Hallmark’s first-ever Hanukkah movie, ‘Eight Gifts of Hanukkah,’ is exactly what you’d expect

A scene from Hallmark's Hanukkah movie 'Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.' A family gathers around a lit menorah.
A scene from Hallmark’s first Hanukkah movie, ‘Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.’ Crown Media Family Networks
  • Hallmark’s new Hanukkah movie “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah” airs December 3 at 8 p.m. ET.
  • It follows optometrist Sara Levin, who receives gifts from a secret admirer each night of Hanukkah.
  • The glib dialogue and predictable plot are nothing special, but it’s notable as Hallmark’s first entirely Hanukkah-focused movie.

Over the past few years, Hallmark has begun incorporating Hanukkah plotlines into its original Christmas movies with releases such as “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” (2020), “Holiday Date,” and “Double Holiday” (2019).

Out of Hallmark’s 41 holiday movies this year, “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah” stands out as the channel’s first-ever entirely Hanukkah-focused film.

‘Eight Gifts of Hanukkah’ hits all the clichés of Hallmark’s Christmas movies

Inbar Lavi as Sara Levin in Hallmark's 'Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.'
Inbar Lavi as Sara Levin in ‘Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.’ Crown Media Family Networks

Look, if Hallmark were to make any kind of Hanukkah movie, it would be this. There is an inherent cheesiness to their holiday offerings — upon learning the premise, you know exactly what to expect, and it’s part of the appeal. But the movie’s glib dialogue and predictable plot make “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah” feel indistinguishable from the rest of Hallmark’s Christmas catalogue.

Inbar Lavi stars as Sara Levin, a newly single optometrist reentering the dating world. She juggles several suitors while dodging her ex at Jewish Community Center committee meetings to plan a “Mazel Ball” Hanukkah dance. Meanwhile, her childhood best friend, Daniel Myers (Jake Epstein of “Degrassi: The Next Generation”), secretly pines for her.

On each night of Hanukkah, a thoughtful gift appears on Sara’s doorstep from a secret admirer. While the film attempts to plant some red herrings about who the mystery man could be, it doesn’t take much detective work to figure out. While I found the identity of the suitor to be blindingly obvious (in fact, he is revealed to the audience halfway through the movie), I was genuinely surprised by his eighth gift.

The film’s Jewish content is accurate but lacks depth

Inbar Lavi as Sara Levin in 'Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.' A collection of menorahs sits on her mantle.
A scene from Hallmark’s ‘Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.’ Crown Media Family Networks

The Jewish cadences feel surprisingly accurate for a Hallmark film. Sara kisses the mezuzah (a ritual item affixed to doorposts of Jewish homes) when she walks through the door of Daniel’s house. She refers to her “bubbe” (Yiddish for grandmother) and questions whether her suitors are “beshert” (Yiddish for “meant to be”). The cast delivers a proper guttural “ch” sound when toasting “L’chaim!” (“to life!”). I particularly loved that Sara’s niece Zoe wants to be a rabbi when she grows up. There is, however, a children’s Hanukkah toy hunt event that feels lifted directly from Easter and a few gratuitous references to pastrami on rye.

Levin and Epstein have great chemistry, breathing moments of life and spontaneity into an otherwise stale script. And Hallmark deserves credit for casting two Jewish actors in roles where Judaism is central to their characters. Films such as “On the Basis of Sex” starring Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or “Disobedience” with Rachel McAdams playing a closeted ultra-Orthodox woman, have raised questions about the dynamics of non-Jewish actors in Jewish roles. Comedian Sarah Silverman even went so far as to call the phenomenon “Jewface” on an episode of her podcast in September. 

I’m still waiting for a mainstream Hanukkah movie in the same vein as Netflix’s “Happiest Season,” with more complex characters and higher stakes. But as the list of Hanukkah-themed films and TV episodes remains short, “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah” marks a holiday movie milestone that indicates a promising shift towards more diverse stories.