not know what that is, so the ensuing lesson is given to educate not only them, but to the viewers as well.
In the video clip below, some previously unknown facts are revealed.
Harold's Bar Mitzvah Explained
As Told By Ginger 1998-2003
In the episode An Even-Steven Holiday Special, Ginger discovers that she is one-quarter Jewish. She now wants to discover her Jewish roots and tries to evenly celebrate both the Chanukah and Christmas holidays. It does not go right, but it also demonstrates again how difficult it is to try to make things even with two very different holidays.
Although she is not really Jewish, the fact that Ginger wants to explore this part of her heritage is a positive thing.
As Told by Ginger Theme Song
A little life lesson in 45 seconds
Phineas and Ferb Disney Channel 2007-Present
It seems that everyone except Phineas knows that Isabella Garcia-Shapiro is in love with him. Known for her catchphrase “Whatcha doin'?”, she is an integral part of the adventures that Phineas and step-brother Ferb partake in.
Isabella comes from a mixed heritage-something not often seen in cartoons. She has a Mexican-Jewish mother and a Jewish father. In her bedroom has several Jewish objects in it as well, so viewers can assume that is the faith that she practices. Her mother uses Yiddish phrases and in several episode, she mentions that Chanukah is the holiday that she celebrates.
In the video clip below, you can watch her two worlds intersect.
Mexican-Jewish Cultural Festival
The List Goes On
The Jewish cartoon characters listed here are from programs that I enjoyed watching with my children. There are others from adult cartoons, such as Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons, Kyle Broflovki from South Park, and there are a host of Jewish characters in The Family Guy.
It is nice to see diversity on television!