Eli Wirtschafter with mother Diane (left) and father Josh (right) in "Another Seder on the Zoom." (Screenshot/YouTube)
Eli Wirtschafter with mother Diane (left) and father Josh (right) in "Another Seder on the Zoom." (Screenshot/YouTube)

What you read this year: Our top 10 most popular stories of 2021

This week, we here at J. are happy to say good riddance to 2021. But we also take a look back at our most popular stories of this all-time downer of a year. Here are the 10 articles that you, our readers, found most compelling. And stick around for 2022 — there will be more, we promise you.


1. TV shows about Orthodox Jews

This is a bit of a cheat, if we’re being honest. Our TV reviewer Esther D. Kustanowitz spent much of 2021 writing about the exploding popularity of TV shows about Orthodox Jews. Several of her reviews, not just one, cracked our top 10, so we’re throwing them all in here in the top spot. The single most-read article on our site this year was her review of the much-anticipated third season of “Shtisel,” Israel’s global crossover hit about a haredi family in Jerusalem. Her other most popular reviews were of “Unorthodox,” which starred Shira Haas of “Shtisel” fame; and “My Unorthodox Life,” the reality show about formerly Orthodox fashion powerhouse Julia Haart.


2. Jewish father drowns on Sonoma coast trying to save two young children

We had the unfortunate responsibility this year of covering some terrible tragedies in our community, including the story of Michael Wyman of Petaluma, who died trying to save his children, Anna and John, after they were swept out to sea by a sneaker wave at a Sonoma County beach. In addition to our story, you can also read their family obituary here.

(From left) John, Michael, and Anna Wyman.
(From left) John, Michael and Anna Wyman

3. Tawonga counselor, Berkeley High grad drowns near camp

In another shocking tragedy, Berkeley native Eli Kane drowned in a swimming hole in the Stanislaus National Forest on his day off from Camp Tawonga, where he was working as a counselor. “Eli was a bright light, beautiful spirit and an adored Tawongan,” the camp said in an announcement to the Tawonga community.

Eli Kane, flanked by his parents Scott and Nancy Kane (Photo/Facebook)
Eli Kane, flanked by his parents Scott and Nancy Kane (Photo/Facebook)

4. Stanford therapists allege ‘hostile climate’ for Jews in the workplace

In June, two Jewish mental health professionals at Stanford’s on-campus counseling clinic filed workplace discrimination complaints after experiencing what they called “severe and persistent” anti-Jewish harassment from colleagues. The incident is part of a larger, ongoing national trend of Jews objecting to DEI — or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs.


5. S.F.-raised journalist’s path to Judaism started on a date with Bari Weiss

Stories of conversion are always popular with our readers, but this one really struck a chord. It’s the story of ex-New York Times tech reporter Nellie Bowles, whose semi-accidental first date with controversial ex-Times opinion writer Bari Weiss set her on a path toward joining the Jewish people. Bowles has chronicled that journey on her Substack blog, “Chosen by Choice.”

Two journalists in love: Nellie Bowles (left) and fiancee Bari Weiss.
Two journalists in love: Nellie Bowles (left) and fiancee Bari Weiss.

6. SFUSD teachers’ union endorses Israel boycott movement

In May, members of the teachers’ union for the San Francisco Unified School District passed a resolution in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. They were the first American public school teachers’ union to do so. The move stirred up a lot of pushback from Jewish parents with kids in the district. And that pushback led to the union passing a resolution against antisemitism.


7. ‘Vaccinatiooooon!’ — East Bay family’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Covid parody gets a sequel

In a delightful follow-up to one of 2020’s most popular stories, the Schon Wirtschafter clan of Berkeley created another Covid-themed “Fiddler on the Roof” parody music video. “Vaccination,” the family sings to the tune of the Broadway classic “Tradition.” If you didn’t see it when we first posted it in the spring, watch it! And if you did, watch it again! It’s worth it just to feel that springtime vaccine optimism again, if only for a few minutes.


8. Sacramento-area students post photos of themselves covered in swastikas

Just last week, we brought you news of this photo circulating on social media, apparently showing students from the Sacramento-area Wheatland Union High School District proudly displaying their bodies covered in swastikas. In one report, a parent talked about their daughter’s frustration with an ongoing lack of accountability for similar incidents in the district: “She’s tired of these same exact people getting away with things like this, so it kind of adds to the frustration.”

Students thought to be from Wheatland High School seen covered in Nazi symbols (Photo/Courtesy ADL)
Students thought to be from Wheatland High School seen covered in Nazi symbols (Photo/Courtesy ADL)

9. Israel’s new call to deport African Hebrew Israelites reopens old wounds

This piece by J. culture editor Andrew Esensten covered the Israeli government’s renewed efforts to deport members of the African Hebrew Israelite community, which is based in the city of Dimona. Andrew has been researching the community for years and was troubled by the government’s sudden push to send dozens of community members back to the U.S., including children born in Israel.

Paziyah Baht Israel (far left), a member of the African Hebrew Israelites' renowned New Jerusalem Fire Choir, is one of dozens of members of the community to receive surprise deportation notices from the Israeli government. (Photo/Andrew Esensten)
Paziyah Baht Israel (far left), a member of the African Hebrew Israelites’ renowned New Jerusalem Fire Choir, is one of dozens of members of the community to receive surprise deportation notices from the Israeli government. (Photo/Andrew Esensten)

10. Notorious Petaluma antisemite is now in the Hitler T-shirt business

Last but certainly not least, we turn to Petaluma-based neo-Nazi Jon Minadeo, Jr. He and his group, the Goyim Defense League, have given our news editor Gabe Stutman no shortage of stories to cover over the last couple of years. (The GDL also made news in Texas and Beverly Hills this year.) But in this particular story, Gabe wrote about Minadeo’s efforts to raise money for his antisemitic activities through T-shirts. Dubbed “Goyim Gear,” one shirt called the Holocaust a “hoax” using the Hulu video streaming website font, while another mimicked “Godfather” movie art using the words, “The Jew Namer.” Others showed portraits of Hitler, one celebrated the Waffen SS and one used an anti-gay slur.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is interim associate editor of J. He previously served as assistant editor and digital editor, and is a member of the board of the American Jewish Press Association. He can be reached at [email protected].