Updated: Dec 31, 2020
As people continue to pursue a better understanding of racial inequality, it is important to note the need for better understanding of the Jewish community, and antisemitism. There is an opportunity to extend learning, education and understanding. In this article, you will find a recommendation of 10 books and films to develop an enrichment of understanding, for a stronger allyship to the Jewish community.
1. FILM: Jojo Rabbit
Set in WW2 era Germany, Jojo Rabbit is a satirical film that leads viewers through the experience of Johannes (Jojo), a German boy that discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa, in the attic. With a mix of comedy and serious points, Jojo Rabbit captures the reality of Hitler-era Germany, for both Jojo and Elsa. Director Taika Waititi is able to successfully balance comedy and tragedy, in this Academy Award winning film.
2. BOOK: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
Emotional and thought-provoking, Malamud illustrates the life of Yakov Bok, a simple village Jewish man that is imprisoned in Russia. Readers experience the abuse and anti semitic tropes Bok is subject to while he spends time in jail for a murder he did not commit. This precisely highlights the issues with anti semitism in Russia in the early 20th century, making it important to read.
3. FILM: The Great Dictator
In a comedic approach to anti semitism and fascist dictators, Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film follows the story of a Jewish barber, while paralleling this at the same time to the increasing popularity of the dictator Adenoid Hynkel (mockery of Adolf Hitler), featuring Benzino Napaloni (mockery of Benito Mussolini). The parallel of these two sides is perfect for this movie, which has a serious speech about unity in the end.
4. BOOK: Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories
A classic and the most famous work by author Sholem Aleichem (Sholem Rabinovich), reading about the adventures of villager Tevye and his family is the easiest way to get a basic understanding of Jewish communities in late 19th century Eastern Europe. Through a collection of fictional stories, Aleichem strings together fragments of Tevye’s village life, as well as raising his daughters at the same time. Tevye later gave inspiration for Fiddler on the Roof.
5. FILM: Exodus
A film based on Leon Uris’ original book, Exodus recounts the story of over 600 Jewish refugees transported to the then British Mandate Palestine in a WW2 era. Main character Ari Ben Canaan, attempts to transport the refugees while trying to get past the British. Based on the true story of Exodus, this film captures the reality the leaders and refugees had to face.
6. BOOK: The Family Moskat by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Singer’s book captures Jewish life before WW2, centering on Polish Jews. Similarly to Tevye, this book is excellent for a glimpse of Jewish life, and the different aspects of the thriving culture that was present prior to the extermination of Jewish communities during the Holocaust.
7. FILM: Unorthodox
We follow the life of Esty Shapiro, as she abandons her abusive husband and life within the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community of Brooklyn. Disowned by the family, Esty begins a new life in Berlin, discovering a new feeling of liberation and freedom. Unorthodox provides a sensitive, emotional perspective on the ultra-orthodox community, making it great for understanding the relationships within.
8. BOOK: The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
Dita is merely a teenager, and keeping books safe within the concentration camp of Auschwitz, trying to keep reading alive in a time of seemingly lost hope. This book is based on the true story of Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, making it even more raw, authentic and an important story to read about.
9. FILM: Schindler’s List
This classic award-winning drama is perfect for an understanding of the WW2 era for Jewish people and Nazis alike, as Oskar Schindler saved Jewish lives by protecting them in his factory. Emotional and a masterpiece, this film is necessary to watch for the themes it discusses, and the storytelling.
10. BOOK: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Another classic piece of culture, Markus Zusak’s story of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, lives her life with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann, a beautiful and tragic development of their lives during WW2. There aren’t enough words to describe the impact this book holds.
Hopefully, you will consider selecting a few of these films and books to achieve a better understanding of antisemitism, and Jewish culture. Right now, it is important to continue to extend education, learning, and acknowledgement of the history the Jewish community has experienced.