What do you do when you need a minyan and you’re in a remote Alaskan village, with no other Jews? This might not seem like the most obvious premise of a prime-time sitcom episode, but in 1993 it was the setup for a surprisingly moving episode of Northern Exposure called “Kaddish for Uncle Manny.”
(In Spanish…and Aramaic:)
For those of you who didn’t follow the series, the basic premise is that the young, handsome New York transplant, Dr. Joel Fleischman, moved up to Cicily, Alaska, to fulfill his obligation after the state paid for his medical education. A few years after being there, his Uncle Manny dies. Unable to make it down to New York for the funeral, Joel wants to say the Kaddish mourning prayer, but the town is full of native Alaskans who aren’t exactly known for their shul-going.
The episode follows him as he and the whole town search for Jews in the Alaskan wilderness, and ultimately discover that the most important bonds in times of trouble don’t always come from a shared religion, but from a sense of community. The episode, which was honored with a Directors Guild Award, ends with a moving rendition of the Kaddish recited by Morrow, while his community stands with him, praying in their own ways and languages–to Jesus, to the raven and eagle, to the universe. It’s a beautiful (and very Jewish) moment.