Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Ending Of An American Pickle Explained

An American Pickle, the Seth-Rogen-starring HBO Max original, weaves together the stories of two relatives (both played by Rogen) thrust into each other's lives by an unfortunate act of pickling. One is a computer programmer with a new app that he's desperately trying to sell, while the other is an immigrant who has just woken up in the modern world Rip Van Winkle-style after having been accidentally trapped in a pickle barrel for the last century.

Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) is a Jewish immigrant from the early 20th century who flees Russia to escape the Cossacks and winds up living in America. For him, being Jewish in North America means having a chance to express his beliefs and his traditions proudly and visibly, while still being allowed to live and find success. When his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) becomes pregnant, Herschell thinks about how his greatest dream is that his descendants will become successful and happy in America.

Ben Greenbaum (also Seth Rogen) is that very descendant that Herschel always dreamed of having. Ben certainly has achieved some degree of material success — especially compared with a poor immigrant like Herschel — but he's lost many important vestiges of his ancestor's religion, and his actual level of happiness is up for debate. Culturally, Ben considers himself Jewish, but he doesn't have any deeper spiritual connection to his faith. His parents died in a car crash and he has no other family until Herschel wakes up from his century-long pickle nap. He's pickle Herschel!

Despite the fanciful concept, An American Pickle is a deep film about the conflict between Herschel and Ben's differing relationships to their shared culture and faith; it's also more generally a film about the duality of being Jewish in North America. To understand An American Pickle and its ending, you have to understand the conflicted Jewish experience in the New World.

An American Pickle is about the alienation of being Jewish in North America

An American Pickle sees Herschel and Ben enter into conflict over business and over life. The rift between the two men eventually costs them both their jobs and sees Herschel so hated by America that he becomes a criminal set to be deported. Towards the end of the movie, Herschel switches places with Ben, causing Ben to be deported back to Russia.

For clarity: about 2.5% of the North American population is Jewish. Compare that with the approximately 65% of Americans who actively identify as some denomination of Christian and you can see how stark the population difference is. Having different holidays and traditions than the overwhelming majority of people around you can feel isolating, especially when your people have been historically oppressed and the target of genocidal campaigns.

For Ben, and for a lot of Jewish people in North America, it can feel easier to assimilate and forget the Jewish parts of who you are. In Ben's case, he's also separated from his Jewishness because of the very real trauma of losing his parents to a car crash. Herschel wants Ben to say the Mourner's Kaddish — a Jewish funereal prayer — but Ben says he doesn't remember the words. By the end of the movie, though, when Ben and Herschel find themselves among other Jews in Russia speaking the Mourner's Kaddish, Ben realizes he does know the words — he just couldn't face the alienating trauma of being alone without his parents, without any direct ties to his faith and culture

That's what the end of An American Pickle is about: remembering that being Jewish doesn't have to be isolating. The traditions Jews carry onward despite the persecution they still face today are not just comforting; they're the very foundation of what makes a person strong — even when things are at their worst.