A couple of winters ago I tried to find a good Hanukkah movie to watch as a family on Disney+ with its extensive historic catalog. Unfortunately, I found, unsurprisingly, that the company did not dedicate its vast resources to producing content for Jews. I did discover one movie, Full-Court Miracle, that was actually not terrible, although I might be biased since it combines two of my favorite subjects: Talmud study and basketball.
While cheesy, at least Full-Court Miracle had the benefit of taking Judaism and Jews seriously. The characters in the movie genuinely love their tradition, and the narrative attempts to make the values of the Maccabee story real for the 21st century. One cannot say the same about the Hanukkah-themed movies produced by the Hallmark Channel, in which Jewish characters usually learn to love and appreciate Christmas, rather than their own holiday.
Now, after controversy sparked by the Hallmark Channel’s troubled relationship with diversity in the areas of race, religion, and sexual orientation, there is a new CEO, who wants to expand the content offered by the network. One way to do that is to tell stories that are authentic to the Jewish experience. “Don’t disrespect Hanukkah,” she said. “Understand why that is important.”
Another way to tell real Jewish stories is to use holidays other than Hanukkah and its relationship to the December Dilemma. “There are other opportunities outside of Christmas to talk about the Jewish faith,” she points out. A reporter from the Forward notes, however, that there are no plans yet for a High Holy Day rom-com, but reading about the change in strategy, I wondered, what could the Hallmark Channel do with some of the other Jewish holidays?
Since Purim is coming up, how about the story of a young Jewish assistant getting her first job at a major Wall Street finance firm with crazy hours, but she still wants to observe Shabbat. When a big multibillion dollar deal needs to close on a Saturday, she has to decide whether to pretend to be a religious Jew and give up her observance or pass up a major chance at a promotion.
How about a Passover historical drama of a sophisticated New York Jewish woman who moves to the South in the 1950s and sees the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement? Her neighbors are a Southern Jewish family who have very conservative views on integration, but she takes a liking to the son. The relationship changes both of them as they realize they have truly not understood how the Exodus story relates to the struggle for African American freedom.
Maybe these stories are cliched, and there is a reason I didn’t move to Hollywood to become a screenwriter, but it would be nice for American television to explore some of the lesser-known Jewish holidays the way it does Christmas. Not only would we Jews feel seen; non-Jews may learn a little bit about what it means to be different in an overwhelmingly Christian country.