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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Is ‘Dirty Dancing’ the Most Jewish Film Ever?

Stephanie Butnick, the deputy editor of Tablet magazine, published in that magazine in 2011 an article titled Is "Dirty Dancing" the Most Jewish Film Ever? Before I read that article, I myself had begun to write an article about the film's Jewish element. While I still am writing it, I am posting here some excerpts from Butnick's article.
.... Eleanor Bergstein, the writer and co-producer of the incredibly popular film Dirty Dancing [said] that it was a seriously Jewish movie. So Jewish, in fact, that none of the characters ever need to explicitly mention their Jewishness — they’re spending the summer at Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills, after all, and, Bergstein pointed out proudly, milk and meat are never served in the same scene. It’s a Jewish film, she explained, “if you know what you’re looking at.” ...

The film is hugely Jewish, capturing a 1960s Jewish family and their open-minded but still guarded sensibilities. ... Told her whole life that she could do anything and change the world, she’s faced with the hypocrisy of a long-shunned minority enacting its own unexamined exclusion, this time on class grounds. The guests at Kellerman’s look comfortable, but they were raised in the Depression and traumatized by World War II.
Butnick did not develop her thesis, but her recognition of the film's Jewish essence is correct.

Below are some of the comments to Butnick's article:


marjorie says:

.... I adore this film, with its very Jewish depiction of bungalow colonies, liberal idealism, changing times, Baby and her dad’s relationship, “I carried a watermelon,” THE LIFT, and the total hilarious adorability of the very Jewish-looking Jennifer Grey. ...


Joy says:

OMG..I love this film… I was a ‘hotel brat’ ([my] family owned country Catskill-like hotels also) and every scene resonated with me then and even now!!

Jewish? Of course…..We who married oh, so young grew up in the ‘Marjorie Morningstar’ era and Dirty Dancing reconfirmed the excitement of sudden liberation we experienced … including ‘forbidden’ loves! ....


Jacob Blues says:

Most Jewish film ever? I think you have serious competition from the following:

The Frisco Kid
A Serious Man
A Prince of Egypt

And of course that Jewish classic – Blazing Saddles (oops) I meant Fiddler on the Roof.


Marilyn Cohen says:

I agree with Jacob Blues, but I would also include “Yentl” in a list of most Jewish movies.


Marilyn Cohen says:

I forgot to mention “The Chosen” and, of course, the original “Jazz Singer”.


Margaret says:

I’m not even Jewish and loved the film (as a Jewish film)… who else would have a ‘save the day doctor” for a dad but a Jewish princess! Anyway, I think the idea of a remake is a sacrilege (if you know what I mean).


Michael Wasser says:

I nominate Crossing Delancy


Vic says:

This movie came out when this Jewish girl was a freshman at — you guessed it — Mount Holyoke. It will always be very close to my heart!


Pat says:

I nominate “The Way We Were”


Judith says:

I also consider this one of the quintessential Jewish movies, and a movie that is particularly important to many Jewish women. I’ve blogged about it here:


Mark L. Levinson says:

It was a terribly anti-Semitic film. The sexy goyish boy liberates the girl from her uptight Jewish environment and teaches her to express her sexuality, while on the other hand when a girl gets pregnant it’s the fault of the ostensibly nice Jewish student… and even when there’s pilfering of valuables, it turns out to be the ostensibly harmless Jewish oldsters. Can’t trust these innocent-looking Jews. In fact the Jews can do no right in DIRTY DANCING, except to learn from the goyim how to live life.


Heather Scholl says:

Mark L. Levinson, the woman who wrote it….wrote it from her OWN experiences as a Jewish girl. She says in the interview that she was celebrating her Jewish heritage in the screenplay. Are you trying to say that she is closeted anti-Semitic? That seems rather silly.

I have watched the movie multiple times with Bergstein’s commentary and she seemed incredibly focused on the dichotomy of Kennedy liberalism combined with a decades-present class structure. She was foreshadowing the coming rather explosive end to the neat and tidy class structure that rich people had built for themselves. With the Kennnedy assassination, the Vietnam war, civil rights, Watts riots, the hippie generation…..the walls of class came crashing down. What exists now are remnants of it but the world was forever changed.


One of the comments mentioned a podcast that I would love to listen to, but the link does not work.


Binnie Klein says:

Had the unusual experience of meeting Jackie Horner, who was the inspiration for the character “Penny” in the Catskills last year. She’s still teaching the mambo!

Here’s a 4-minute audio piece I produced about that meeting, first aired on AARP radio:

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