I’m guessing that after Chanukah this year, a lot more families are going to have devices that let them watch streaming video on their televisions. My wife and I have been enjoying our Roku box for more than a year, but you can also watch streaming video on your TV through video game consules, Blu-ray players, HDTVs, and other systems such as D-Link and Apple TV.
So now that “everyone” is hooked in, here is my Chanukah present for y’all: a tip sheet for some of the best Jewish-oriented offerings on Netflix.
Netflix subscribers like me (who don’t use the DVD-by-mail service anymore) no longer have access to the
company’s full catalog; rather, we are limited to offerings in Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” category.
So we can’t get TV series such as “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” or movies such as “Annie Hall” or “Fiddler on the Roof” or “My Favorite Year” (an unsung heart-warmer that contains my favorite Jewish scene of all time, a hilarious sequence when Benjy brings a swashbuckling film star to his family’s Brooklyn apartment).
But there definitely are some good Jewish-oriented titles in the “Watch Instantly” category. Many are easy to find. Netflix tags some films as “Judaica” or “Israeli Movies,” so you can search for those terms, or try “Jewish” or “Holocaust” or “Hebrew.” You’ll find many feature films and documentaries with this method.
But many movies and shows with Jewish content don’t pop up in Netflix searches. So I’ve scoured Netflix for streaming options, and a few of my favorites follow. Search for them by title.
“Mary and Max.” This 92-minute claymation film is quirky, insightful and downright darling. An introverted 8-year-old Australian girl becomes penpals with a middle-aged New Yorker named Max Horovitz. It’s got a lot of Jewish content and, despite some dark topics, will leave you with a smile on your face.
“Herb & Dorothy.” If you didn’t catch this 87-minute documentary in 2008, here’s your opportunity. On the street outside of their New York apartment, Herb and Dorothy Vogel would appear to be just an ordinary, elderly Jewish couple. But this well-made film reveals them to be passionate and hunch-driven collectors of modern art, with thousands of important pieces crammed into their modest home.
“Jews in Toons.” Don’t search for that title, as it was the name of a special program at the 2011 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. But two of the cartoon episodes featured in that program can be found on Netflix.
For the “Family Guy” episode “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein,” click on the series and then locate the last episode (No. 22) of season 3. In the show, Peter wishes for a Jewish finance wizard to help with family financial problems, then is so impressed that he pushes Jesus to convert to Judaism.
The film festival also featured the “South Park” episode “The Passion of the Jew” (season 8, No. 3). It’s OK, but I actually prefer the 1999 “South Park” episode “Jewbilee” (season 3, No. 9). The setting is a Jewish sleepover camp at which the boys create macaroni art for Moses, and Kenny is banished for not being an MOT. Its accuracy about Judaism is so intentionally off the mark, including jibberish Hebrew, that it’s quite funny.
“Everything Is Illuminated.” A five-star designate in my queue, this 2005 depiction of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel brings a tear to my eye every time (and lots of smiles, too). Elijah Wood is awesome as the quirky young man who goes to Ukraine to find the non-Jewish woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. And the Ukranian translator?! Too hilarious.
“When Do We Eat?” Speaking of hilarious, this is my favorite Jewish comedy ever. A dysfunctional family gathers for a Passover seder, and one of the sons slips the father some Ecstasy. And that’s only part of the hilarity, as Jewish personality traits and family arguments and other various subplots make for comedy gold as the family reads the haggadah in a backyard tent.
“Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” from 2010, is what I’d call only a decent documentary. But it hits a home run in one part: a rare and revealing interview with Sandy Koufax.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other Netflix Jewish instant viewing options I’d love to recommend, but it looks like I’ve run out of space. Now where’d I put that remote?
Andy Altman-Ohr lives in Oakland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.