100%

Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options

Share

Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials may be under copyright. If you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact the Bentley Historical Library at bentley.ref@umich.edu

December 26, 2003 - Image 67

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-26

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

A Christmas Film With Jewish Values

In "Elf" Jewish filmmakers reinvent Christmas as an American holiday.

was so inspired by a
B'nai B'rith camp
that she convinced
her parents to keep
kosher in their
• n the sleeper hit Elf
Bronx home.
Buddy (Will Ferrell) is a
Although neither
lovable, childlike oaf,
family
was initially
raised by elves, who
thrilled by the
returns to New York to find his
interfaith marriage,
real father and spread Christmas
all of Favreau's
cheer.
grandparents
It's a hip, witty, charming fairy
regarded Christmas
tale that, like much of Christmas
as
an important
cinema, was created by Jews.
holiday. His Jewish
"I'm following in a grand tradi- Will Ferrell, left, and Jewish director Jon Favreau have some fun on the set of "Elf" "When I was growing
up, we'd have the traditional Christmas Eve dinner with my Catholic grandmother, and then Christmas
grandfather had
tion," said screenwriter David
morning would be lox and bagels with my Jewish side," Favreau said.
observed it since
Berenbaum, 33, who shares reli-
procuring gifts for
gious roots with director Jon
his younger siblings
Favreau and actors James Caan
He remembered the films — and the holiday spir-
so
they
didn't
feel
left
out
of
Yuletide
fun while
(Buddy's dad) and Edward Asner (Santa Claus).
it — when he was 25, living in Los Angeles and
growing
up
with
a
single
mother
during
the
In decades past, such movies reflected filmmak-
feeling cheerful but broke in December 1995.
Depression.
ers' longing to belong to a popular culture that
The New York University film school graduate
"When I was growing up, we'd have the tradition-
excluded Jews, Favreau said. But for the Elf film-
had relocated from Manhattan and was renting a
makers, who grew up in more tolerant times, the
cheap apartment and loading trucks, among other al Christmas Eve dinner with my Catholic grand-
mother, and then Christmas morning would be lox
outsiders' perspective isn't part of the mix.
odd jobs, while struggling to sell screenplays. He
and bagels with my Jewish side," Favreau said.
Instead, the writer and director drew -on child-
felt a bit like a fish out of water, especially while
The holiday represented a joyous family time —
hood memories of Christmastime, which included
experiencing the holiday season in a city of peren-
until
Favreau's father revealed some shocking news
viewing classics such as Its a Wonderful Life. They
nial „sunshine and palm trees.
a
few
days before Christmas 1979. Madeleine
feel Elfs setting reflects their affection for a beloved
\Vatching Christmas movies, many of which are
Favreau had been admitted to the hospital for
American holiday, not a Christian one.
set in New York, reminded hini of home; he espe-
what 12-year-old Jon thought was an ulcer; she
Berenbaum ( The Haunted Mansion) was raised
cially rela t ed to the "fish out of water" story
in a Reform Philadelphia home where a menorah
depicted in Rudolph. "It's about a misfit trying tcy-•' had kept her leukemia a secret from most people.
"My father pulled me aside and said, 'Put on
shared space with a Christmas tree.
find his place in the world," said Berenbaum, who
something
nice, we're going to the hospital,"' the
While Chanukah was a religious holiday,
also was tryin'g to find his place.
director
recalled.
"I said, 'What's the big deal?'
Christmas was strictly secular: "It was never about
Nor is it coincidental that the fictional Buddy is
And
he'
said,
'Your
mother is going to die today
Jesus, it was about Santa Claus," the wry, friendly
searching for his\father: "My dad passed away
or tomorrow.' And I went in, and she had gone."
writer said with Buddy-like enthusiasm.
when I was 9, so is a theme I often work
Afterward, both sides of the family banded
It was about the buildup of excitement and antic- around," he said.
together
to make sure Favreau — who had
ipation, which peaked when I got to run downstairs
The parent-child theme, as well as the holiday
dropped
out of Hebrew school to pursue acting —
in my pajamas on Christmas morning, and there
connection, drew Favreau when he read
became
bar
mitzvah. "But Christmas went from a
were presents and I was shocked and awed and there
Berenbaum's hilarious but poignant script in 2001.
very
happy
time
of the year to a very traumatic
was wrapping paper all over the place."
The actor-director — previously known for
time,"
he
said.
"Over
the years, I felt like I had
For Berenbaum, a cinephile who made Super 8
and
Swingers
edgy, independent films such as
not
only
lost
my
mother,
I had lost Christmas."
films as a kid, the season was also about watching
Made — grew up in an interfaith family in New
movies such as Miracle on 34th Street and A
York. His Italian-Catholic father attended
Christmas. Story.
parochial schools; his Jewish mother, Madeleine,
CHRISTMAS FILM on page 70

NAOMI PFEFFERMAN
Jewish Journal of Greater Los
Angeles

12/26
2003

68

Back to Top

© 2021 Regents of the University of Michigan