The Jewish day of fasting and mourning that begins tonight at sundown commemorates not just the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem but a confluence of Jewish tragedies through the ages. Watching sad movies has become a favorite pastime to help pass the time on this long, hot day — and easier than reciting the Kinot poems that mark Tisha b’Av morning.
So if you’re looking for something more appropriate to watch tomorrow afternoon than “Orange is the New Black,” the JTA staff has come up with this top 10 list to help get you though the day.
“Shoah” – Not only is this 1985 film the sine qua non of Holocaust documentaries, but at a whopping 10 hours, 13 minutes, it’s also guaranteed to take you through the entire day of mourning. And if you don’t have tears in your eyes at the end, at least you’ll be that much closer to having food in your belly.
“Schindler’s List” – Yes, it’s a cliche by now, but there’s a reason all Holocaust movies are measured against this 1993 Oscar-winning masterpiece by Steven Spielberg. Watch it again.
“In the Presence of Mine Enemies” — Rod Sterling’s classic 1960 teleplay about a rabbi struggling to balance family, faith and survival during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising includes a then-unknown Robert Redford playing the Nazi lieutenant who falls for the rabbi’s daughter. You can also check out the 1996 Showtime remake with Armin Mueller-Stahl as the rabbi.
“Operation Thunderbolt” – You may not go to summer camp anymore, but how many of us can forget the ominous musical refrain to this 1977 Israeli movie (which became a Tisha b’Av camp favorite) about the bold military operation to free the Israeli hostages from Uganda’s Entebbe airport after the hijacking of Air France flight 139 in 1976. The movie is known in Hebrew as “Operation Jonathan” for Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu, the Israeli commando (and brother of Israel’s current prime minister) who was killed in the operation. Yehoram Gaon plays Yoni.
“The Pianist” – Moving and beautifully done, the only drawback to watching this 2002 film starring Adrien Brody as a Polish Jewish musician struggling to survive the war is the annoyance you’ll feel every time you think of his forced smooch of Halle Berry when he won the Oscar for Best Actor.
“Paper Clips” – A quiet classic about a project by Tennessee middle schoolers to grasp the scope of the Holocaust by collecting enough paper clips to correspond with the 6 million Jewish victims, this 2004 documentary will break your heart and renew your faith in the down-home goodness of Americans all at the same time.
“The Wave” — Based on a true story, this 1981 TV special depicts a high school teacher struggling to teach his students about how a democratic society can be susceptible to fascism. But his social experiment begins to turn violent, culminating in a jarring climactic scene with echoes of the Nazis.
“Europa Europa” – This 1990 film directed by Agnieszka Holland is based on the true story of a Jewish boy, Solomon Perel, who survived the Holocaust by masquerading as an Aryan – in part by going through a painful procedure to hide his circumcision. Ouch!
“Sophie’s Choice” – Even three decades on, this 1982 movie still represents some of the best work of Meryl Streep, who does a pitch-perfect job, accent and all, playing Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant forced to make an unspeakable choice during the war. Streep, who starred opposite Kevin Kline as her lover, Nathan Landau, won an Academy Award for her effort.
“The Fixer” — John Frankenheimer’s 1968 movie based on the Bernard Malamud novel is about how being Jewish is inseparable from “being” for Jews. Malamud based his account on the 1913 Beilis blood libel trial in Kiev but made his protagonist, Bok, newly secular. Watching Alan Bates as Bok shave his beard in the film’s first moments, the viewer dreads the inevitable moment when Bok realizes that however much he tries, he will always be Jewish if only because that’s how anti-Semites define him.