“Jewish Film” is hard to pin down, exactly; it is as broad and diverse as the culture it reflects. As a category, it cuts through all genres – comedy, drama, romance, action, documentary – and tells the stories of Jews of all eras and backgrounds, from the shtetl to the suburbs. These critically-acclaimed, award-winning films capture the full variety of Jewish Cinema, from culture and history to food and family.
Here are 13 of the top Jewish films of all times:
1Gad Elmaleh: American Dream (2018)
Prepare to laugh until you cry. One of the funniest comedians performing today, Gad shares his experience as an immigrant in the U.S.A, his view of American dating culture, food obsessions, and more.
2One of Us (2017)
Genre: Documentary; directed and produced by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
One of Us follows the lives of three ex-members of Brooklyn’s Hasidic community, as they struggle with being ostracized by their families and community, and experience religious doubt.
3Fanny’s Journey (2016)
Fanny’s Journey presents the Holocaust through the eyes of young children. Inspiring, emotional and based on a true story, this French film captures the journey of a courageous group of Jewish orphans as they try to escape the Nazis.
4In Search of Israeli Cuisine (2016)
A film for people who love Israeli food. Israeli Chef and restaurateur Michael Solomonov leads a documentary crew all over Israel, discovering Israeli cuisine and the stories and traditions behind it.
5Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (2014)
Genre: Drama; written and directed by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz
In Israel there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce. Only rabbis can legitimize or dissolve a marriage. But dissolution is only possible with the full consent of her husband, and after three years of applying for a divorce, Viviane Amsalem cannot get her husband Elisha to agree. His cold intransigence, Viviane’s determination to fight for her freedom, and the ambiguous role of the rabbis shape a process in which tragedy vies with absurdity, and everything is eventually brought out for judgment.
Genre: Drama; written and directed by Josef Cedar
A classic story of a rivalry between a father and son. Both are professors in the Talmud department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The son is a creature of the establishment, dependent on its systems and accolades. Meanwhile, the father is a stubborn purist with a profound distaste for the establishment, and a hidden thirst for recognition. The Israel Prize, the country’s most prestigious national award, ultimately brings these two to a final, bitter confrontation.
7Walts and Bashir (2008)
Genre: Drama, Animation; written and directed by Ari Folman
One night at a bar, an old friend tells Ari about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs. Every night, the same number of beasts. The two men decide the dream is connected to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Ari is surprised that he can’t remember anything about that period of his life. Intrigued, he finds and interviews his old friends and comrades, to discover the truth about that time and about himself. As he delves deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images.
Genre: Action, Drama; written by Ron Leshem and Joseph Cedar
Beaufort tells the story of 22-year-old commander Liraz Liberty, and his troops during the second Lebanon war. It is 2006, a few months before Israel pulls out of Lebanon, and the situation is growing absurd. As Liraz lays the explosives which will destroy the very structure his friends just died to defend, he witnesses the collapse of his training as an officer, and the mental and physical disintegration of his soldiers.
9The Band’s Visit (2007)
Genre: Comedy-Drama; written and directed by Eran Kolirin
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra arrives in Israel from Egypt for a cultural event, only to find there is no delegation to meet them, nor any arrangements to get to their destination of Petah Tiqva. When they find their own ride, they arrive instead at the remote town of Beit Hatikva. Stuck there until the next morning’s bus, the band gets help from Dina, a local who offers to put them up for the night. What follows is a night of quiet happenings and confessions as the band makes its own impact on the town and vice-versa.
10Keeping Up with the Steins (2006)
Genre: Comedy; directed by Scott Marshall
Bigger is better for Benjamin Fiedler as he prepares to make his Bar Mitzvah as lavish as possible. Benjamin wants his dad to give him some space to plan, so he invites his grandfather, who left the family years ago and for whom Benjamin’s dad has an intense dislike, to come two weeks early. Thanks to grandpa and his family’s love, Benjamin may have a shot at figuring out what it means to be a man.
11When Do We Eat (2005)
The story of a dysfunctional Jewish family’s Passover Seder. This is the family’s first Seder together in three years and tensions are running high. There’s much more than matzoh on the menu, as the family releases long-held secrets that cause some fights but bring them closer in the end.
Exodus takes place during the founding of the state of Israel. A ship filled with Jewish immigrants are detoured and held up on their way to Israel and must negotiate with the British, who have blocked the harbor. They arrive, independence is declared, and Israel’s neighbors attack.
13Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Genre: Musical, Comedy-Drama; produced and directed by Norman Jewison
One of the classics of all time, Fiddler centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, as he attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions in the face of outside influences. He must cope both with the strong-willed desires of his three older daughters, who insist on marrying for love – each one’s choice of a husband moves them further away from the customs of Tevye’s faith – and with the edict of the Tsar who plans to evict the Jews from the village of Anatevka.