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There have been a whole lot of nice Jewish boys in the movies—just as there have been a number of nasty ones! Join us as we survey the well-known Hebrew hoods of cinema who have terrorized audiences as well as their on-screen rivals over the past 100 years. Meet a rogues’ gallery that includes such real-life gangsters as Bugsy Siegel, Dutch Schultz, Meyer Lansky and Louis Lepke, portrayed by the likes of Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Kingsley, Tony Curtis and others. We also look at the careers of tough-guy Jewish actors like Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, John Garfield and Eli Wallach, as well as a line-up of fictional but still-menacing mobsters like Moe Green and Hyman Roth from the Godfather films and Ace Rothstein from Casino!

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Created at the suggestion of two of our favorite FilmShul attendees, this program takes an occasionally terrifying but often light-hearted look at the history, growth and status of Jewish horror cinema. Beginning with the landmark 1920 German silent film The Golem, based on the ancient Hebrew legend, Jewish horror films have proven to be one of cinema’s most fascinating sub-genres. From the shocks of such chillers as The Unborn, The Possession and The Vigil to the horrific yucks of The Fearless Vampire Killers and An American Werewolf in London, no tombstone will be left unturned! We’ll also run down the stories behind a couple of the major “Christian” horror films that were made by Jewish filmmakers. (The Exorcist, anyone?).

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The American film industry was started primarily by Jews who had emigrated from eastern Europe and settled in big cities like New York and Chicago, supporting their families by dealing in everything from clothing to food to jewelry. Transfixed with the flourishing of nickelodeons and storefront theaters in the early years of the 20th century, interests for a number of them shifted to the entertainment business.  Soon, some made their way to Southern California, where they opened the large-scale motion picture studios that became Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Columbia and Universal. Discover the fascinating story of how men like Adolph Zukor, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn and others began Hollywood with their ambition, ingenuity and keen instincts.     


From the late Sixties into the mid-Seventies, Jewish-American cultural visibility was at its height, with comedy, literature and films making major inroads into public consciousness and popular culture. A formidable wave of leading men and women with names like Hoffman, Grodin, Streisand, Gould, Benjamin and Segal became popular movie stars, appearing in such critical and commercial favorites as The Graduate, The Heartbreak Kid, Funny Girl, Goodbye, Columbus, Where’s Poppa?, Bye Bye Braverman and others. Launching mainstream Hollywood’s conception of the “schlemiel-mensch” everyman and the “nice Jewish girl,” the characterizations may have changed over the years, but the movies remain timeless and unforgettable.

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We wouldn’t even dare to try to proclaim who is the best Jewish filmmaker of them all, but of the scores of notable directors, there are a good number of them that rise above the rest. And our list goes far beyond the inevitable inclusion of Mel, Woody, Steven and Billy and into the realm of such filmmakers as Michael Curtiz, Jules Dassin, Nora Ephron, Sidney Lumet and Joan Micklin Silver. So, step up for our survey of a healthy handful of the undeniable greats, a wholly opinionated and inescapably divisive topic that everyone will enjoy.

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Like the “Fellini-esque” Fellini and the “Hitchcockian” Hitchcock before him, Steven Spielberg is an artist whose work is so ubiquitous and instantly identifiable that his name has inspired its very own adjective—“Spielbergian.” One of the most commercially successful directors of all time, Spielberg is the creator of such beloved modern classics as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and the Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park series. We examine the life and career of the grand storyteller, with a particular focus on his upbringing as an Orthodox Jew and his later Jewish re-awakening, which yielded such vital works as Schindler’s List and Munich. His interests have also inspired the creation of the Shoah Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation, which make Jewish history and tradition more accessible to all.

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The great Billy Wilder was a man of prodigious talent as a producer, writer and director, a perfectionist blessed with a barbed wit, a huge streak of cynicism, a stubbornness that rattled those around him and a reputation of being difficult to work with. An Austrian-born Jewish filmmaker who came to America after fleeing Germany as the Nazis rose to power prior to World War II, Wilder first made his mark in Hollywood as a top screenwriter. He then moved on to become the director of such classics as Double IndemnityThe Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd.Witness for the ProsecutionSome Like It Hot and The Apartment. Join us as we explore the professional and personal life of the Hollywood legend who earned 21 Academy Award nominations over the course of his 50-year career and won seven of them. 

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Joel and Ethan Coen have been making feature films since 1984, when they drew waves of great reviews and attention with their debut, the stylish film noir Blood Simple. From the beginning, everyone could recognize the Jewish siblings from Minnesota as being unique, intelligent and wildly talented. They proved this time and again with such films as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, A Serious Man, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. And the Brothers Coen have always been open in showing their Jewish roots throughout their career, in both solemn and comedic ways. Join us in examining their fascinating career, from their beginning as prodigies fresh out of college through their older—but not always more mature—years as expert writers, directors and producers.

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The director of such mainstream Hollywood classics as The Natural (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and the Oscar-winning Rain Man (1988), Barry Levinson’s Jewish identity emerges in a number of his more personal projects. The Baltimore native’s quartet of affectionate movies set in his hometown—Diner (1982), Tin Men (1987), Avalon (1990), and Liberty Heights (1999)—along with such later entries as his 2014 adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Humbling—finds the writer-director offering a unique and insightful take on the American Jewish experience. From his earliest professional days as a variety show writer and collaborator with Mel Brooks to his later work on a slew of prestigious television projects, we examine the life and career of one of Baltimore’s favorite sons.

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Quick with one-liners! Precise with physical comedy! Able to tell hilarious stories in a single routine!  Look!  Up on the stage! It’s a funny Jewish man! Actually, there have been a lot of them out there making us laugh over the years, spanning the decades from vaudeville, radio, the Borscht Belt and nightclubs through TV, records, movies and beyond.  Meet the greatest and latest in the business, including Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Don Rickles, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny Bruce, Mel Brooks and such contemporary voices as Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and, yes, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. All are pioneers, all are distinctive, and all are seriously funny.

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Just when you thought it was safe to stop laughing, we return with the inevitable follow-up to one of our most wildly popular courses! Who knew there was so many funny, funny Jewish men? Like any “sequel,” our second session offers the same time-spanning examination of those cunning comics and lovable losers who will go to any length to satisfy us with a smile. This time ‘round, we look at the lives and careers of such funny men as Albert Brooks, The Three Stooges, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jerry Lewis, Eugene Levy, Woody Allen and TV legend Norman Lear, among others. Be there or be square.

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Beginning with Jewish mother caricatures in the silent era through their evolution to becoming an indispensable segment of the Hollywood storytelling machine, Jewish women have never failed to capture the big screen with their attitudes, intelligence, appearance, style and, most of all, proudly Jewish wit.  From such attention-grabbers as Totie Fields, Joan Rivers and Belle Barth to superstars like Fanny Brice, Gertrude Berg, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, we’re giving it up for the ladies and all the laughs they’ve provided over the decades. And we won’t forget about Molly Picon!


It was clear from the outset that we could only cover so many laugh-worthy ladies in our first edition, so here’s another collection of uproarious Jewish women for you to nibble on!  We’ve got it all covered here, from movie stars like Oscar winners Goldie Hawn and Judy Holliday to TV favorites like Fran Drescher and Golden Girls Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty. We also make room for standup sisters Rita Rudner and Elayne Boosler to raunchy mirth makers like Sophie Tucker and Rusty Warren. All this and the titter-worthy talents of Sarah Jessica Parker, Lainie Kazan and more!  


Barbra Streisand has broken all the rules in her rise to the highest echelons of the entertainment industry—while making some new ones along the way! Tune in for a celebratory look at the professional and personal life of the Brooklyn-born Streisand, from her beginnings as a performer in nightclubs and on the Broadway stage through her recording, television and Hollywood triumphs and up to the recent publication of her long-awaited memoir. We also examine the EGOT winner’s enduring legacy as an activist and philanthropist whose work has generated millions for the protection of civil right and liberties, women’s issues and the state of Israel.

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As a comic, writer, actor and director, Mel Brooks embodies the essence of Jewish comedy. His beginnings as a Borscht Belt comic in the Forties, a writer on television’s seminal Your Show of Shows in the Fifties and the co-creator of TV’s Get Smart and improvisational 2000 Year Old Man recordings in the Sixties served as the ultimate warm-up for a motion picture career that includes such landmark films as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and others that he wrote, directed and starred in. It didn’t come as a surprise that he later launched a Tony-winning Broadway career at the age of 76. As Mel has said, “It’s good to be the king!”—and it’s even better to celebrate King Mel's life and career.


From his beginnings as a stand-up comedian in the 1970s and his tenure on NBC's Saturday Night Live up through the creation and reign of the legendary TV sitcom Seinfeld, followed by his hugely successful HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, we take a deep dive into the life and career of everyone’s favorite kvetcher. Also on tap is a look at the Brooklyn-born funnyman’s other projects, which include the forgotten 1998 feature film Sour Grapes, assorted acting endeavors (which include two films with Woody Allen!) and his dedicated philanthropic work. Take our word for it when we say that this one is a pretty, pretty, pretty great course!


From Barry Levinson’s Diner, Tin Men and Avalon and Woody Allen’s Radio Days and Bullets Over Broadway to the much-beloved My Favorite Year, The Chosen, Brighton Beach Memoirs and An American Tail, we present a collection of nostalgic Jewish films that affectionately look back on the good old days of yesteryear. We also discuss their roots in the time-honored tradition of Jewish storytellers like Sholom Aleichem, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, Cathleen Schine and others, and then give some attention to such sentimental TV shows as Brooklyn Bridge, The Goldbergs and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.


The Hollywood Blacklist of the late 1940s and 1950s marked a dark time in history. Fueled by the efforts of powerful Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Blacklist impacted the major film studios and the lives of entertainment industry professionals, from devout members of the Communist party to those who had little interest in the party’s beliefs.  Many of those caught in the middle of this powerful political storm were Jewish, including John Garfield, Ruth Gordon, Larry Parks, Arthur Miller, Edward G. Robinson, Zero Mostel and Lee Grant. This program looks at how the Blacklist came about, how it divided the country and how a few brave Jewish movie patriots’ actions led to its downfall.


The now mostly shuttered summer resorts of Southeastern New York’s Catskill Mountains—Grossinger’s, Kutsher’s, the Concord, and others—provided the formative years for many prominent Jewish comedy stars up through the 1970s. Discover the origins of the Borscht Belt and how such youngsters as Woody Allen, Shelley Berman, Totie Fields, Milton Berle, Joan Rivers, Jerry Lewis, and Danny Kaye left their audiences in stitches. Plus, we take a look at the movies inspired by the “Jewish Alps.”      


When television rolled out in the1940s, Jewish actors, comics, writers, directors and producers were among the first in the new medium. We track the history of Jewish humor on TV, beginning with The Goldbergs, The Milton Berle Show and Your Show of Shows, among others. Future installments will look at Rhoda, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David and, most recently, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Kominsky Method.

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The Production Code in 1934, the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and a general growth in anti-Semitism didn’t bode well for the Hollywood studio moguls, Jewish men like Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner and others who virtually created Hollywood. The moguls tried to ignore the rise of Nazism but that could only go so far, even as they continued distributing films in Germany up until the war broke out and not making an anti-Nazi film until 1940. With World War II & Hollywood’s Jewish Question, we look at how the Jewish moguls reacted--and failed to react--to what was happening in Europe in the 1930s, and how they proceeded through the war and its subsequent years. 

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What is it about Brooklyn that has made it show business’s most fertile breeding ground for so many of the world’s most talented Jewish entertainers? Discover the colorful, culturally rich neighborhoods of Coney Island, Prospect Park, Flatbush, Brooklyn Heights, Bay Ridge and Bed-Stuy, which have given us the likes of Adam Sandler, Joan Rivers, Phil Silvers, Barbra Streisand, Lena Dunham, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Elliott Gould, Jerry Goldsmith, and many more. We also look at the indelible image of Jewish Brooklyn as portrayed in film and television over the years.

$375 per course, per organization 

Maximum enrollment per course: 50 screens

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