5 Jewish movies without tragic endings

Tevye the Dairyman, courtesy of Otterbein University Theatre & Dance

Jewish movies are often depressing. The Holocaust, the Munich Massacre, a pogrom — it’s hard to find a film without a tragedy. We found five that are, if not happy, avoid the tragic. Some spoilers ahead.

“Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947)

Gregory Peck’s Schuyler Green goes undercover as a Jew – Phil Greenberg – as he hopes to learn about the antisemitism.

Green – or rather, Greenberg — experiences the gamut of antisemitism, but fortunately for him, there is no pogrom.

Everything works out in the end for all parties involved. Even Dave Goldman, Green’s Jewish friend finally finds housing after he and his family were denied it because they were Jewish.

“Fiddler on the Roof” (1971)

Inspired by Sholem Aleichem’s stories about Tevye the Dairyman, this epic musical about Jewish life in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka does not take place in happy times (OK, this one actually does have a pogrom) But the takeaway is hope (they’re going to America, after all) love, humor and, most importantly, tradition.

“The Chosen” (1981)

Though the story is framed against the backdrop of tragic world events (the Holocaust), the focus is on the friendship between two boys with vastly different upbringings.

Reuven Malter is Modern Orthodox and his friend Danny Saunders is Chasidic. The movie follows how their relationship evolves over the years and addresses Jewish perspectives on myriad issues. The movie concludes on a positive note as both boys struggle to find their place in the world and gain acceptance from their families.

“Yentl” (1983)

You either love “Yentl” or you hate it. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, yet simultaneously, the movie was also nominated for three Golden Raspberry awards.

Set in early 20th century Poland, “Yentl” is the story of a young woman who dresses as a man so that she can study at Yeshiva.

The movie has an optimistic ending that was conspicuously absent from the book it is based on.

“An American Pickle” (2020)

Seth Rogan plays Herschel Greenbaum, a Jewish immigrant from an Eastern European shtetl who falls into a vat of pickles where he is perfectly preserved for 100 years. When he awakens, he meets his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum — who is also played by Seth Rogan.

The two characters fight throughout, but eventually Ben is able to reconnect with his culture and develop respect for Herschel, and Herschel becomes proud of Ben, even though Ben subverted his expectations.

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