Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

Love in the Yiddish Cinema: From the Dybbuk to Menashe

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Henry Morris


This course will take place in a BOLLI classroom (22 person capacity) with a maximum enrollment of 15 to allow for some social distancing. The classroom will be equipped with a HEPA air purifier.

5-Week Course

April 1 - May 6. No Class April 22.


Yiddish films are treasures that bring back a glimpse of 1930’s Jewish life in Eastern Europe right before the Holocaust. Yet remarkably this genre of film continues into the 21 st century. Love themes pervade these films, whether it is the struggle between parents and children on finding partners for marriage or a widowed father seeking to retain the child he loves.

In this course, you will watch several classic and contemporary Yiddish films (all with English subtitles), with complementary readings on their background. Along the way, you will learn several Yiddish terms and phrases that appear in the films and provide an insight to the Jewish cultural context.

First is a Yiddish musical, Yidl Mitn Fidl (1936), starring Molly Picon with songs by Abraham Ellstein. Then we watch a drama, Maurice Schwartz’s Tevya (1939) and read Sholem Aleichem’s story “Chava” that the film follows more closely than “Fiddler on the Roof” does. Next is The Dybbuk (1937), often considered the greatest of all Yiddish films, based on the classic S. Ansky Yiddish play, with choreography by Judith Berg, including the unforgettable Dance of Death scene. Then we turn to contemporary films, starting with the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man (2009), a retelling of the Job story that begins with a 7 minute all-Yiddish setting of a dybbuk story. Finally, we view Menashe (2017), filmed in Boro Park, Brooklyn with Yiddish-speaking Hasidic actors, about a widowed father struggling to retain custody of his only son, resisting pressure from his traditional community.

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

Instructor will provide readings via the course web site. The films will be accessed through links on the website, in 2-3 cases with a small rental fee(about $4 per film).

Preparation Time

2-3 hours per week.


Henry Morris worked for 35 years in high tech, most recently as Senior Vice President at International Data Corporation, the global technology market research company. He enjoys music and played piano for many years in the Shir Madness Klezmer band.  He joined BOLLI 3 years ago. Last year, he taught a course on “The Golem: Artificial Humans and Monsters from Kabbalah to Film.” Henry received a BA from the University of Michigan, a PhD in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Doctor of Hebrew Letters from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia.