Jen­nifer Keishin Arm­strong is the author of Sein­fel­dia: How a Show About Noth­ing Changed Every­thing, out this week from Simon & Schus­ter. Jen­nifer will be guest blog­ging for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

I’m a Mid­west­ern shik­sa who knew exact­ly one Jew­ish per­son in the first 18 years of my life. I grew up in the south­west sub­urbs of Chica­go, an over­whelm­ing­ly Irish Catholic area. Jes­si­ca Ter­man was a grade-school friend of mine who had to get up in front of the class every Decem­ber to explain Hanukkah to the rest of us before we could get on with our Christ­mas-inspired projects and cel­e­bra­tions. Then she moved away, I think around fourth grade, so I was back to square one with my Jew­ish studies.

That is, until Sein­feld came along in 1989, when I was a fresh­man in high school. I was a huge TV geek, and with­in a few years, Sein­feld had grown into the kind of show so pop­u­lar that essen­tial­ly every­one watched — it was assumed in many cir­cles that any per­son, regard­less of age or reli­gion or home­town, would get any Sein­feld ref­er­ence. This was par­tic­u­lar­ly fun­ny giv­en that NBC exec­u­tives at first expressed their skep­ti­cism about Sein­felds poten­tial by say­ing it was too New York, too Jewish.”

Maybe it was, but I per­son­al­ly loved that about it. I relat­ed to the char­ac­ters and thought they were fun­ny even though they lived lives so dif­fer­ent from my own. And through­out their nine sea­sons on the air, they slow­ly, hilar­i­ous­ly expand­ed my tiny world­view to include signs of Jew­ish cul­ture that went far beyond the dreidel:

1. I am a shik­sa!
Yes, I know this isn’t exact­ly a com­pli­ment, but I so want­ed to be one once I real­ized Elaine had shik­sap­peal—she spent an episode attract­ing Jew­ish men left and right, despite her non-Jew­ish­ness. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, Julia Louis-Drey­fus, who played Elaine to such shik­saper­fec­tion, has Jew­ish (Alsa­t­ian) ances­try, at least on her father’s side.

2. Only Jews get to make Jew­ish jokes — and it is not okay to con­vert just for the jokes.
Jer­ry was very clear about this when his den­tist, Tim What­ley, start­ed mak­ing jokes after his con­ver­sion. Then sud­den­ly Jer­ry was counter-accused: of being an anti-den­tite.

3. Babkas sound­ed deli­cious.
Wait, these come in choco­late and cin­na­mon?

4. And there is also some­thing called a mar­ble rye?
I might mug an old lady, too, if it came to that. Seri­ous­ly, I’m pret­ty sure I end­ed up with a Jew­ish guy because of Sein­felds deli­cious-sound­ing Jew­ish food ref­er­ences. And hol­i­day feasts have yet to let me down.

5. Ah, so that’s what a mohel is.

6. Being Jew­ish is no sin.
A priest told Jer­ry so when he went to con­fes­sion to tell on Tim What­ley. So at least we can all agree on that.

Jen­nifer Keishin Arm­strong has writ­ten about pop cul­ture for Enter­tain­ment Week­ly, The New York Times Book Review, Fast Com­pa­ny, New York, BBC Cul­ture, and oth­ers. She is the author of Mary and Lou and Rho­da and Ted, a his­to­ry of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Sein­fel­dia: How a Show About Noth­ing Changed Every­thing.

Relat­ed Content: