While we have all made major adjustments to our lives due to COVID-19 which has necessitated what is sure to be a lengthy period of social distancing, we are now challenged to try to make the most of a bad situation. Clearly, this won’t be easy, and we all have different ways of coping with adversity.
Whether you’re hanging out solo, as a couple or with extended family, movies are always a great way to escape from today’s reality. Here’s a list of some Jewish flicks and series which may interest and entertain you while in quarantine.
1Movie: One of Us (2017)
This documentary explores the world of Hasidic Judaism during a three-year time period. The film focuses on three individuals who have decided to leave their ultra-orthodox community, straining and even severing family relationships along the way. (95 minutes)
2Movie: Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary Story of Ben Ferencz (2018)
A documentary that in my personal opinion is a must-see experience for people of all ages, except perhaps youngsters. The amazing story centers around the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor who is now 98 years young. He is an amazing force who has always advocated “law, not war.” Ferencz was just 27 years old at the time of the post-war trials and personally witnessed Nazi concentration camps shortly after liberation. He has been on the front lines of efforts to obtain restitution for Jewish victims of the Holocaust and was central in the establishment of the International World Court. (83 minutes)
3Movie: The Pianist (2002)
This classic Roman Polanski drama is based on the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish composer and pianist who survived World War II, narrowly avoiding capture by the Nazis. His family was part of the Polish roundup which sent them to death camps. Szpilman spent the war years hiding out in the devastation of Warsaw, finding food and shelter wherever he could in order to survive. He eventually returned to his beloved music and became a highly regarded performer. (148 minutes)
4Series: Unorthodox (2020)
This new series currently available for viewing tells the story of a Hasidic woman from Brooklyn who flees from an arranged marriage by moving to Berlin. She befriends a group of musicians while in Germany, but eventually reconnects with her past life in the U.S. Based on the book, “Unorthodox,” by Debra Feldman.
5Series: Shtisel (2013)
Often subtly comedic, this drama series follows a Haredi Orthodox family that lives in the Guela neighborhood of Jerusalem. Each 45-minute episode deals with personal issues confronting this large family that are not unlike those faced by families of any persuasion. Filmed in Jerusalem, making for some fascinating scenery of real-life in Israel. Haredi Orthodox Jews, often called Ultra-Orthodox, are known for their strict interpretation of Jewish law and values.
6Series: Inside the Mossad (2017)
This four-part documentary series explores inside Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. Featuring interviews with dozens of former agents, viewers will be fascinated as the never before intricacies of top-secret past operations are revealed. (50 minutes)
7Movie: The Photographer of Mauthausen (2018)
This Spanish military drama film, based on a true story, details how a Catalan Spaniard prisoner at a Nazi concentration camp utilized his office job to secretly obtain photo negatives of atrocities being perpetrated there. Nominated for nine Gaudi Awards, the film awards for the northeast Spanish region of Catalonia which includes Barcelona, the heroics of photographer Francisco Boix are hard to fathom given the extreme risk to his personal safety. Mauthausen was one of the first concentration camps set up by the Germans in Austria in 1938, just to the east of Linz. (110 minutes)
8Series: Russian Doll (2019; new season in 2020)
While not Jewish-themed, this Netflix original series has received rave reviews from both critics and viewers. Starring Emmy-nominated Jewish actress Natasha Lyonne, the show is described as being “fatally funny to mournfully sad”. Perfect for binge-watching, each episode is a short 24-minutes and full of amazing performances. Each week the central character, Nadia, is the guest of honor at her 36th birthday party. Somehow (you’ll have to watch it to understand), she dies at the end of each night but wakes up again the next morning at home as if none of the previous evenings had occurred. Created by Lyonne and Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live fame.
9Series: The Kominsky Method (2018-2019)
Putting Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin together in this series was pure genius, and this Chuck Lorre (creator of Young Sheldon, Mom, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Mike and Molly, and many more)-written comedy about growing older and friendship truly strikes a chord with countless Baby Boomers.
Douglas and Arkin, both Jewish of course, are best friends finding their way through love, grief, their younger (but not young) children who still have major issues, and the latter stages of their careers. This is another series that you may choose to binge-watch as it draws you in, makes you laugh and feel good about life, and certainly offers food for thought about growing older. Highly entertaining. (30-45 minutes)
10Series: Schitt’s Creek (2016-20; final season soon on Netflix)
This is without a doubt the funniest show that I have watched in many years. It’s so well done and moves so quickly at times that I have begun watching it again from the beginning. While I am not a fan of today’s television sitcom options, Schitt’s Creek stands far apart from the crowd.
The creation of Canadian comedian Eugene Levy of Second City fame and his son Daniel, both of whom star in the series, the storyline follows the once-wealthy Rose family after they lose everything they own after the collapse of the family business. They move to Schitt’s Creek, a small town that Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) bought as a joke birthday gift years ago, and move into the town’s only motel, with the family occupying adjoining rooms for the parents and adult kids.
Stellar performances abound from regulars Annie Murphy (Alexis Rose, the daughter), Sarah Levy (Twyla, the town café’s server), Catherine O’Hara (the former soap opera star and mother from Home Alone fame), and not to be forgotten, Chris Elliott who plays Roland Schitt, the town’s mayor. If you want to laugh out loud, and who doesn’t these days, this is the show for you. (30 minutes)
So, there you have it – a wide variety of movie and series suggestions with some sort of Jewish connection for Netflix fans, while we all hunker down and stay #AloneTogether at home.
Be well, stay safe, and enjoy getting to know your loved ones far better than you ever dreamed to be possible.