Hallmark finally gets a Hanukkah movie right with Hanukkah on Rye. It’s been a long time coming, frankly. Each year, we get exactly one Hanukkah movie amid a deluge of Christmas content from the Hallmark channel. This movie is proof that the powers that be at Hallmark don’t need to be afraid about making Hanukkah. Seriously, although it might be a liturgically minor holiday, there’s plenty of charm to go around.
It’s hard to know where to start when describing the charm of this delightful holiday romp. For starters, it’s refreshing to not have characters who have to explain to each other what Hanukkah is from scratch. There’s also no presumption that two Americans have literally never heard of Christmas and need it explained to them constantly. Enter Beth (Yael Grobglas) and Jake (Jeremy Jordan), and you have a story that comes together in an incredibly comforting way.
Beth and Jake embody so much of what romantic stories are supposed to be about. We are introduced to them both as basically fully developed human beings. It sounds like a low bar, but when romances oshow women as child-like, a story like this is a massive improvement. Their motives for their respective actions are well-defined. The family conflict may be a bit contrived. It’s easy enough, however, to believe that two people could come from two different perspectives of honouring traditions and wanting to bring their family into the modern age. Thomas the doorman absolutely knows what’s up with these two.
While it would have been great to focus a little bit more on the characters’ respective family histories, what is shown is endearing. Both of these families capture different aspects of the Jewish-American experience. The experience is hardly monolith and it’s refreshing to see a movie at least acknowledge this fact.
The matchmaker trope is being revived in Jewish stories. Movies like Hanukkah on Rye prove that there is a place for matchmaking in the modern world. There is something sweet and efficient about consulting a community professional who has a history of making lasting love matches. Far from old-fashioned, this is a tried and true method. Is it perfect? Of course not. However, neither is any other dating method.
The music of Hanukkah on Rye is top-notch. Lisa Loeb performs her 2014 Hanukkah-themed single, “Light.” It’s smart to include her in the guise of a music competition. It’s too bad she didn’t get more of the stage she so clearly deserves. Hanukkah doesn’t have a lot of great music. We need incredible Jewish artists like Loeb to create some that we sing every holiday season.
Hanukkah on Rye is a charming journey from beginning to end. This is the best of what Hallmark has to offer. Hallmark doesn’t have to make Hanukkah so complicated. Seriously, there is room for all of us this winter. We could all use a little more light this time of year. Stories like these let the light of Hanukkah shine bright for all to see.
Hanukkah on Rye premiered on the Hallmark Channel December 18, 2022.