Gifts to Entertain

Gifts to Entertain

Many choices of books, music, films and TV with Jewish themes to keep you entertained during Chanukah and beyond.

Apple+ was rumored to have paid $1 million per episode for the worldwide rights to the Israeli TV series “Tehran.”
Apple+ was rumored to have paid $1 million per episode for the worldwide rights to the Israeli TV series “Tehran.”

There’s no shortage of entertainment choices for those on your Chanukah gift list.

Whether you’re looking for a new book, CD or video for the home screen, there are plenty of choices and some are free or come with an inexpensive subscription. Here are some of our best choices for watching, listening and reading well into the new year.

Netflix: The international streaming platform now distributes video entertainment in 190 countries and has become a top choice for hours of great entertainment from Israel that have been produced with an eye on the lucrative American market.

Series favorites to watch, if you are not already hooked are: “Fauda,” about an Israeli antiterrorism unit on the West Bank, and “Shtisel,” about the Chasidim in Jerusalem. The latter has found an audience in 31 countries and a version is being produced for India. A new season is due in the U.S. in early 2021, but previous seasons are scheduled to disappear from Netflix after Dec. 15.

Sasha Baron Cohen has two outstanding performances on Netflix originals about the 1960s. He’s riveting in the recently released “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin’s expertly scripted and directed take on the trial of anti-war protesters after the Democratic convention in 1968.

In “The Spy,” another great film, he’s Eli Cohen, a Mossad agent in Syria during the 60s who became a close adviser to the Syrian minister of defense and a key intelligence source prior to the Six Day War in 1967.

Bob Dylan, the 79-year-old singer, released his first album of new songs in eight years.

For those who loved “Unorthodox,” which nabbed Shira Haas an Emmy nomination this year, there are no plans for a second season. The four episodes that were produced, though, are good for a second screening. (Netflix monthly subscriptions start at $8.99).

There is no shortage of new, lavishly produced programming from Israel on other streamers as well.

Apple TV+ service is rumored to have put down $1 million an episode for the worldwide rights to “Tehran,” an Israeli thriller set in the Iranian capital but actually filmed in Athens, Greece. It’s about a fictional female Mossad agent, Tamar Rabinyan, who returns to her birthplace for her first secret mission as a computer hacker. (Apple TV+ is free for a year with purchase of an Apple device or $4.99 a month).

Another headliner from the Holy Land is “Valley of Tears,” which some media report as costing $10 million to produce its 10 episodes, making it one of the most expensive series in Israeli TV history. The production, which was created by the government-owned channel, KAN TV, is available on HBO Max. It is a searing drama about the 1973 Arab-Israeli War in the Golan Heights. (The first episode can be watched free on HBO Max, which costs $14.99 a month).

For those who love great music with their drama, The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free full performances from its vault every day. Last year’s great production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” is the offering on Dec. 11. Camille Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah” is streamed on Dec. 14. One day showings only, so if you snooze, you lose. (

A gift in support of Neranenah, formerly the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, would be appreciated by local Jewish music fans.

Local fans of Jewish music have been blessed with the relaunch and rebranding of what was once the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. It is now Neranenah and there are many free and low-cost events of live and streamed music planned. Neranenah’s Executive Director Joe Alterman and his trio were part of The Kennedy Center’s streamed series on American music earlier this fall. A great gift to a music lover you know would be a card or email confirming that you have made a contribution in their name. ( Don’t forget a contribution to Atlanta’s other cultural gem, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival ( which kicks off its 21st season in February.

For music fans with a somewhat different taste, Bob Dylan has released his first album of original songs since 2012, “Rough and Rowdy Ways” to enthusiastic reviews. But the album’s release may be his last. There are rumors that he is retiring to turn his attention to a line of health care products made with CBD, cannabidiol oil, derived from the marijuana plant.

Those who favor a quieter lifestyle in this pandemic year have a good selection of books with a Jewish theme to choose from.

“The Last Kings of Shanghai” by Jonathan Kaufman is a remarkable tale about the Sassoon and Kadoorie families of Iraqi Jews who dominated business, politics and society in China during the 19th century. (Viking, $28)

“The Convert,” a novel by the Flemish writer Stefan Hertmans, tells a story of a tragic interfaith romance from the 11th century.

“Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times” is by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs. The great former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom who died Nov. 7 wrote over 30 books. This timely volume, published in September, may be among his best. (Basic Books, $30)

“The Convert” by Stefan Hertmans. Translated by David McKay is a novel based on a true story of an interfaith romance from the 11th century. It tells the tale of how a beautiful young woman. born into a wealthy French Christian family in Rouen, falls in love with a Jewish man studying in a yeshiva there. The recreation of their tragic story is an exceptional work of imagination. (Panteon, $27.95)

Bob Bahr frequently writes for the AJT about entertainment and leads classes on classic films and music.

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