Crossing Delancey

The movie offers a touching affirmation of Jewish values.

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Despite many inaccurate and demeaning portrayals of Jews and Judaism on film, many movies present a more accurate and positive image. In the following article, the author examines one film he believes exemplifies a dignified portrayal of Judaism. Reprinted with permission from Over the Top Judaism: Precedents and Trends in the Depiction of Jewish Beliefs and Observances in Film and Television (University Press of America).

Crossing Delancey (1988) is a pleasant, intelligent romantic comedy, cleverly and tightly written and winningly acted, which presents some very old Jewish--and by now, universal--values in a most refreshing, contemporary way, blending humor and pathos, wit and romance. It affirms the traditional values of marriage and companionship without being preachy, moralistic, or corny.

A Lovely Bubbie

The drama centers on Isabelle ("Izzie") Grossman--a lovely perfor­mance by Amy Irving--who insists she is content with her job at a New York bookstore where she organizes literary soirees for outstanding writers and publishers who rely upon her. Izzie also enjoys visiting her "Bubbie" (an Anglicization of bubbeh, Yiddish for "Grandma"), a delightful performance and debut on the big screen for veteran Yiddish theater actress Raizl Bozyk, who refuses to believe that her 33-year-old granddaughter is happy as a "single."

At one point Bubbie tells Izzie that she lives "alone in a room like a dog." To no avail does Izzie explain that that "room" is an enviable rent-controlled apartment and that she is perfectly content with her friends and fulfilled in her work.

Bubbie summons a shadhan (matchmaker) in her Lower East Side neighborhood. Needless to say, Izzie is not pleased with Bubbie's Fiddler On The Roof tactics, and is downright hostile when she meets Sam Posner, a pickle salesman, who turns out to be uncomfortably charming and sensitive and attractive to Izzie. The seeming contradictions in his personality--and the fact that he is so poised and is such a stable character despite those "contradictions"--rankle Izzie all the more: He always has his hands in pickle barrels, yet is well-read and well-educated; he plays handball but attends the morning minyan (prayer quorum).

Peter Riegert is, by the way, the best possible choice for the part. He and Amy Irving get across the point well that there are such creatures as nice Jewish boys and nice Jewish girls, and that there is a lot of common experience and background and values to commend such beings to one another. One can even--and should--assume from this film, despite negative images of young Jewish men and women in films since the late 1960s, that Jewish young people in general fit this bill.

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Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel

Elliot B. Gertel is the rabbi of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Chicago and media critic for The Jewish Post and Opinion of Indianapolis.