‘Less Than Kosher’: This new show is an authentic take on Jewish identity

Exploring the theme of Jewish identity amid the complexities of the modern world, this new comedy-musical series strikes a resonant chord.
"Less Than Kosher" series poster

When it comes to authentic Jewish representation on the small screen, it’s safe to say that historically, there hasn’t been too much of it. We’re all too familiar with the Jewish characters that have been reduced to stereotypes: the overbearing mother, neurotic nice Jewish boy, or the funny “barely Jewish” sidekick.

These portrayals have often missed the true complexity and diversity of Jewish experiences. However, recent years have seen some improvements, with new shows beginning to break away from these tropes, and this new comedy-musical TV show is a good example.


What happens when a “Bad Jew” is SO bad, she gets hired by the Rabbi? Get ready for LESSTHANKOSHER: a New Digital Series by Shaina Silver-Baird & Michael Goldlist. Premiering June 2023 on HighballTV. 🎤🕍 #VivaciousCantorViv

♬ original sound – Less Than Kosher

Less Than Kosher,” which premiered earlier this month at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF), is a fresh and authentic portrayal of Jewish life and culture. Set in Toronto, the series follows Viv, a self-proclaimed “bad Jew” whose life takes an unexpected turn when she takes a job as a cantor at her family’s synagogue.

The seven-part series, written and co-produced by Shaina Silver-Baird and Michael Goldlist, is an unconventional, heartfelt exploration of Jewish identity.

Through the lens of a character struggling to find her place in the Jewish world, the series underscores the diversity and complexity of Jewish experiences, often revealing realities that are “less than kosher.”

The narrative is drawn from the real-life experiences of the show’s writer and lead actress, Shaina Silver-Baird, who infuses authenticity into her character, Viv.

“After I graduated theater school, the rabbi who did my bat mitzvah reached out and essentially convinced me to become a wedding cantor,” Silver-Baird told audiences at the TJFF premiere.

“I was like, ‘I don’t speak Hebrew, believe in God, or go to synagogue.’ It was this dichotomy of feeling like you’re not right for something, but actually, you end up being the perfect person for it,” she added.

David Reale as Asher and Shaina Silver-Baird as Viv in “Less Than Kosher”

While Viv’s story is fictional, it was inspired by a specific period in Silver-Baird’s life, a time when she felt “very less than kosher.”

A fitting layer to the show’s already-quirky narrative is its creative use of music — what the show’s writers deemed “Judeo-pop.” As explained by Silver-Baird, “Judeo-pop, in this context, means that we took Jewish prayers and made them pop music, which we found quite funny and beautiful and heartwarming.”

The concept of Judeo-pop echoes the show’s overall theme: a journey of reconciling with one’s Jewish identity amidst the complexities of the modern world. It’s reflective of Viv’s own story, as she navigates the intersections of tradition and contemporaneity, faith and skepticism, belonging and individuality. 

For many young Jews, “Less Than Kosher” might be a realistic and relatable take on Jewish identity, Helen Zukerman, the festival’s artistic director, said at the premiere. 

“It’s a whole new take on being Jewish, and if it offends some people, that’s too bad,” she told the audience with a laugh.

This year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival, which ran from June 1-11, was specifically branded around the theme of inclusion, as suggested by its tagline, “Everyone is welcome at this cine-gogue.”

A poster at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival (Photo: Shaked Karabelnicoff)

The series “Less Than Kosher” embodies this spirit of inclusivity, Zuckerman added. Its premiere at the festival is a testament to the TJFF’s commitment to showcasing diverse representations of Jewish life on screen. This marks a significant stride forward in the ongoing evolution of Jewish storytelling.

The series, which won the film festival’s People’s Choice Award, is now available for streaming on Highball TV.

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