‘Orange Is The New Black’ Gets A Jewish Convert

Getting a kosher meal on an airplane is an option; getting a kosher meal in prison is enough reason to convert to Judaism.

In season three of the hit Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, which was just released last week, Litchfield prison inmate, Cindy Hayes or “Black Cindy”, trades pork for kosher chicken and her Christian name for Tova.

Prison cuisine is not known for its Julia Childs inspired recipes, but in episode eight, the food descends to inedibility. To cut back on costs, Litchfield switches to pre-packaged meals.

The amorphous, brown slop causes so much disturbance by episode nine that the prison’s proud and domineering chef, Red, makes several tearful announcements reiterating that the food they are eating contains “not a drop of her soul.”

The shift in grub leads to a sudden, coincidental spike in “Jewish” inmates who claim to keep kosher; more than 70 out of 200 inmates go kashrut en masse. The private prison company, the MCC, grows suspicious of the abrupt, collective passion for Judaism and prompts an investigation, in which they bring in a rabbi to separate the true Hebrews from the Fauxbrews.

Referred to as a “rent-a-rabbi,” the spiritual inspector is considered an expert in “corporate inquiry,” and conducts a series of interviews with the women who have a sudden affinity for akikomen.

Here are some entertaining, highlights from the tête-à-têtes:

1. “My bats mitzvah was sick, all the black Jews was there, Lenny Kravitz… ”
2. “Rosh ha shash, hash a shash, rosh a shash, ha shash”
3. “For a long time kosher meant hot dogs to me, really really good hot dogs, but now it just means so much more. Broccoli, green beans…”
4. “You know what I hate? Shrimps. Damn dirty shrimps. Don’t even talk to me about shrimps!”
5. “I call my mother a lot, like every day. And I love a bargain.”
6. A nun quotes scripture from the bible later saying, “The Abrahamic religions are pretty much all the same — until you get to Jesus.”
7. One inmate just erupts into a spirited, improvised version of “Hava Nagila” swapping out the Hebrew for a unique rendition composed of gibberish.
8. “Latinas are halfway Jew already, I mean the hora and the conga line? Basically the same thing!”
9. “There was a big book where I wrote down all the people I wish was dead, so god comes and kills them and not my people.”
10. “May I say, I think y’all are doing a wonderful job controlling the media — I mean we, we are doing a wonderful job.”

Hayes, who has the most substantial interview, puts in a fair amount of effort, ensuring that she is Jewish on her mother’s side, “That’s the side that makes it all legit,” tapping her said saying, “See? Jewish smarts.” She then continues by describing her days at Yeshiva to the rabbi, referring to that “word that begins with a t” to which the rabbi offers, “Talmud?” “No the next one” says Hayes, “Torah?” suggests the rabbi, “That one.”

When no one except sister Jane Ingalls passes the rabbi’s test, because according to his assessment, they are all confusing cultural Judaism with committed, religious belief, Hayes doesn’t drop the matzah ball.

As the episode comes to a close Hayes says, “There’s only one thing left to do now.” The woman she’s speaking to asks what she means and Hayes struts off saying, “Convert for real. Where my dreidel at?”

Hayes plays for the entire pot; In the finale she uses the prison lake as a mikvah.


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