Given the cost of a national advertising campaign or product placement, a mention on one of the most-talked about shows on cable is a pretty nice gift if it comes gratis.
But the folks at Camp Ramah, a network of facilities run by the Conservative movement, may not be kvelling over their inclusion in this week’s episode of HBO’s “Girls,” the chock-full-of-Jewish comedy about angst-ridden women in their early 20s trying to get a life in contemporary Manhattan.
Titled “Camp Friend,” the episode treats its most stereotypically Jewish character, Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet), to a chance encounter with “Matt Kornstein” who recognizes her from her legendary summertime kitchen raid, which Shoshanna boasts “was planned weeks in advance.”
The encounter progresses (Spoiler Alert) to a movie night at her apartment followed by one of the raunchiest scenes depicted so far on the series, now in its fourth week.
Suffice it to say that the couple won’t likely be appearing on Camp Ramah recruitment posters.
Founded in 1947, Ramah has eight overnight camps and three day camps in North America, as well as Israel programs. With 9,000 campers and staff each summer, the program now has an estimated 200,000 alumni, said Rabbi Mitch Cohen, national director of the Ramah Commission.
“People love seeing references to the camp in pop culture,” he said, insisting the latest reference was not a product placement. In recent years, Ramah was also mentioned by Debra Messing’s character on the NBC sitcom “Will and Grace” and by alumnus Wolf Blitzer on CNN during some on-air banter with another host.
Rabbi Cohen said he wasn’t concerned that the “Girls” storyline would cast aspersions on the morals of his campers.
“I don’t think any parents are going to look at that and say I shouldn’t send my kids there,” he said. “I think whenever our name is mentioned in a harmless way it’s probably good for our reputation.”
In a statement via HBO, Dunham told The Jewish Week "I didn't attend Ramah but I know many amazing children who did and it always sounded like a fairyland for neurotic children! I am jealous, so I wrote it into my fantasy history."
Dunham told NPR this week "I am half-Jew and half WASP, so I wrote two Jews and two WASPS" as the show's characters.
Though you could fill an encyclopedia with TV and film references to Jewish people, holidays and rituals, as well as inclusion of Yiddish words, references to actual Jewish institutions are somewhat more rare.
A classic example is the character Mark Cohen’s proclamation in the musical and film versions of “Rent” that he learned to tango with “the rabbi’s daughter at the Scarsdale Jewish Community Center,” (which is actually called the JCC of Mid-Westchester).
Another Twitter user, @Martineseftelle, who saw the “Girls” episode tweeted that it reminded her of a “Friends” episode that mentions Kiryat Moriah. In that episode, (clip available on YouTube) Chandler confuses a guesthouse in that Israeli community with Kobayashi Maru, a war game simulation seen in “Star Trek.”
Then, of course, there’s Jerry and Banya’s famous meal at the kosher restaurant Mendy’s on “Seinfeld,” which was notable for sparking the debate on whether soup constitutes a meal.