• Keeping Up With The Steins (Available in our library) (2006, PG-13)
This 2006 feature stars Daryl Sabara, one of the Spy Kids, as Benjamin. Before his own event, his family attends the Stein bar mitzvah, a titanic, half-million-dollar affair based on, well, the movie Titanic. Daryl’s father, played by Jeremy Piven, will not be outdone, and he sets sail to create a bigger spectacle for his son’s event, only to run into the iceberg of his son’s ideas for it. Kids will relate to the kids onscreen, while their parents will enjoy the many surprise cameos.
Afterward, it will be very easy to discuss the main questions posed by the movie: Who is all this about anyway, the parents or the kids? And where should the focus be, on the “bar” part of things, or on the “mitzvah” aspect?
• Sixty Six (2006, PG-13)
While it was released in the same year, it is set in 1966 (hence its title), and England is going to play in the World Cup. To put this in historic perspective, it would be like the Cubs being in the World Series. Our hero, Bernie, again a pensive young man, is chagrined— this game will take place on the same day as his bar mitzvah, and will entirely overshadow it. This is a true story, released for the 40th anniversary of the director’s own bar mitzvah. This film is great for more sophisticated young viewers who can follow the accents, and don’t mind the dated setting or lack of recognizable stars (although Helena Bonham-Carter plays the mother). But it also is good for those youngsters for whom sports are the center of the universe. The hero of Sixty Six isn’t going to get the big party he does want, due to his family’s recurring financial setbacks. Bernie’s father is off trying to scrape up the money for his — and so each dad is emotionally distant at this critical phase in his son’s maturation.
• Eli’s Coming (1996, NR)
Joshua isn’t even sure if he believes in God altogether. Encouraging him on this anti-establishment path is his Uncle Ned, the “hippie.” Insisting that he follow through on his bar mitzvah is Uncle Sol, the fairly traditional family man who is Joshua’s de facto father. Torn between these polar forces, Joshua runs away… and runs into a stranger named Eli (short for Elijah— wink, wink) who helps him navigate his own journey. This might be a good film to share with young adults who are using this Big Event to really wrestle with some Big Questions. Some kids are understandably leery of the day due to simple stage fright, but some have deeper questions about the meaning of this rite of passage as a whole: “What does it mean, to become an adult? What do I truly believe, and what do the Torah and Judaism mean to me?” This film can kick-start some difficult, yet rewarding, conversations.
• Praying with Lior (2008, NR)
What if you weren’t expected to have a bar mitzvah at all? Praying with Lior is a documentary about a young man with Down’s syndrome. We meet his family and friends as they react to his decision to become a bar mitzvah. Some are skeptical that it can happen and want to avoid the frustrations and upheavals it will cause. Some are encouraging, yet want to mitigate expectations. And some are for the “full steam ahead” approach. In the middle is Lior, who is at every moment his absolute true self, which is alternately flummoxing and super-inspirational.
While Lior’s level of comprehension is often debated here, no one questions the enormity of his soul. Any young adult unsure as to whether he or she wants to celebrate becoming a bar/bat mitzvah would have to be made of stern stuff indeed to not be caught up in Lior’s passionate spiritual quest. What, exactly, does becoming a bar mitzvah mean to Lior? A lot. A whole lot.
• Hey Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger (2008, PG-13)
Hey Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger, is closest in plot to Eli’s Coming. In this Australia film, an Ugly Betty-type tries to escape her family, life, and bat mitzvah by integrating herself with a prep school across town. Not that she told anyone she was going to. This new school is attended by Keisha Castle-Hughes, all grown up from her Whale Rider role. At first, she mentors Esther in the art of breaking free. But when Esther takes things too far, she has to give her a reality check. This movie is excellent for exploring the issues of Diaspora and assimilation— what it means to be Jewish in a non-Jewish context, what it means to belong. Does Esther truly “belong” in a society in which she is pretending to be that which she is not (namely, Swedish)? Which is better, fitting in or standing out? And, most importantly from a bat mitzvah perspective, how does she become who she wants to be without giving up who she is?
• The Outside Chance of Maximillian Glick (1998, G)
Twelve-year-old Max Glick (Noam Zylberman) wouldn’t exactly call his life exciting. It’s the 1960s, and he resides in an isolated Jewish community in Manitoba, Canada. But, with his upcoming bar mitzvah, things are about to get a lot more interesting — especially when Max meets Rabbi Teitelbaum (Saul Rubinek). Fresh from Chicago and there to help the boy prepare for the ceremony, Teitelbaum proves to be an invigorating free spirit who helps Max discover his own path with humor and chutzpah.
• Paperclips (2004, G)
Searching for an effective way to teach their students about the scale of the Holocaust, school officials in Tennessee devise a unique class project involving paper clips. The middle school students in a rural, heavily Christian community begin collecting the paper clips to represent the Jews who perished in concentration camps in World War II. After millions of the paper clips are collected, the last step is to place them inside a German rail car, a poignant echo of the Final Solution.
• The Ten Commandments (1956,G)
• Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1999, NR)
• Ushpizin (2004, PG)
Moshe (Shuli Rand) and Malli (Michal Bat-Sheva Rand), an Orthodox Jewish couple in Jerusalem, are childless and without means to celebrate the weeklong holiday of Succoth. After much prayer, they receive unexpected money, and Moshe is told about an abandoned shack where he and Malli can properly deprive themselves and receive guests. However, they are visited by two ex-convicts with an unexpected link to Moshe’s past, and the celebration becomes a series of emotional trials.
• Crossing Delancey (1988, PG)
Isabelle’s life revolves around the New York bookshop she works in and the intellectual friends of both sexes she meets there. Her grandmother remains less than impressed and decides to hire a good old-fashioned Jewish matchmaker to help Isabelle’s love-life along. Enter pickle-maker Sam who immediately takes to Isabelle. She however is irritated by the whole business, at least to start with.
• The Chosen (1981, PG)
Set in 1940s Brooklyn, The Chosen is the story of two teenage boys who become best friends despite huge differences in their upbringing. Danny (Robby Benson) is the son of an orthodox Hasidic Rabbi (Rod Steiger). Reuven (Barry Miller) comes from a progressive Jewish family whose father (Maximillian Schell) stands at the forefront of the battle for Israeli statehood. Danny’s every moment is devoted to religious study, while Reuven plays jazz piano and is intensely interested in the changing world around him. Their family differences soon force both to make difficult choices. Based on Chaim Potok’s best-selling novel, The Chosen is a compelling coming-of-age story, expertly directed and performed by a stellar cast.
• The Jazz Singer (1980, NR)
The film depicts the fictional story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a young man who defies the traditions of his devout Jewish family. After singing popular tunes in a beer garden he is punished by his father, a cantor, prompting Jakie to run away from home. Some years later, now calling himself Jack Robin, he has become a talented jazz singer. He attempts to build a career as an entertainer but his professional ambitions ultimately come into conflict with the demands of his home and heritage. (This is a remake of the original.)
• The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974, PG)
The younger son of a working-class Jewish family in Montreal, Duddy Kravitz yearns to make a name for himself in society. This film chronicles his short and dubious rise to power, as well as his changing relationships with family and friends. Along the way the film explores the themes of anti-semitism and the responsibilities which come with adulthood.
• Life and times of Hank Greenberg (1998, PG)
• A Life Apart (1997, NR)
• A Stranger Among Us (1992, PG-13)
• School Ties (1992, PG-13)
• Driving Miss Daisy (1989, PG)
• Biloxi Blues (1988, PG-13)
• Yentl (1983, PG)
• Frisco Kid (1979, PG)
• Fiddler on the Roof (1971, G)
• Goodbye, Columbus (1969, PG)