A Ranking of Hallmark's Jewish Romcoms – Kveller
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A Ranking of Hallmark’s Jewish Romcoms

There have been hits, and there have been misses — oh, have there been misses.

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via Hallmark and Getty Images

Hallmark’s first Jewish romance aired in 2009. “Loving Leah” was based on a Jewish love story between an Orthodox Jewish woman and her late husband’s secular Jewish brother, and it was surprisingly pretty amazing. Since then, there have been hits, and there have been misses — oh, have there been misses.

And so, I decided to put together an unofficial ranking of all of the channel’s Jewish offerings, at least the ones we know of.

What does Hallmark have to offer? A majority of the channel’s Hanukkah movies want to convince us that competitive dreideling is a thing (maybe it should be?). Too many of them have annoying klezmer music (I love klezmer music, but I don’t think we need it in movies to signal that they’re Jewish) and many minute-long explainers of Jewish traditions for non-Jewish viewers (to be fair, most Hallmark channel viewers are not). A lot of them have not super believable plots (but all Hallmark movies are kind of “romantic fantasy,” anyway). A lot of these movies feature a grandmother played by the same woman. And yet, a surprising amount of them, especially in the last two to three years, do a very good job of celebrating Jewish love.

Without further ado, here is our very unofficial ranking of the best and the worst Jewish Hallmark movies.

9. “Holiday Date”

“Holiday Date” was touted as a Hanukkah movie, but as Emily Burack wrote in Hey Alma at the time, the 2019 film was just a Christmas film with a Jew shoe-horned into it. It did have the wonderful Jewish dad Matt Cohen as a Jew with Christmas envy, roped into pretending to be Brittany Bristow’s Brooke’s boyfriend for the Christmas holiday. “Holiday Date” doesn’t seem to be available to stream at the moment, and I didn’t watch it when it originally came out, but I do feel OK about putting it last on this list.

8. “Hitched for the Holidays”

This movie appears to be Hallmark’s first Hanukkah movie. Released in 2012, it tells the story of a Jewish Julie Green, played by Emily Hampshire (who went on to play Stevie in “Schitt’s Creek”), and Rob Marino, played by Joey Lawrence, a guy from a loving Italian family, who pretend to be dating each other to give their families some naches (my word, not theirs). The movie has plenty of cringe moments, including when Julie heartily sings Christian hymns at mass, and when Rob’s family pretends to be Jewish but don’t know how to Google (I mean, it was 2012, so no excuses) so they just put a bazillion menorahs in the house which they fully light despite it not being the last night of Hanukkah and decorate their tree with over 200 dreidels.

7. “Double Holiday”

OK, I have to admit that “Double Holiday” is one of two movies on this list that I haven’t watched, but my colleague Shevy Baskin has, and she called it “not bad” Jewish representation. This is the last movie on this list that about an interfaith relationship, and it does show the non-Jewish character treating Jewish traditions with respect and reverence, so we love to see that. Though according to other reviews, it still tokenizes and marginalizes Hanukkah, and pretends that we Jews don’t know anything about Christmas. I mean, have you seen America? Christmas gets shoved down your throat whether you want it or not.

The film tells the story of Rebbeca, who is Jewish, and Chris, who isn’t, who are forced to organize their company’s holiday party together. One thing leads to another and the two fall for each other while frying latkes and trimming trees. I have to say, this scene of Rebecca’s family speaking over each other feels like accurate Jewish representation:

7. “Love, Light, Hanukkah”

I was primed to hate “Love, Light, Hanukkah,” but it actually did win me over. I liked the way the movie handled weighty topics like grief and adoption. I thought its leads, Mia Kirshner and Ben Savage, were very charming and had lots of chemistry. I love that they are both food professionals, a very Jewish tradition that Hallmark will continue to celebrate in later movies.

In the movie, Kirshner plays Christmas-obsessed Christina Rossi who owns an Italian restaurant and whose adoptive mother recently passed away. Through a DNA test, she discovers that her birth mother was Jewish. When she meets her biological family, she also meets family friend David Singer (Savage), who happens to be a food critic that panned her restaurant. She learns to love Jewish food and Jewish traditions as she gets invited to her biological family’s holiday celebrations.

5. “The Wedding Contract”

I think of this movie as an explainer to Jewish Ashkenazi wedding traditions. It’s one of those films that I really wanted to love more than I actually did, despite the excellent Jewish cast. Adam, an ad exec, is played by Jake Epstein, who has starred in both Hallmark and Lifetime Hanukkah romcoms, and Rebecca, a teacher and artist played by Becca Tobin (“Glee”), fall in love at a park bench, but her love for Jewish tradition and for her family and local community come to clash with his career aspirations, and Adam has to choose between the two.

To me, this movie felt a little more stale than some other films on this list, maybe because it really leans into being a didactic film about Jewish wedding traditions, but doesn’t actually bring enough of the color and joy of them to the fore. The Jewish wedding at its end looks very much like a stock photo ceremony. Tobin’s character was meant to be a Jewish woman who loves tradition and family, but there’s something about her family that lacks the magic and liveliness of Jewish family that goes beyond just baking challah (or “holler” as one of Rebecca’s students calls it) and signing a ketubah.

5.  “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah”

I actually loved this movie, mostly because I loved that it had a female protagonist who wasn’t just a dreamy creative but a nice Jewish doctor, an independent woman with her own business and, you will notice for the first time on this list, a proud Jew played by an actual Jewish person, Inbal Lavi. Woo hoo. I am also such a sucker for a Cyrano de Bergerac-ish tale, and here we have Sara who gets surprise presents from a suitor for every night of Hanukkah. She believes they come from the person she is currently dating, but instead, they come from her childhood friend, who has long been in love with her, played by Jake Epstein in what I think is my favorite Hallmark movie of his.

4. “Made For Each Other”

We need more Jewish folklore in our Hallmark movies! We want more Jewish romcoms that aren’t Hanukkah movies! This one accomplishes both. “Made for Each Other” is a golem tale about a sculptor, played by excellent Jewish actor Alex Turshen, who sculpts a clay suitor, only to fall in love with a real live, flawed man, played by Matt Cohen, who redeems himself after “Holiday Date” as a lawyer and aspiring standup comic. There are flaws in this movie (like a two-dimensional Jewish mom) but it feels very authentically and casually Jewish and fantastical.

3. “Hannukah on Rye”

Yael Grobglas! Jeremy Jordan! Jewish delis! Jewish matchmakers! Egg creams! This 2022 Hanukkah movie felt like a dream come true. Scriptwriter Julie Sherman Wolfe clearly gets what a good Hanukkah movie should be all about: no explainers about the holiday (though some about Jewish culture and immigration which is nice), lots of love for Jewish tradition and ritual, and a compelling love story between two lovable characters. This movie really felt like a win, and the moment when Hallmark truly started understanding what its Jewish viewers wanted out of Hanukkah movies, while still giving its non-Jewish viewers something fun and entrancing to watch.

2. “Loving Leah”

I was so stunned that I made it to 2024 without watching this truly excellent Hallmark romcom, the only Orthodox romance on this list, which tells the story of a man who decides to follow an old Jewish tradition and marry his Orthodox brother’s childless widow. The cast here is incredible — Natasha Lyonne, Susie Essman, Ricki Lake and a very young Timothee Chalamet — and the Jewish details are truly better than every movie on this list.

1. “Round and Round”

“Round and Round” is not just a good Hallmark movie, it’s a genuinely enjoyable romcom. Even the non-Jews at NPR say so (well, there are lots of Jews at NPR, but Linda Holmes specifically is not Jewish, and she thought it was darling, too)! Vic Michaelis, the star of the film who is stuck in a time loop, and Bryan Greenberg, her grandma’s art teacher who comes to her aid, are just so delightful to watch together. It’s a Jewish love story between two Jewish characters that is funny, self-aware and lovely. It’s truly everything I’ve ever wanted of a Hallmark movie, period.

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