Alma pals, you’ve done it again. We received so many entries to our Third Annual Hanukkah Movie Pitch Challenge, and frankly, we think each and every one of you has a future in the biz.
After careful consideration, we picked 10 finalists from the group of submissions — which contained interesting similarities! We received pitches about 8 nights of Hanukkah horror, judaica old and new, Freaky Friday-ing, and, surprisingly, multiple stories set at Jewish nursing homes. (Both of which may or may not have made it to the finals…) We’re seriously kvelling at your creativity.
Now’s your chance to vote for your favorite idea — which, again, will absolutely not be made into a movie, but will be made into a fun digital poster at least. Once you’ve read through them all, you can vote here.
In alphabetical order:
8 Trippy Nights
BY LISA JANCSO
A group of vanlife Jews get together in the forest somewhere in upstate New York for Hanukkah. After lighting the menorah, they gather around a campfire where they all tell stories about how their great grandparents made it to America. Then they decide to take acid. They take one tab each and after the acid kicks in, they are all magically transformed into their great grandparents and each person gets transported in time to their great grandparents’ very first Hanukkah in America. They relive it for 8 nights. On the last night, after the 8th candle is lit, they transform back to their old selves and spend the last night together with a new sense of appreciation for what Hanukkah means to them.
A Boyfriend For Hanukkah
BY KATIE ESMONDE
Career-focused Hannah Goldstein (Lizzy Caplan), a historian at the Toronto Jewish Museum, just wants two things out of the holiday season. One: to keep her mother Naomi (Barbra Streisand) off her back about her not bringing a boyfriend to Shabbat dinner since the destruction of the Second Temple. Two: to make it through the stressful eight day-long Hanukkah exhibit at the Museum that will culminate in the unveiling of the recently discovered Sword of Judah Maccabee.
When she meets Joshua Green (Daveed Diggs), a handsome (and recently single!) museum-goer and lawyer who is passionate about historical Judaica, she thinks she’s found a way to pull it all off. He agrees to pose as her boyfriend, just for Hanukkah, and she’ll just tell her mother that he moved back to Israel by New Year’s Eve. But when he charms her family at her nephew’s (Lucas Jade Zumann) bar mitzvah and then wows her mother with his rendition of Shehecheyanu on the first night of Hanukkah, Hannah starts to think that he might be more than just a boyfriend for Hanukkah. What she doesn’t know is that Joshua isn’t the mensch that he appears to be. He isn’t just a lawyer — he’s also a member of a notorious ring of art thieves! And he’s been plotting to steal the Sword of Judah Maccabee all along. Or at least he was, until he tasted her signature sufganiyot and saw her fun side come out in the Goldstein Family dreidel tournament. He’s been more focused on building his career as a priceless artifacts thief than on settling down, but he’s surprised to find himself falling for Hannah.
When the sword is stolen even after Joshua tries to cancel the heist, Hannah discovers the truth about her Hanukkah boyfriend. To save her job, and Hanukkah, she begrudgingly joins forces with Joshua to steal back the Maccabee Sword before the gala on the last night of Hanukkah.
Will the sword be lost forever, and their love lost along with it? Or will there be another Hanukkah miracle?
Attack of the Zombie Zaydes
BY GILLI MESSER
In the dining hall of a Jewish retirement home in Palm Beach, Florida, during December of a dystopian near future, curmudgeonly, misanthropic resident Saul (Larry David) is complaining to the waitstaff for the millionth time about the food. How is it that you can’t get a decent meal in this place? Do they know how much he pays to live here? These latkes are dry. What is this? Matzah? It’s Hanukkah, not Passover. Bothered, he makes a show of suffering through salad bar options as his fellow residents roll their eyes and continue eating their latkes… until one of them gets an odd craving for… brains. It’s not long before all of the residents in the dining hall besides Saul are foaming at the mouth, biting and clawing at each other and the staff. Saul hides under a table and watches in horror as his neighbors and frenemies become an army of the undead. “These brains were too salty, oy,” a walking-dead resident complains, having devoured one of the aides. “And the portions were so small!” whines another. Now, Saul’s stuck in this place with a bunch of zombie zaydes (and bubbes) who are starving for fresh brains, and he’s the only one alive… except for Rivka (Rachel Bloom), a down-on-her-luck-med-school-dropout-turned-comedian who’s there to do a set for the old folks as part of their Hanukkah celebration. Like Saul, she didn’t eat the food either. Together, Saul and Rivka work to escape the zombies while containing the outbreak. Will Rivka remember enough from her med school days to possibly cure and revive the residents? Will Saul shut up for long enough for them to avoid getting killed? What was in those latkes? Find out in ATTACK OF THE ZOMBIE ZAYDES.
Dreidels In The Outfield
BY KD CASEY AND LAURA SHIR
Sparks fly when star catcher Shayna Ross is selected to go to the Women’s Baseball World Cup in Australia with Team USA. The problem: It means missing Hanukkah with her family. The other problem: Aviva Halpern, her arch rival on Team Canada — and former sleepaway camp frenemy — is there.
Shayna hasn’t forgotten Aviva’s role in sabotaging her team’s chances at camp-wide color wars — or the kiss they shared after havdalah one night. And she certainly notices when Aviva takes a hard slide into her the first time their teams play one another in the tournament.
But when she’s alone at a judaica store looking for a box of candles, who should walk around an endcap full of gelt but Aviva? They make a pact: Enemies on the field, a havurah of two off it.
Their plan almost works, until a rogue dreidel spin lands Shayna reaching across Aviva’s lap… and they get to relive that night at summer camp, but oh SO much better. On the field, though, it’s not all gimmel, especially when their teams play each other in the semi-finals.
Will their rekindled attraction be enough to last… or will their relationship go up in smoke?
BY RACHEL MARS
Linda Mansour is 97, exquisite and stuck at the L’Chaim Nursing Home for the Elderly in Edgware, London where 95% of residents are Ashkenazi and a lot like upholstery — and so is the food. Beaten down by the Yiddish, the dill and the buckets of chopped herring, Linda is losing her alegria.
When the home’s cook, Marty Schmaltzstein, dies of complications from hypertension the night before Chanukah, Linda sees her chance to rip up the herring-heavy menu book. She challenges Ruthie Alpenberg, L’Chaim’s Regina George, to a duel: a donut vs. bimuelos fry-off. And the prize? The winner chooses the menu for the rest of their days. Ruthie is sure there is no real competition, but can Linda refind her saffron scented spirit, reinspire the residents and banish the beetroot for ever?
How the Grinch Stole Hanukkah
BY RYAN D. MORRIS
Long before the Grinch’s eponymous and most sinister terror in the town of Whoville, one of his lesser-known exploits—and a generally unnoticed one among the Whos’ gentiles—centered around an unsuccessful attempt to steal Hanukkah. Inspired by the Hanukkah story (or perhaps as a trial run for the larger heist), the Grinch conspires to bring Hanukkah to a grinding halt by stealing the town Jews’ gifts and destroying their precious, latke-bearing ovens. His efforts are hindered when his naively formulated plan is executed on what the Grinch thinks is the beginning of Shabbos (were it to begin at *sunrise* on Friday) and are ultimately foiled by laziness upon realizing he would actually have to do it seven more times.
Latkes, Lactaid, and Love
BY LEAH STECHER
Rachel Kuperberg, Private Investigator, has two problems: 1) After buying an ancient menorah at a yard sale and lighting it for Hanukkah, she’s been able to communicate with the surprisingly sassy Judith — the ancient Hanukkah heroine who poisoned General Holofernes before chopping off his head and helping drive the Assyrians out of Israel; 2) Benjamin Schwimmer, her childhood nemesis from Camp Beth Israel and The Jewish Journal’s 2021 Most Eligible Jewish Bachelor is on the phone. Someone laced the latkes at his annual Hanukkah party with extra-strength powdered lactose in a clear attempt to ruin his candidacy for Synagogue President, and Rachel is the only one he trusts to solve the case. Luckily, no one knows poisons, underhanded subterfuge, or powerful men like Judith, who is happy to provide her expertise and opinions (even when Rachel isn’t sure she wants them). The clock is ticking, and things are getting complicated — Rachel’s connection to Judith only lasts as long as the menorah is lit for Hanukkah, synagogue elections are looming, unexpected sparks are starting to fly between the former camp enemies, and, worst of all, the evidence seems to point to Benjamin himself as the lactose culprit. As the final night of Hanukkah approaches, Rachel has a decision to make. Will she (metaphorically) cut off his head and expose Benjamin to the Jewish Journal, or will she trust her lactose-intolerant gut and take a chance on love?
My Big Fat Greek-Jewish Restaurant
BY ALLISON GANS CASTILLO
Dancing Zorba’s restaurant, owned by the Portokalos family, and Judea restaurant, owned by the Macabee family, coexisted side by side on Chicago’s Halsted Street. Until real estate developer Antiochus, Inc., bought up all property on Halsted and forced Judea to give up its kosher certification and trade in matzah balls for moussaka, kubbeh for keftides, and sufganiyot for saganaki (a big problem for Judea’s lactose intolerant clientele!). Can the small and scrappy Macabees take on Antiochus, Inc., which has the full backing of the local alderman and the Chicago City Council? Can they obtain enough vegetable oil to make their latkes in time for Hanukkah, or will they be forced to use healthier Greek olive oil? And a healthy Hanukkah is no Hanukkah at all! This holiday season, let’s Opa and Oy Vey all the way! Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, all the lovable Portokalises (Portokalit?), Hank Azaria, Timothee Chalamet as Judah, Theo James as Christopher Antiochus, Ben Affleck as the local Alderman, and Tiffany Haddish as Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Otto Notti (8 Nights)
BY EMMA KANTOR
In this Felliniesque romp set in contemporary Rome, up-and-coming Jewish Italian filmmaker Ottavio (“Otto”) Notti, played by Jason Schwartzman, struggles with writer’s block while embarking on his eighth feature film. Up until now, Otto has made low-budget indies. But thanks to a donation by a mysterious benefactor who goes by the alias “Shamash,” Otto finds himself with more gelt than he can handle — and the added pressure is driving him meshuggah. He scraps his original concept of a humble, heartfelt documentary on 20th-century Jewish Italian authors Natalia Ginzburg and Giorgio Bassani for something more commercial: a blockbuster holiday epic titled “A Hanukkah Spiel.” A (dreidel) spin on “A Christmas Carol,” the movie-within-a-movie follows a mean moneylender who is visited by eight dybbuks over the course of Hanukkah and forced to revisit his past misdeeds. Finally, he repents and transforms into a mitzvah-driven mensch. (In short, it’s a pile of stereotypical drek.) Woven throughout the surreal scenes from Otto’s film-in-progress are flashbacks to holidays past, including the ex-lovers he mistreated.
With the producers hovering and cast and crew losing faith, Otto questions his integrity as man and artist. In a twist, Otto’s beloved nonna/bubbe reveals herself to be the mysterious investor Shamash! She wanted to show her grandson that a great artist doesn’t need a lot of money to make a meaningful film. Otto gives away the remaining cash as tzedakah and gambles on his original documentary concept. Can he succeed with only his creative fire to light the way?
The Jewish Jingle
BY GILLIANA HOPE
“This holiday season, Hallmark becomes Challmark.”
Clay Firestone isn’t a fan of the holiday season: from the moment it begins, Christmas music deafens his ears. Now a famous singer considered one of the top single NJB celebrities, Clay is told by his label to record a holiday hit to drum up buzz for his latest album. Fed up with the Christian-centric songs bestowed on him, he refuses unless he’s allowed to create a Chanukah track instead. They agree, but only if the demo tests well — or else Clay must record one of the cookie-cutter classics.
Sadie Sterling dreamed of becoming a singer when she was little, but her hopes faded as she grew up in a world that constantly reminded the chai-wearing woman that her naturally Jewish features (like her nose and frizzy curls) weren’t “conventionally acceptable.” She opted not to get a nose job and change who she was to do what she loved, shifting her focus to the behind-the-scenes as a happy medium. One of the top female producers and songwriters in the industry, she’s tasked with producing Clay’s next hit.
Sparks instantly fly in the worst of ways. While the musicians constantly butt heads, their writing chemistry is undeniable. Clay and Sadie set aside their differences, uniting to make a modern Jewish tune to take the world by storm. Will the power of music light a fire between them as they make the next Chanukah classic that shines from America to Israel?