It has been an interesting time for representations of Jews on television this week. The latest episode of Sons of Anarchy, an American show about a Californian motorcycle club which is trying to get out running drugs and guns and into more “legitimate” businesses such as high-class escorts and adult films, contained many Jewish references, many of them gratuitous. The first consisted of various background shots of a porn shoot called “Cocks and Bagels” (a pun, apparently on that classic combination, Bagels and Lox). On the set was a classroom with a chalkboard containing Hebrew in front of which a “teacher” was delivering his class to scantily-clad “students” wearing kippot and Stars of David over their breasts. Later on in the episode, the Sons encounter a nasty Jewish pimp called Greensleeves (aka Adam Greenblatt). Greensleeves wears a Star of David around his neck and appears to be tattooed with Hebrew letters (prompting a query from the show’s main protagonist, Jackson “Jax” Teller whether that is “kosher”). Greensleeves, though, is according to one of his prostitutes only pretending to be Jewish and “has a foreskin down to his knees.” We’ll never find out, though, because Jax kills him. Finally, in Sons, a long-running Jewish character, Bobby Elvis, is captured by a rival gang and has his eye removed in a reenactment of the biblical “eye for an eye.” He may also be dead but we don’t know that yet.
Meanwhile, on British television, a show called “Peaky Blinders” features a key Jewish character. This period gangster drama is about the Shelby family in Birmingham in the immediate aftermath of World War One also trying to become legitimate. In a strategic maneuver, the Peaky Blinders decided to team up with “the Jews” of Camden Town, North London (incidentally, where I went to school). Thus, they meet with Alfie Solomons, played brilliantly by Tom Hardy, the leader of a Jewish gang. Alfie is hard, tough as nails and warns his new allies that “Jewish girls are off the menu.” Refreshingly for a British drama, Alfie actually speaks like he was born and bred in London rather than having just got off the boat from Eastern Europe . Is this a landmark change in the representation of Jews in British television I wonder which has, for so long, resorted to lazy stereotypes and cliches unlike American television? I hope so. A promising sign is that Downton Abbey has finally included a fully Jewish character, Atticus Aldridge who, like Alfie Solomons, sounds authentically British. And, of course, there’s always Lord Alan Sugar on series ten of The Apprentice, an updated, but legal, version of Alfie Solomons?