Rabbi Susan loves Jewish films. Here are some of her favorites. Want to recommend a Jewish film for any of the categories below? Email Rabbi Susan with the title and a one-sentence description.
Fill the Void (2012) – After a young Hasidic woman dies in childbirth, her 18-year-old sister is asked to cancel her upcoming marriage to a promising young man and marry her widowed brother-in-law instead.
Walk on Water (2004) – Following the suicide of his wife, an Israeli intelligence agent is assigned to befriend the grandchildren of a Nazi war criminal.
Rabin In His Own Words (2015) – Twenty years after the assassination that plunged Israel and the peace process into turmoil, a moving firsthand account of the late prime minister and statesmen’s dramatic life story.
Annie Hall (1977) – Comedian Alvy Singer examines the rise and fall of his relationship with struggling nightclub singer Annie Hall. Speaking directly to the audience in front of a bare background, Singer reflects briefly on his childhood and his early adult years before settling in to tell the story of how he and Annie met, fell in love, and struggled with the obstacles of modern romance, mixing surreal fantasy sequences with small moments of emotional drama. Starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) – Duddy Kravitz lives in the shadow of his brother, whom his father, Max, and his Uncle Benjy are helping to put through medical school. Seeking to rise above his family’s poverty, Duddy aspires to purchase and develop lakefront land near the hotel resort he is working at in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains. But Duddy’s quest to make something of himself reveals a harsh determination to do whatever he has to in order to make his dream a reality. Novel by Mordecai Richler. Starring Richard Dreyfuss.
The Chosen (1981) – In 1944, in Brooklyn, two Jewish kids become friends. One is from a very conservative family, and the other is more liberal. The issues of importance of tradition, parental expectations and the formation of Israel cause constant friction. Based on the novel by Chaim Potok. Starring Robby Benson.
Crossing Delancey (1988) – Thirty-something Isabelle “Izzy” Grossman spends her time going from her tiny, solitary West Side apartment to that of her grandmother on the Lower East Side. In between, Izzy builds a glowing reputation at the swank bookstore where she works. While her grandmother plots to find her a romantic match, Izzy is courted by a married, worldly author, Anton, yet can’t seem to shake the down-to-earth appeal of Sam, a pickle vendor. Starring Amy Irving and Peter Riegert.
Enemies: A Love Story (1989) -Herman Broder, a Holocaust survivor living in New York City and struggling with depression after his ordeals in the war, makes his living ghostwriting for a rabbi. Herman is married to Yadwiga but is also having an affair with Masha, a married woman. Things grow even more chaotic when Herman’s first wife, Tamara, who he thought had died in the war, shows up in New York as well. Based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Starring Ron Silver, Anjelica Huston, Lena Olin.
Focus (2001) – In the waning months of World War II, a man and his wife are mistakenly identified as Jews by their anti-Semitic Brooklyn neighbors. Suddenly the victims of religious and racial persecution, they find themselves aligned with a local Jewish immigrant in a struggle for dignity and survival. Based on the novel by Arthur Miller. Starring Laura Dern and William H. Macy.
Frisco Kid (1979 – A Polish rabbi wanders through the Old West on his way to lead a synagogue in San Francisco. On the way he is nearly burnt at the stake by Indians and almost killed by outlaws.
Funny Girl (1968) – In this bittersweet, classic musical drama, the vibrant and beautiful young Fanny Brice starts out as a bit player on the New York City vaudeville stage, but works her way up to stardom on Broadway. Valued for her vocal and comedic talents by the renowned theater impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Fanny thrives, but her relationship with her suave, imprisoned businessman husband, Nick Arnstein , is another story. Based loosely on the life of Fanny Brice. Starring Barbara Streisand and Omar Sharif.
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) – A reporter pretends to be Jewish in order to cover a story on anti-Semitism, and personally discovers the true depths of bigotry and hatred. Based on the novel by Laura Hobson. Starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire.
Goodbye Columbus (1969) – Neil Klugman is an intelligent, working class army veteran and college graduate who works as a library clerk. He falls for Brenda Patimkin, a wealthy student at Radcliffe College who is home for the summer. They face obstacles from Brenda’s family (particularly her mother), due to differences in class and assimilation into the American mainstream. Based on the novel by Philip Roth. Starring Ali McGraw and Richard Benjamin.
Hester Street (1975) – Dealing with themes of assimilation, this film, set in the early 1900s, focuses on the experiences of an immigrant family in New York City. Gitl has just arrived in America from Russia with her son. She has come to meet her husband, Jake, who has been in the States for some time and is comfortably settled. While Gitl struggles to find her place in this country, she clashes with Jake, who has fully embraced their new homeland. Starring Carol Kane.
The Jazz Singer (1927) – Young Jakie Rabinowitz loves jazz and ragtime, and wants to be a performer. But his father is a cantor, and he orders his son to carry on the family tradition. Jakie tries his hand anyway, only to be discovered by neighbor Moisha Yudelson and kicked out of the house. A decade later, an older Jakie has followed his dream, changed his name and found love with performer Mary, but he still wants to win his father over. Starring Al Jolson.
Marjorie Morningstar (1958) – A coming of age story about a young Jewish girl in New York City in the 1950s. The film’s trajectory traces Marjorie Morgenstern’s attempts to become an artist – exemplified through her relationship with the actor and playwright Noel Airman. Based on the novel by Herman Wouk. Starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.
The Pawnbroker (1965) – This drama focuses on former professor Sol Nazerman, the survivor of a German concentration camp who now runs a pawn shop in East Harlem. Having witnessed his family’s death at the hands of the Nazis, he is embittered toward humanity and pushes away anyone around him, including his young Puerto Rican employee, Jesus. As Nazerman contends with his internal conflicts, the harsh realities of the city affect his life as well. Based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant. Starring Rod Steiger.
Sophie’s Choice (1982) – Sophie is the survivor of Nazi concentration camps, who has found a reason to live in Nathan, a sparkling if unsteady American Jew obsessed with the Holocaust. They befriend Stingo, the movie’s narrator, a young American writer new to New York City. But the happiness of Sophie and Nathan is endangered by her ghosts and his obsessions. Based on the novel by William Styron. Starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline.
Jakob the Liar (1999) – In 1944 Poland, a Jewish shop keeper named Jakob is summoned to ghetto headquarters after being caught out near curfew. While waiting for the German Kommondant, Jakob overhears a German radio broadcast about Russian troop movements. Returned to the ghetto, the shopkeeper shares his information with a friend and then rumors fly that there is a secret radio within the ghetto. Jakob uses the chance to spread hope throughout the ghetto by continuing to tell favorable tales of information from “his secret radio.”
Schindler’s List (1993) – In German-occupied Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazi Germans.
Ship of Fools (1965) – A varied group of passengers boarding a ship bound for post-war Germany represents a microcosm of 1930s society.
The Shop on Main Street (subtitles) (1965) – During World War II, a mild-mannered Slovak carpenter Anton “Tóno” Brtko (Jozef Kroner) is offered the chance to take over the sewing notions store of an old, near-deaf Jewish woman Rozália Lautmannová (Ida Kamińska) as a part of the enactment of an Aryanization regulation in the town.
The Stranger (1946) – A drama about a war crimes investigator who tracks a high-ranking Nazi fugitive to a New England town, it is the first Hollywood film to present documentary footage of the Holocaust.
The Search (1948) – In post-war Berlin, an American private helps a lost Czech boy find his mother.
Judgment at Nuremberg – 1961 – In 1948, an American court in occupied Germany tries four Nazi judges for war crimes.
The Diary of Anne Frank – 1959 – Harrowing story of a young Jewish girl who, with her family and their friends, is forced into hiding in an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
Above and Beyond (2015) – a fascinating documentary about American pilots who risked everything to form the Israel Air Force during the War for Independence in 1948.
Exodus (1960) – the efforts of the young Israeli army to secure safe passage for Holocaust refugees.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) – In prerevolutionary Russia, a Jewish peasant contends with marrying off three of his daughters while growing anti-Semitic sentiment threatens his village.
The Golem (1915) – about the legend of the clay monster that saves the Jews
Ida (2014) – An intimate drama about a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who, on the verge of taking her vows, discovers a dark family secret dating from the terrible years of the Nazi occupation. 18-year old Anna, a sheltered orphan raised in a convent, is preparing to become a nun when the Mother Superior insists she first visit her sole living relative. Naïve, innocent Anna soon finds herself in the presence of her aunt Wanda, a worldly and cynical Communist Party insider, who shocks her with the declaration that her real name is Ida and her Jewish parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation. This revelation triggers a heart-wrenching journey into the countryside, to the family house and into the secrets of the repressed past, evoking the haunting legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar Communism. In Polish with English subtitles.
Chariots of Fire (1981) – Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.
Julia (1977) – At the behest of an old and dear friend, playwright Lillian Hellman undertakes a dangerous mission to smuggle funds into Nazi Germany.
Yentl (1983) – A Jewish girl disguises herself as a boy to enter religious training.
The Young Lions – 1958 – The destiny of three soldiers during World War II. The German officer Christian Diestl approves less and less of the war. Jewish-American Noah Ackerman deals with antisemitism at home and in the army while entertainer Michael Whiteacre transforms from playboy to hero.