Israeli actress Inbar Lavi shares why it was important to play this role and represent the Jewish community.
Inbar Lavi in front of menorahs
Credit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/ Hugh Tull

You do not need to be Jewish to enjoy Hallmark's Eight Gifts of Hanukkah. But if you are Jewish and you love Hallmark movies, this is the one we've all been waiting to see. The folks at  Hallmark, through their juggernaut of holiday cheer, Countdown to Christmas, have leaned into inclusivity in the past few years. They have given us stories with all kinds of visions of family and they have even opened the door to giving Hanukkah their signature rom-com treatment. But this year they are going beyond just latkes and dreidels. Eight Gifts of Hanukkah strikes a delicate balance between a movie that welcomes those who may be familiar with the Festival of Lights and one that doesn't oversimplify the holiday's meaning for those who already celebrate.   

The story centers around the newly single Sara Levin, played by Israeli actress Inbar Lavi. Sara receives a gift from an anonymous suitor. A note with a clue to the identity of her admirer suggests there will be more clues throughout the holiday, and that they will spend the 8th night of Hanukkah together.  Sara plays along in the game, all the while doing some amateur sleuthing to try to learn who this mysterious giver of gifts is. Along the way we go through the holiday week with Sara, her family, and her childhood friend, Daniel, played by Jake Epstein.

Going beyond the basics of the Jewish holiday, in this movie the community gathers to light the menorah and sings the traditional song, "Ma'Oz Tzur" in Hebrew, and in Sara's quest for love she frequently mentions the Yiddish word, "besheret," meaning destiny or soulmate. Sara is even gifted a Tree of Life menorah by designer Michael Aram, the "Tree of Life," is a phrase often used to describe the Torah itself. Hanukkah and all its traditions take center stage in this movie, it's no longer a side kick to Christmas.

Lavi, who now lives in L.A., had just gotten married in her home country when she was offered this part. She recently spoke to Southern Living about why she decided to say yes and postpone her honeymoon, despite it not being the typical kind of project she does. "I got the call, and it was Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of Yom Kippur.  I got this call, and my instinct was not to take it because I really wanted to focus on building this home together with this husband and I didn't want to push pause on the whole shebang. But then there was this inner voice inside of me that was really crying out for my community and my people. I'm such a believer in signs and the universe and there was a reason why that call came, at that time, when I was in my community, surrounded by my people and it felt important," Lavi said, inferring that getting the call to play a Jewish woman as a central character in a romantic comedy all about a Jewish holiday wasn't something she could turn down.

She then spoke about how when she grew up in Israel, everyone went home and lit the candles for Hanukkah, it wasn't just a small group of society. Lavi said it dawned on her that seeing a Jewish story in popular culture in America wasn't the norm as it was when she grew up and she thought about how telling this story would matter to a younger generation.

In the movie, Lavi's character describes that the reason she loves Hanukkah so much is because each night one more candle is lit, bringing in a little more light in each night. The significance of that is not lost on Lavi as we celebrate this year amid the ongoing pandemic.

"It's a holiday that celebrates light and if you think about it just like that, and you simplify it. Light is a very powerful thing. And we've all gone through dark times. Some more, some less. This year has been very dark for a lot of people and it's nice to focus on the light for a second and I think Hallmark is really good at that. So I think this movie is the perfect fit and hopefully it will bring in a lot of light to people's lives."

In Jewish tradition, the eight candles of the menorah are lit each night with the help of a ninth candle, the shamash candle. In her own way, Lavi has also been a shamash, a bringer of the light. She regularly works with Make-A-Wish International to help brighten the lives of children suffering from serious illness. If you'd like to join her on this mission, you can donate here.

WATCH: Stained-Glass Hanukkah Cookies

Don't miss the premiere of The Eight Gifts of Hanukkah, Friday December 3 at 8PM EST.