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Hallmark’s New Hanukkah Movie Brings Bright Spot Amid Rising Antisemitism in US

While Hallmark is not a “thing” in Israel, this holiday season, it is a big deal for one Israeli—actress Yael Grobglas, the star of the channel’s Hanukkah movie this year.

Grobglas grew up in Israel but has been living in the US for several years. She said that she celebrated Hanukkah as a child, but it wasn’t the same as how the festival of lights is celebrated by American Jews.

“Hanukkah is big in Israel, of course. It’s always been one of my favorite holidays… but I feel like it has sort of got a lot bigger in the [United] States, because it has to compete with Christmas,” Grobglas said.

While she has become used to the American traditions, Grobglas still remembers how it “blew her mind” that “the dreidels are wrong!”

If you live outside of Israel, the classic spinning top is printed with the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hey, and shin—which stands for “a great miracle happened THERE.” In Israel, instead of a shin, there is a pey—“a great miracle happened HERE.”

Grobglas stars in “Hanukkah on Rye,” which premieres December 18, the first night of Hanukkah. She plays Molly Spiegelman, the third generation to work at her family’s deli on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The dreidels aren’t the only difference between an Israeli and an American Hanukkah.

“For the movie, it was a bit tricky because I had to sing the same prayers but with a different tune. It was a challenge throughout the movie to tone down my accent in Hebrew,” Grobglas said, and the American accent “sounded pretty funny to me!” Her Israeli accent breaks through a few times, a rarity for a Hallmark film.

“Hanukkah on Rye” is a bit stereotypical and hokey (but most Hallmark movies are!). It is a tale of dueling deli owners and a love story brought together by two old-world grandmothers, a matchmaker, and plenty of Jewish and Hanukkah-themed music.

While there is always one Hanukkah-inspired movie this time of year, Grobglas would like to see more Jewish holidays on the big or small screen. “We don’t have enough. I’d like to see movies for all the Jewish holidays.”

Grobglas has been very outspoken on social media about the rise in antisemitism. She is very proud to be a part of a positive portrayal of the Jewish people at this moment in history.

“I think it’s the perfect timing. I just felt like this was meant to come out now – it feels very good to be able to represent [Jews] on screen at the moment.”

“I…love the idea that people who are not Jewish are going to get a glimpse into what Hanukkah is… this is a great chance for people to learn a little bit more about Jewish culture, about Jewish traditions, about how family is at the heart of the Jewish culture.”

Most non-Jews see Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas. But Hanukkah has it own story, also centering around the God of Israel. I have a short blog here and a video, if you want to learn the story surrounding Hanukkah.

Hallmark first introduced a Hanukkah theme into their Christmas lineup in 2019. “Hanukkah on Rye” is their strongest movie so far—highlighting Jewish history and traditions, and two Jewish actors are in the lead roles (Grobglas’s co-star and Molly’s love interest and deli competitor, Jacob, is also Jewish).

“We had obviously, many, many Jewish people on set, and many Jewish people involved in the making of this movie. But I also felt like even the people who weren’t Jewish who were there – either they did their research, or they knew about it from before,” Grobglas said.

As Jacob’s grandmother says to Molly’s grandmother when they realize their shared Jewish history, “Think of all the miracles that had to happen for us to get here.” A fitting message for Hanukkah!