Ushpizin: A Great Movie for Sukkot

Right now all over the world, Jewish people are celebrating the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) in small “booths” or “tabernacles” they have built in their yards. They live in these little huts for seven days (or at least eat their meals there), in order to remember God’s care during their 40-year wilderness trek to the Promised Land, because God commanded it in Leviticus 23:39-43.

They are also commanded to pick leafy branches and fruit of four species and wave them each day in thanks for God’s harvest. Pious Jews scrimp and save in order to purchase a flawless “etrog” (a citron, a lemon-like fruit), which often costs $50 or more, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars. One of my friends asked a Jewish man why he would spend so much, and he said, “Why would I worship God with less than the very best?”

If you want to see how these ancient traditions are still observed by Jews in Jerusalem today, you have a superb opportunity in a movie that came out a few years ago called Ushpizin (oosh-pee-ZEEN). The word means “visitors,” and refers to the tradition of showing hospitality to visitors in your sukkah during the Feast of Sukkot.

The movie revolves around the lives of Moshe and Malli Bellanga, an extremely poor couple who live in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. Both of them are what Jews call ba’al teshuvah, (“masters of repentance”) meaning that they became observant as adults, and they are still learning to live as ultra-Orthodox Jews. Soon you find out that the husband has a pretty violent past, and his old friends are convicts.

Convicts visiting Moshe & Malli

In fact, two escaped convicts presume upon them to host them in their sukkah, making their lives miserable and testing their new-found faith. The question of the movie is whether Moshe has truly repented of his past, or if he still is the man he used to be.

The movie, Ushpizin is one-of-a-kind in that it is the only movie ever made by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who normally stay far away from public media. When it debued in Israel in 2004, it won all sorts of awards because of its delightful story and excellent acting. (You can read the story here.) It’s a real favorite of mine.

The entire movie was played by ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) Jews living in their own neighborhoods in Jerusalem, so you get an amazingly authentic glimpse into their very private lives. Considering how stifling its strict rules would seem to be, I was amazed at the characters’ humor, faith and gentleness.

You might think the movie is hard to find, but I got it at my Blockbuster movie outlet. Several libraries in my area of Michigan have the DVD too. Of course you can buy it new or used on Amazon. It is in Hebrew with subtitles. Not only will it teach you about Sukkot, it is a delightfully hilarious story. I highly recommend it.

Let me know what you think!

Published in: on October 19, 2008 at 4:49 pm  Comments (2)  


  1. We checked this film out from the public library and really enjoyed it. Thanks for recommending it.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Doug.

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