The high-speed Internet-fueled era of on-demand streaming has been a boon to cinephiles worldwide, but there’s one genre that still takes some work to find online: Yiddish-language films.
While Yiddish cinema, an offshoot of the bustling Yiddish theater scene of the first half of the 20th century, thrived in the 1920s and ‘30s, few Yiddish films were made after the Holocaust. In fact, when the critically acclaimed Menashe hit theaters in 2017, it was said to be one of the first Yiddish-language feature films released in 70 years.
Nonetheless, we did some digging and found several Yiddish shorts and full-length films that you can stream on YouTube. These films are especially useful for Yiddish-language learners looking to sharpen their ears for the various dialects, as each makes use of a different variant of Yiddish. All feature English subtitles.
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1) Menahem-Mendl From Tel-Aviv (2016)
This short film from Eran Torbiner and Yaad Biran is based on a feuilleton (a kind of literary supplement in newspapers) by Yosef Tunkel, a Yiddish writer from Belarus, that he wrote during a 1931 visit to pre-state Israel. The character Menahem-Mendel was created by Sholem Aleichem, one of the best-known Yiddish writers, and came to refer to someone who made money from nothing. (Running Time: 0:11:21)
Memorable Line: “Every guest here must go through these interrogations. It’s the way of nature.”
2) Yidl Mitn Fidl (1936)
Roughly translated as “The Little Yid (Jew) with his Violin,” this movie borrows its name from a popular Yiddish song. The story centers on the musician Arye and his daughter Itke’s experiences after they’ve been evicted from their home. Itke disguises herself as a boy to make their way less problematic. (Running Time: 0:30:44)
Memorable Line: “Don’t think so much, go and eat.”
3) Zay Gezunt, Jerusalem (2015)
“Zay Gezunt” is a benediction that literally means as “be healthy,” but is usually translated just as “be well.” This short is fiction, but is based on real events in 1920 Palestine (pre-state Israel), which was then under British rule. In it, writers from Poland, whose Jewish community was experiencing serious economic problems, travel to Israel and share what they have learned with fellow Yiddish speakers. You can view this film with either English or Hebrew subtitles. (Running time: 0:11:11)
Memorable Line: “A people that wants to live shouldn’t remember so much and so far.”
4) Tevye (1939)
This is a brief excerpt from a film by Maurice Schwartz, a Galician-born film actor and director in the United States. (The full 96-minute film can be purchased on DVD here.) The film is based on the same Sholem Aleichem story that would later inspire the hit musical Fiddler on the Roof. In this excerpt, Tevye’s loyalty to Jewish faith and tradition are challenged when his daughter, Chava, falls for the son of a Ukrainian peasant. (Running time: 0:04:17)
Memorable line: “I’ve squared my accounts with the Lord…We’re even.”
5) Samuel 613 (2015)
This short by Billy Lundy depicts the growing pains of a young Hasidic man. Using “Samuel 613” as his online dating profile, Shmilu, attempts to reconcile his Hasidic culture with life in 21st-century Britain. This film is available with Hebrew and Russian subtitles, as well as English. (Running time: 0:15:45)
Memorable line: “How the (heck) does a parrot speak Tehillim (psalms)??”
Pronounced: kah-bah-LAH, sometimes kuh-BAHL-uh, Origin: Hebrew, Jewish mysticism.
Pronounced: hah-lah-KHAH or huh-LUKH-uh, Origin: Hebrew, Jewish law.