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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - June/July 2015
From the Rabbi - June/July 2015 PDF Print E-mail

Summer is here again as is our summer bulletin.  Summer is a time for fun and relaxation (hopefully!) and the time many big summer movies come out.  So while you are enjoying the great blockbuster movies over the summer, I want to suggest some great Jewish movies to accompany them! 

First, of course, there is Fiddler on the Roof, the granddaddy of all Jewish movies and arguably the best.  No other movie combines drama, comedy, sadness and sentimentality along with great songs in such a wonderful combination, while also dealing with the serious questions for Jews in America of balancing tradition and change.  On a similar theme, but in a very different style is the hilariously funny The Frisco Kid starring the wonderful Gene Wilder as a bumbling but very committed Polish shtetl Rabbi who is literally mugged by America and learn to adapt to life as a Jew in the Wild West. 

For film history buffs, you might want to check out the first ever talking movie.  That’s right, the first ever talking movie was a Jewish themed movie called The Jazz Singer, about the son of an orthodox cantor who wants to sing jazz rather than Kol Nidre and who assimilates, falls out, and eventually reconciles with his traditional father.  The later remake with Neil Diamond is less historic but still quite enjoyable and the basic story was even used in the Simpsons when it turns out that Krusty the Clown is the son of a disapproving Rabbi Krustovski (voiced, of course, by Jackie Mason).

For biblical epics, you cannot go far wrong with Cecil B De Mille’s The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston as arguably the toughest Moses ever.  It’s long but truly epic in a way that movies cannot quite manage today.  Alternatively, for the kids (and a lot of the adults!) you can’t go wrong with animated The Prince of Egypt that tells the story of Moses with a modern sensibility and some great songs.  This one is my personal favorite and certainly much better than the most recent attempt at portraying Moses on the big screen.  It also contains a wonderful performance by the late Ofra Haza, the great diva of Israeli pop, as Moses’ mother.

On a sadder note there are of course numerous Holocaust themed movies.  Obviously this theme does not lend itself to light summer viewing, but there few such movies that are touching and sometimes uplifting despite the horrifying background.  One such movie is Au Revoir les Enfants a touching French film, based on true events, about a Catholic School Principal who hides Jewish children and the friendship between one of those children and a non Jewish classmate.  Another foreign movie on this subject is Life is Beautiful (La Vita e Bella), Roberto Benigni’s poignant and surprisingly humorous film about a Jewish man in a concentration camp who tries to shield his son from the horror of what is happening around them by convincing him that this is all an elaborate game, eventually sacrificing himself to save his son’s life and innocence. 

Another poignant and sad selection is the documentary Trembling Before G-d, a documentary about the struggles of Orthodox gays and lesbians, who have tried or continue to try to live an orthodox Jewish life in a community that, at best, does not understand them and pities them, and at worst rejects them altogether.  Another documentary, on a lighter note is Hava Nagila: The Movie, a great documentary about a song everyone knows but no-one actually knows anything about!

Finally, a few comedies.  Most recently there is the lovely and sweet The Band’s Visit, an Israeli film about an Egyptian Police Band who find themselves stuck accidentally in a back water Israeli town.   Also wonderful are the romantic Jewish comedy, Crossing Delancy and a couple of movies about Jews in the army, Private Benjamin and Biloxi BluesKeeping the Faith has a flawed but still funny portrayal of the rabbinate, and is essentially a movie version of the joke about a rabbi and a priest walking into a bar! And, of course, there is pretty much anything from Mel Brooks!

Enjoy your summer and I hope you take the time to see a few (or all of these movies) on Jewish themes. 




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