While there are certainly many Jews in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera, there have been shockingly few movies where two identifiably Jewish characters find love with each other. Jews on screen tend to be in love with non-Jews. The typical male Jewish character in particular in countless movies, among them Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally and Keeping the Faith, falls for a non-Jew, generally a blonde. We could speculate about why that is – opposites attract and all that – but if you have decided to spend Valentine’s Day watching romantic movies where both members of a couple are also members of the tribe, you’ll have to look hard. Of course, you can always supplement Hollywood movies with Israeli films, where Jewish couples are the norm. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Crossing Delancey – This quirky rom-com asks whether a literary young woman (Amy Irving) can find happiness with a mensch (Peter Riegert) on the Lower East Side who sells pickles. Spoiler alert: Of course she can, but not without overcoming a few enjoyable complications. The director, Joan Micklin Silver, who passed away recently, also made the Yiddish-language Hester Street.
2. Yentl – This Barbra Streisand film, based on a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, is an obvious choice. The gender-bending dramedy was a bit ahead of its time and featured Streisand posing as a boy to study Talmud and falling for a fellow yeshiva student (Mandy Patinkin). In a twist, the student’s fiancée (once again, Amy Irving) is smitten with Yentl, drawn to her/his gentleness and the two marry and, well, it’s complicated. If you would like a more conventional love story starring Streisand, you can try The Way We Were, in which she falls head-over-heels in love with an all-American goy played by Robert Redford.
3. The Wedding Plan — Rama Burshtein’s rom-com stars Noa Koler as a young woman who became ultra-Orthodox and loves her faith but has trouble getting hitched. When she splits up with her fiancé just a few weeks before the wedding, she is determined to find a groom right away and not lose her wedding-hall deposit. While everyone thinks she’s crazy, the gorgeous, married wedding planner (Amos Tamam of Srugim) is very sympathetic.
4. Forget Paris – Billy Crystal directed and stars in this rom-com where he plays an NBA referee who gets involved with Debra Winger, who plays an airline executive. It’s not the world’s most original movie – they drive each other crazy but can’t live without each other, yada yada yada as they would say on Seinfeld – but the leads are a pleasure to watch.
5. Fiddler on the Roof – This movie features several love stories, of Tevye and his wife, who fell in love only after they married, and three of Tevye’s daughters. But it’s the enduring love of the older couple that will stay with you, as will their anthem to time-tested love, “Do You Love Me?”
6. Yossi & Jagger – Eytan Fox’s 2002 movie was groundbreaking in its depiction of two male IDF soldiers who are very much in love. Some have called their clinch in the snow the most romantic kiss in Israeli movies. This movie made Yehuda Levi one of Israel’s biggest stars and won a Best Actor Award for Ohad Knoller at the Tribeca Film Festival.
7. Shiva Baby – Emma Seligman’s comedy about a young woman who runs into her older, married lover while at a shiva (mourning period) with her parents did not get the attention it would have had gotten had it not opened during a worldwide pandemic. But this movie manages to find humor in some dark situations and a complicated relationship.
8. The Matchmaker – All Avi Nesher’s movies are really about love. This story of a teenager working for a Holocaust-survivor matchmaker in late-60s Haifa is not a conventional romance but tells several parallel love stories, some funny, some tragic. Adir Miller, best known for comedy, plays the mysterious matchmaker and the scenes where he talks about love are heartbreaking and insightful.
9. Kissing Jessica Stein – Jennifer Westfeldt cowrote and stars in this comedy about a young woman who realizes she is looking for Ms. Right, not Mr. Right. If you are interested in a more dramatic story featuring a lesbian couple, the film Disobedience is about forbidden passion between two British ultra-Orthodox women played by Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. The Israeli film Red Cow tells the story of a young woman in a religious community who falls in love with another woman.
10. Apples From the Desert – Moran Rosenblatt is luminous in this story of an ultra-Orthodox young woman who goes to a kibbutz looking for love.