Great Neck North Class of 1977 grad David Anton—aka David Antosofsky—will debut his latest film for public television, Hanukkah: A Festival of deLights, on PBS stations across the country this holiday season, beginning Thanksgiving weekend and running through December.
A descendant of three generations of cantors and rabbis, the filmmaker has worked as a cameraman, editor and producer for New York public television stations WNET and WLIW for three decades. His previous national program for public television, Hugs and Knishes: A Celebration of Our Jewish Foods and Traditions, featured Fyvush Finkel, Tovah Feldshuh and former Mayor Ed Koch.
Hanukkah: A Festival of deLights showcases Jewish families from a variety of backgrounds, including rabbis, scholars of Jewish history, authors, artists and actors William Shatner and Lainie Kazan, sharing their personal Hanukkah experiences, along with archival film and images, each illuminating the holiday like the candles on the menorah.
“I was looking to do a follow-up to the public television film I did about Jewish food,” explained Anton. “Hanukkah is also one of the more universal experiences of Jewish life in America, but often the focus becomes on the gifts and keeping up with Christmas. I wanted to make a film for families that brings the holiday back to its original, beautiful themes of hope that we explore in the film and are so important these days.”
The show begins with Great Neck musician Inbar Algov Kaplan and her children singing the blessings over the candles, rekindling memories of prior generations as they carry on the tradition.
Throughout the film, a brother and sister ask questions about the holiday and learn how to make potato latkes from their grandma—Anton’s mother, Great Neck resident Ruth Seif, who’s featured with Anton’s niece and nephew.
The program looks at the ways this story has been told through the years—at times as a good versus evil battle between the rebel Maccabee warriors and the Syrian ruler Antiochus, as a Civil War between Orthodox and assimilated Jews or with the focus on a pure miracle of oil lasting eight days.
“The great thing about Hanukkah is that the story of the holiday has been retold in so many ways,” said historian Dianne Ashton, author of Hanukkah in America.
From any perspective, the film has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster for the ages, noted actor William Shatner, one, he says with a laugh, he would now be cast in as the “wise rabbi,” not the dashing hero.
The movie traces the evolution of Hanukkah from its origin as a small holiday with a tiny ritual that took place in the home to one of major prominence in assimilated American Jewish life.
Abigail Pogrebin, author of My Jewish Year and daughter of Ms. Magazine founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin, shared that Hanukkah is an “accessible” holiday compared with other Jewish rituals that may seem daunting, relating how her mother’s Hanukkah parties were marked by a tap-dancing Gloria Steinem, lectures from other noted journalists and her siblings’ holiday parody songs along the lines of “Don’t Cry for Me, Antiochus.”
As actress Lainie Kazan prepared for her grandson’s first holiday in the film, she said, “If I can keep the candles lit the rest of my life, I’ll be very happy.”
The takeaway is that Hanukkah is more about presence than presents and that it’s similar to Thanksgiving, as those who celebrate are grateful for coming through the darkness time and again. The holiday brings a message of hope, reminding viewers, as Pogrebin noted, to “pay attention to where those little miracles are happening in your daily life.”
The program will air on WLIW/21 on Sunday, Nov. 25, at 7:30 p.m. and on Channel 13 on the first and last nights of Hanukkah, Sunday, Dec. 2, at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m. Check listings for additional broadcasts.