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Lights, Latkes, Movies!

by Sarah Soliman

When it comes to holiday movies, Hanukkah doesn’t fare quite so well as Christmas.

There are a handful of Hanukkah movies: Eight Crazy Nights, an animated comedy starring Adam Sandler (the title was taken from Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song”), and The Hebrew Hammer, a blaxploitation-style film in which a Jewish crime fighter must stop an evil plan to destroy Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. In recent years, Hallmark has applied their brand of holiday romance to titles like Love, Lights, Hanukkah and Hanukkah on Rye.

Some Christmas movies have a sprinkling of Hanukkah in them. In the The Night Before, Seth Rogen’s character, Isaac, wears a Hanukkah version of an ugly holiday sweater. He joins his wife at Christmas Eve mass wearing the sweater, and much of the comedy of the scene comes from Isaac’s drug-fueled paranoia about being visibly Jewish in church. In The Holiday (made by Jewish filmmaker Nancy Meyers) Kate Winslet and Jack Black attend Eli Wallach’s Hanukkah party. It’s a charming scene, but only a very small part of the film. Somewhat similarly, the Academy Award-winning Call Me by Your Name ends at Hanukkah, which the Jewish family in the film is clearly celebrating, but the majority of the film takes place over the course of a summer in Italy.  

Out of all the movies that could be considered Hanukkah films, the closest to a classic might be An American Tail. As with many of the aforementioned films, Hanukkah is only a small part of the story. As the movie opens, the Mousekewitz family (a family of mice) celebrate Hanukkah in their home in Russia. During the festivities they are attacked by cats and decide to leave for America. At the same time, the Jewish people in the village are the victims of a pogrom, and we later see them boarding the same boat to America as the Mousekewitz family. An American Tail is a Jewish immigration story. Hanukkah might not be a major point for the film, but the Jewish-American experience is. And a little behind-the-scenes info: An American Tail was produced by Steven Spielberg, and Fievel, the main character, was named for Spielberg’s grandfather, who himself immigrated from Russia to America.

Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight, Sunday, Dec. 18. Whatever you choose to watch while eating some latkes and donuts, The Picture House wishes you a warm and wonderful eight nights!

This will be our final blog post of the year. We’ll be back in January! Have a very happy holiday season, and we’ll see you at the movies!