Kol Nidre at the Movies: 5 Films Featuring Traditional Yom Kippur Services

Yom Kippur has become a crux of the Jewish American narrative in film. So, though JBC usually focused on books, we’d be remiss to neglect the approaching Day of Atonement in the movies. Comedy to Drama to Musical to Romance, here are five films in which you might be surprised to hear a traditional recitation of the Kol Nidre liturgy.
  1. 1.
    The Jazz Singer (1927)
    Al Jolson stars in the first talkie as Jakie Rabinowitz, who flees his parents’ home and community to sing jazz as “Jack Robin.” Over the years, Rabinowitz’s assumed persona achieves great success as a jazz singer but cannot garner his father’s acceptance, and when the aging cantor falls ill on the Eve of Yom Kippur our hero is faced with the decision of whether to return home and deliver Kol Nidre in his father’s stead or perform in the opening of his own Broadway show that same night.
  2. 2.
    The Jazz Singer (1980)
    Hollywood somehow felt compelled to remake 'The Jazz Singer' with Neil Diamond in the starring role. Here's hoping they left the blackface out the second time around.
  3. 3.
    Keeping the Faith (2000)
    Ben Stiller and Edward Norton costar as two clergymen of different faiths who are best friends and in love with the same woman. The young rabbi’s moment of truth comes, of course, on the Eve of Yom Kippur, when he addresses his congregants immediately following the Kol Nidre recitation. (Tough act to follow, amirite?)
  4. 4.
    Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
    There was one thought running through my head the first time I finally saw Jennifer Westfield’s breakout film: HOW HAVE I NEVER WATCHED THIS BEFORE? It is SO Jewish, in all the best ways. The movie opens with the protagonist’s mother and grandmother analyzing Jessica’s dating life over our heroine’s head in the middle of Yom Kippur services. “Would you shut up? I’m atoning!” the harassed young woman finally bellows, drawing the startled attention of the entire congregation. Great scene.
  5. 5.
    The Believer (2001)
    (Pre-hearthrob Ryan Gosling researched for this role at my friend’s bar mitzvah.) Based on the true story of an American Nazi Party and the KKK member who was secretly Jewish, 'The Believer' sends its violent protagonist to the bima on Yom Kippur, but not to repent.
  6. 6.
    [Honorable Mention]
    Honorable mention goes to that cute interfaith French couple arguing over eating on Yom Kippur in 'God Is Great and I Am Not' (2001). Man, the early aughts were great for fictional Jews on the Silver Screen.