The world feels heavy. My phone lights up each day with details of another racially motivated shooting, a new COVID variant, the overturning of Roe v. Wade or updates on the January 6th hearings. It’s exhausting, it’s overwhelming and everything feels urgent. The countless injustices in the world can feel insurmountable.
Justice work is slow and steady — it does not happen overnight, and it requires deep community investment. Just as importantly, it requires rest.
There is an inexplicable connection between rest and the number seven in the Jewish tradition. On the seventh day of the week, Shabbat, we are commanded to cease all labor. In the seventh year, the shmita year, we are commanded to rest the land.
Rest can look different for different people. For me, movies have always been my place of solace. And so, to offer one approach for resting, I have compiled a list of seven Jew(ish) films which will let you disconnect from it all.
1. In A World
Starring Jewish actress Lake Bell, “In A World” follows Carol Soloman, a vocal coach with a knack for accents trying to find her place in the industry. Her competition includes another highly respected voice actor, Gustave Warner, and her own father, who is played by actor Fred Melamed (basically the Jewish dad of all Jewish cinema). This film certainly isn’t an escape from misogyny, but at least we are gifted with the shockingly hilarious scene in which Gustav sucks Carol’s nose mid-make out.
2. Dracula: Dead and Loving It
From Jewish director Mel Brooks, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” tells the traditional story of Dracula with a slapstick, comedic twist. As Dracula (Leslie Neilsen) searches for new blood, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Mel Brooks) is called in to put Dracula’s reign of terror to an end. From recurring enema jokes that hit hard for Jewish viewers — a community plagued with IBS — to an insult war with unmistakable Yiddish undertones, Mel Brooks’ Jewish charm is palpable throughout the film. The women are two-dimensional and hypersexualized, yes, but it is presented as a self-aware farce, and effectively pulled off. Though Dracula’s own shadow may have slightly more bodily autonomy than most of us, the film has a tongue-in-cheek humor that will lure you back into its hyperbolic world and away from our current moment.
3. The Birdcage
Though neither gay nor Jewish, Robin Williams and Nathan Lane play Armand and Albert Goodman, and they are the most impassioned and charming gay, Jewish, South Beach drag club owners you could hope for. When their son, Val, reveals his new fiancé, Barbara, and her parents are on their way to Miami, Armand and Albert scramble to prepare. In fits of chaos (much of which involves Hank Azaria dancing to Gloria Estefan in short shorts and a pink bra) Armand and Albert remove all phallic decor from their home and pretend to be a straight, cisgender couple, in order to impress Barbara’s father, a Republican senator. While certainly a very narrow and stereotypical depiction of queerness and Jewishness, I would watch the playful chemistry between Nathan Lane and Robin Williams on loop for the rest of eternity. This film gives the melodramatic, iridescent, beach-vacation vibes we need the most.
4. The Princess Bride
I couldn’t not include a classic. And this classic features Jewish icons Mandy Patinkin and Billy Crystal. Maybe with the help of Miracle Max we can get through the hellscape that is our reality.
5. Death Becomes Her
Young Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn? (And yes, Goldie Hawn is Jewish!). Madeline (Meryl Streep) and Helen (Goldie Hawn) are former best friends who turned enemies after Madeline stole Helen’s fiancé, Ernest. Helen has sworn to kill Madeline for the betrayal, but things get complicated when both women take a potion from an elusive and outrageously affluent woman that grants them eternal life. I now have a deep fear of walking down marble stairs, but the film’s absurdist and magical qualities make it a regular in my watchlist, and perfect for our absurd world.
6. Crossing Delancey
Isabelle “Izzy” Grossman is a bookish Jewish woman from a middle-class family whose advanced education has gotten her access to the world of luxurious, moneyed colleagues. She spends her time with elite writers and is fulfilled in almost every aspect of her life, except (you guessed it) her love life. So, in stereotypical Jewish mother fashion, Izzy’s mother hires a matchmaker who sets her up with Sam, a pickle-maker. Izzy is forced to choose between the self-obsessed writer, Anton, who she has yearned over for ages, and Sam. You will hate Anton and you will love Sam and you will likely end the film craving your favorite jar of pickles. In summation: the Pickle Girl representation we didn’t know we needed. A perfect escape.
There is something Kabbalah-esque about this equally whimsical and paranormal film, which also features Jewish star Winona Ryder. Picture the dream sequence from “Fiddler on the Roof” but on steroids, and with colossal black and white sand snakes that have mouths inside of mouths inside of mouths. The film is told from the perspective of small-town New England couple Barbara and Adam, who accidentally die by drowning and return to their home as ghosts. Soon after, they are forced to confront the irksome metropolitan new owners of their home, Delia and Charles. With the help of emo-girl Lydia (Winona Ryder) and greasy Master of Haunting, Beetlejuice himself, they set out to scare Delia and Charles out of their home. This movie has BDE — Big Dybbuk Energy — and the greatest and weirdest dance number in a movie to date, set to Harry Belafonte’s song, “Day-O.”