This past Thursday, while many of us were stuffing our faces with turkey and other Thanksgiving staples, Hallmark released a trailer for their Hanukkah offering this year: a movie called “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.” It’s a tale of a newly single Jewish optometrist finding love during the Festival of Lights, and I have to say, after watching this trailer, I am… genuinely excited?
Before we get to the actual movie, and why I think the trailer makes it look so promising, I need to point out the fact that this Hallmark movie actually premieres during Hanukkah on Friday, December 3. I know, it seems obvious and basic, but this isn’t (sigh) always the case with made-for-TV Hanukkah movies, especially when the holiday is so far from Christmas, as it is this year. Last year, Hallmark’s “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” was meant to premiere long after the Jewish holiday ended, but the channel later changed its release date.
Let’s face it, our expectations have been tragically, abominably, bottom-of-the-well low when it comes to Hanukkah movies and Hallmark. Last year’s “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” had a bit of an oy-riffic premise (woman finds out she’s Jewish from a 23andMe-like test and celebrates her first Hanukkah?), even though a few Jewish viewers ended up finding it delightful.
The (very few) movies of years before, though… they were basically Christmas movies with a couple of Jews in them, and they had some really troubling premises to boot. But this year, it seems that Hallmark is learning from their mistakes and bringing us their first truly Hanukkah-centric film.
The trailer features gigantic Stars of David, mantels with lots of menorahs, blue and gold Hanukkah decor and a Jewish fundraiser. There will be Jewish food, not all of it exactly Hanukkah-themed (yes, we have latkes, gelt and sufganiyot, but also babka and bagels? I’ll take it). Candle lightings, dreidel spinning and latke-making are all part of the program. It’s an embarrassment of Hanukkah-stock-photo-esque riches.
But the movie’s stars are perhaps the biggest reason I am most anticipating this film.
The movie’s lead, Sara Levin, an optometrist who receives one gift for each night of Hanukkah from an anonymous admirer who may or not be her bashert (that’s Yiddish for soulmate), is played by Inbar Lavi. The Israeli actress is best known for playing Eve — yes, literally a representation the first (Jewish) woman in the bible — in the delightfully campy “Lucifer.” It’s impossible to watch this show and not fall in love with Lavi, so just having her in this movie is enough for me to want to watch it. You can also see her in Bravo’s “Imposters,” which is now streaming on Netflix.
Lavi got married in Israel earlier this year — the beachside wedding included fire-dancing and a Moroccan henna ceremony — and skipped her own honeymoon to film this Hanukkah romance, so we know she was in a romantic state of mind.
Opposite Lavi is the adorably dreamy Jake Epstein. The “Degrassi: Next Generation” star plays Daniel. Epstein’s recent roles include playing Jewish composer and Carole King’s first husband, Gerry Goffin. Epstein is also about to star in season three of the Netflix hit “Umbrella Academy” along with Cazzie David, which is quite exciting.
This is actually Epstein’s second (!) Hanukkah-themed romance. He previously starred in Lifetime’s interfaith romance “Mistletoe & Menorahs,” which memorably had a scene in which its protagonist realizes she doesn’t know any Jews. Hopefully, this will be a level-up?
It’s at least clear from the trailer for “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah” that these two talented, funny actors play really well off of each other — they also seem to have had a great time on set together, judging from this video of them sensually showering themselves with chocolate gelt.
Other Jewish stars in the film include Amitai Marmorstein, who plays Tom, “the likable dependable co-chair of the [fundraising]
It’s clear that what we have in store is a Hallmark movie — with all the trappings that may include. But as someone who grew up enjoying the cheesy, delightfully predictable, formulaic romance of Hallmark films, I have hopes that this will finally finally be a Jewish Hallmark movie — something we’ve never really gotten before, and something that we, quite frankly, deserve! (As do a lot more Americans, so yes, it’s time for more diverse holiday representation, Hallmark!)
“This movie will warm your heart because there’s mystery, there’s Hanukkah, and then there are some very eligible men,” Lavi said in a teaser for the film. And while I doubt the mystery part, I am looking forward to the Hallmark eye candy (arguably the best part of any Hallmark movie) and honestly, for a Jewish romance in which we can just enjoy watching two very overtly Jewish people fall in love with each other.