Scary Movies Made by Jews

by | Oct 4, 2018 | Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

October is here, which means it’s time for a night (or several nights) of classic Halloween movie marathons. We’ve rounded up this list of our top five films by Jewish filmmakers that are perfect for the countdown to Halloween.



Paranormal Activity – Oren Peli

Although the Israeli film director is known for his Paranormal Activity series, Oren Peli has made his mark in the horror genre by producing some seriously scary movies including Chernobyl Diaries, Insidious and Area 51. He is known in Israel for being a leader in not only “homemade horror”, but cinema in general. If you’re a fan of the supernatural, the six Paranormal Activity films can be a marathon on their own.



The Poltergeist – Steven Spielberg

Spielberg, one of the most notable Jewish filmmakers, may not be listed as a director of The Poltergeist, however he did write the story and produce the film while also directing another one of his classic films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Spielberg was raised as an Orthodox Jew by a Ukrainian-Jewish family, and has spoken a lot about his experience growing up in the religious world.



Big Bad Wolves – Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

This Israeli duo of directors are frontrunners in the Israel film industry. After attending film school at Tel Aviv University, Aharon teamed up with Navot to produce two of Israel’s most popular horror films, Rabies and Big Bad Wolves, which was featured at Tribeca Film Festival.



Ghostbusters – Ivan Reitman

The iconic action/comedy Ghostbusters by Jewish director Ivan Reitman is a Halloween staple for fans of lighthearted and festive films. Reitman is also known for producing Space Jam and working together with Jewish director David Cronenberg earlier in his career. Reitman was born in Slovakia and his parents have told their stories from the Holocaust, before his family came to Canada.



The Addams Family – Barry Sonnenfeld

The Addams Family may not be known for being particularly scary, but it’s a perfect Halloween-themed movie for the faint of heart. After establishing himself as a cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld made his debut as a director with this film-adaptation of the popular Addams Family TV series, and is also known for Men in Black. In his early life, Sonnenfeld was raised by his Jewish mother in Washington Heights, New York City.

Weekly D’var: Terumah

Weekly D’var: Terumah

This week’s parsha finds the Israelites in the desert being instructed to build the mishkan, along with all of the required gathering of gold, silver, acacia wood… the list goes on. Most of the parsha consists of directions for where things are to go, what they should be made of, and what they will be used for once the work is complete. The plans are meticulous, and the materials to be used spare no expense.

At this point in our story, we’re not so far removed from slavery in Egypt, so it may be an uncomfortable idea that we’re already being given instructions to build things at the behest of a new authority, but the positioning of this parsha is important here. The Isrealites have just finished building the golden calf, and been punished for doing so, but here God clearly sees that they were building something physical because they felt that something was missing. Even after witnessing a miracle, it’s hard to believe in something we can’t see. To build, is a way to “inscribe our faith” on the physical world. The building directions in this week’s parsha, give the people an outlet for their productive energy and a tangible way to express their faith that will ultimately benefit the community. In this way, despite the exacting demands in place for the mishkan, the work brings the community together as a people.

The materials required for the building of the mishkan are unlikely to be found in their desert surroundings, so the community must pool together what they have materially as well as their labour in order to complete this colossal endeavour. Having left Egypt in a hurry and camped out at Sinai waiting for the commandments, the people are no doubt scattered, tired, and feeling the strain of their sudden flight. They’re refugees from a people systematically removed from a shared identity, and they have yet to rediscover the cultural and material wealth that they have as a community. By asking them to pool what few belongings of value they may have as individuals, the building of the mishkan gives not only a tangible representation of their faith, but also of the wealth that they share as a people. It takes an entire people to raise a mishkan.

The golden calf was an empty symbol, it was a literal ‘scapegoat’ for them to relinquish their responsibility and control. It had no purpose aside from to be worshipped and so acted as an idol, the building of which demeaned the people who did so. It has that in common with the building forced on the Israelites as slaves in Egypt, when they weren’t allowed to be a cohesive people, and their work was intended to strip them of any identity they held.

The Mishkan is the opposite; once built it will act as a community hub in and around which people will practise worship as a routine, a habit, and a way of life. The parashah sums up this distinction clearly in Exodus 25:8, when God tells his people “וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם” a line often translated as “build me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you” but the word “בְּתוֹכָֽם” can equally be translated as within rather than among. I like to read this line as describing how the work of building the mishkan, as a community, will unite the Jewish people and make God a part of each individual as well as a part of the community. The work of the mishkan is distinct from the work done in slavery because it is holy work, elevating work, and the kind of work that brings God among the people.

This distinction between demeaning work and elevating work is one I think about often outside of Torah study, especially with midterms season upon us. I spend a lot of hours studying for exams, and there are certainly days where it feels more like forced labour than work towards a meaningful goal, but it helps me to remember the “why”. For me, that’s the hope of being able to make meaningful change in the world, and understanding the beauty that exists in the structure of the universe on a larger scale, that’s what draws me to physics. It’s not about an exam grade, it’s about my awe at the wonder of what’s out there, and my belief in the communities I work in to find meaning and answers together. At some level, that’s not so different from religious faith, which may explain why there are so many Jewish physicists.

Ultimately, the nature of work and its virtues and detriments comes down to whether it’s in service to meaningful values or dead ends. Parashat Terumah asks us to direct our work so that we can be sure that we’re building a mishkan instead of a golden calf.

Ezri Wyman
Student, Queen’s Hillel

Weekly D’var: Yitro

Weekly D’var: Yitro

In perhaps one of the most iconic moments in the Torah, this upcoming Shabbat we will be reading Parshat Yitro, which sees the Jewish people receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai; however, I actually want to focus on the namesake of the parsha, a man named Yitro.

Along with only 5 others – Noaḥ, Sarah, Koraḥ, Balak, and Pinḥas – Parshat Yitro is named after an individual. Of those, all but Yitro and Balak were Jewish. This begs the question of why one of the most pivotal moments in all of Tanakh is named after a non-Jew? Who was Yitro, and why was he so important as to merit this important chapter of Jewish history being named after him?

After being introduced as the father-in-law of Moses, Yitro is decorated with the title kohen of Midian. This is particularly interesting, as the work kohen (literally “priest”) is almost exclusively used in relation to Aaron and his sons, the Jewish priesthood. I would suggest that in this instance, the word kohen is actually being used to indicate that Yitro was renowned as an influential individual to the culture and governance of the Midianite people. However, by introducing him as the father-in-law of Moses (implying Moses is the more renowned of the two), we see Yitro taking great humility in his identity and pride in his son-in-law, the leader of the Jewish people.

Following this introduction, the beginning of the parsha sees Yitro making a suggestion to Moses. After he observes Moses tirelessly spending all day serving the judicial needs of his people, he remarks “לא־טוב הדבר אשר אתה עשה” (“the thing you are doing is not right”)[Exodus 18:17]. Rather, he suggests a tiered judicial system of leaders to offload and share the workload with fellow non-materialistic (“people who despise money”) spiritual leaders [ibid 18:21].

In his prolific commentary on the Torah, Rashi remarks that the name Yitro, meaning
“extra,” is a reference to how he caused an addition to the Torah to be created. While it may seem like a small contribution, Yitro made a significant change in the judicial structure of the Jewish people in order to allow Moses to better devote his time to leadership. We see parallels of this structure even today in several countries, such as with Canada’s courts being structured in different levels (circuits) thereby offloading the burden from the Supreme Court of Canada.

While the parsha is named after Yitro, the visionary of this system, I see a valuable lesson in how Moses received this suggestion. As a leader, it is important to be open to the suggestions of others and gracefully accept feedback. It is important that regardless of what position we’re in, that as a leader we value the ideas and contributions of others, and as a supporter, that we put in every effort to improve the systems in which we participate.

Shabbat Shalom!

Zakhary Kaplan
Student, Hillel UofT