Announcing the Winner of Hey Alma’s Fifth Annual Hanukkah Movie Pitch Challenge

The winning pitch is the first of its genre to snag the title!

A few weeks ago, the Hey Alma team wondered if it made sense to host our beloved annual Hanukkah Movie Pitch Challenge this year. With all the darkness and suffering in the world right now, we were concerned that the pitch challenge would feel unnecessary or worse, inappropriate. “Ultimately, we decided that yes, we need the Hanukkah movie pitch challenge this year more than ever,” we wrote in the challenge announcement. “Hanukkah is about bringing light and joy into the world, after all, and our community is exceptionally good at doing that.”

Fast forward to today, and we’re so thankful we forged on.

It gave us so much joy to read through all of your Hanukkah movies and choose our top 12. And it clearly gave you, our audience, joy as well — 750 Hey Alma readers cast votes for their top pick! Now, we are so excited to announce the winner of Hey Alma’s fifth annual Hanukkah Movie Pitch challenge!

Not coming soon to any theaters near you — because, again, we are not a movie studio but merely a Jewish website — is Melissa Shaw’s original Hanukkah film, “Guess Who’s Eating Together at the Carnegie Deli?: A Mythic Mockumentary.” Fun fact: Our previous contest winners have included rom-coms, heist thrillers and even a rom-com turned horror movie. But “Guess Who’s Eating Together at the Carnegie Deli?” is the first mockumentary to snag the title!!

Design by Avital Dayanim

Here’s Melissa’s winning plot:

“On the glittering last night of business for New York City’s beloved Carnegie Deli, Tom Cruise’s Agent sits attempting to savor a final corned beef on rye and a schmear of chopped liver — all while chewing on a major life decision. She is repeatedly interrupted as an ever-rotating crowd of Jews (both living and dead) grapple with mortality, menorahs and the end of an era.

As is to be expected, a manic madcap evening unfolds, as the deli’s ultimate patrons navigate everything from pastrami to Passover, Dear Abby to Dr. Brown’s — that is until things go awry when a very unexpected guest jangles through the door with a kishke-twisting dilemma.

Starring Natasha Lyonne as Tom Cruise’s Agent, Jackie Hoffman as Fran Lebowitz, Henry Winkler and William Shatner as themselves. Guest starring Jeff Goldblum as Henry Kissinger.

Soundtrack by David Lee Roth, Lenny Kravitz and Barbara Streisand.”

Naturally, Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” was a source of inspiration for Melissa. “‘Tom Cruise isn’t, but I think his agent is’ has always been my favorite line in the ‘Chanukah Song’ and I thought turning our assumption that he was a cis man on its head sounded like radical feminist fun — hence Natasha Lyonne gracing us with her corned beef on rye,” Melissa told Hey Alma.

However, the idea behind “Guess Who’s Eating Together at the Carnegie Deli?” was also born when Melissa celebrated Hanukkah early with her family. After lighting a hanukkiah, Melissa shared “The Chanukah Song” with her niblings and suddenly had a fun idea. “I was originally going to pitch ‘The Little Hanukkah Bush that Could’ (maybe next year?) but was then struck by an image of The Fonz sitting at a table eating Matzahbrie and the rest is history,” she says.

A eureka moment for the ages! (PS, definitely pitch us “The Little Hanukkah Bush That Could” next year.)

Upon winning, Melissa asked that we share some shout-outs and who are we to deny her an Oscars-worthy acceptance speech?!

“First, to all of my Cornerstone crew: Your support of who I am as an artist and educator has been unmatched. Specific ‘thank you’s go to Sara Beth Berman, Dubbs Weinblatt, Daniel Shore, Jon Adam Ross, Caroline Rothstein and Natalie Rothstein (yes, sisters).

Secondly, my community at Lab/Shul — if you are a progressive Jew who is wrestling with… well, everything, it might be a home for you. We are a beautiful band of thinkers, artists, beauty makers and dreamers. We are doing the hard work. Thank you for every vote and vote of confidence. Cai Tiven Gottesman, I’ll never forget what you did on Sunday or what happened in New Jersey!

Lastly, my sister, BNL, and late mother, grandfather, and grandmother Z”l. My grandmother (Nana) always told me she would have a front row seat in heaven. I’m choosing to believe she is there and stole someone else’s seat to get closer.

Thank you to all who voted — you know who you are, and I think I do, too. Take your people with you.”

We’re not crying, you’re crying!!

Melissa Shaw is a facilitator who offers a unique consultancy based in social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, social emotional learning and the arts. Melissa has been a contributor to Hey Alma, hosts a monthly Variety Show called Supper in Fort Lauderdale with her writing partner Amanda Miller, and recently launched a Jewish art and lifestyle project cheekily named Tush and Ash. She hopes you never forget the power of play and believing in your ideas.

As for what our contest winner plans to do with the sheer amount of fame and glory that comes with winning the Hey Alma Hanukkah Movie Pitch Content? “Well, to be quite honest I’d like to see this film get picked up. I would love to talk to anyone at Reboot or any trailblazing, scrappy film production company that would be interested in taking a fun and wacky risk with me,” Melissa tells us.

She went on, “Jews, and who we really are, is still underrepresented in film, as evidenced by all the interest in your joyful Hanukkah Pitch competition! We want to see more of who we are and the complexities we hold reflected back to us. More Jews of color, more queer Jews, more more. And, honestly, since I have this platform, I’ll just say I want to see more Muslim stories, fat stories, trans stories, Black stories, Native and Indigenous stories everywhere, too.”

Mazel tov, Melissa! Now go treat yourself to an absolutely massive Carnegie Deli-style pastrami sandwich.

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