Ushpizin [oosh-pee-zeen] — who are special guests in the sukkah — is a classic Israeli film written by Shuli Rand. I (Keren) watch it as part of my Feast of Tabernacles tradition every year and I enjoy it afresh each time. With hilariously funny moments, and with glimpses of Israeli culture and tradition that might be unfamiliar to most, it is at heart a warm and human film that confronts key life challenges and conveys deep values.
Shuli Rand and his real-life wife, Michal, star as Moshe and Mali Bellanga, a down-on-their-luck Chassidic couple devoted to each other and to G-d. They’ve been married five years, are still childless and long for a child. We first meet them shortly before the joyous holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). They can’t afford to pay their bills, let alone prepare for the upcoming celebration. That’s when the miracles begin.
A friend of Moshe’s offers him an abandoned sukkah, which is not really abandoned, Moshe and Mali receive a monetary gift, and they even get some unexpected, although not altogether welcome, ushpizin to share their sukkah.
Moshe uses the money to pay bills, buy holiday supplies and to purchase a very fine etrog (a citron fruit) — a 1000 shekel etrog! Moshe reassures his wife that the etrog is “a blessing for having boys.” The etrog, as the “heart” of the four species – the lulav (waved as an offering to the Lord in gratitude for the harvest) – plays a very important part in this movie and at one point it causes Moshe to face an ultimate test.
Ushpizin is a warm-hearted, humorous, and extremely touching film with a running theme of repentance and forgiveness. It’s a film that reflects a heart of true humility and love for G-d and portrays with raw honesty one man’s grappling with his faith.
For those of us who are not familiar with the Chassidic community, Ushpizin is a precious glimpse into the life of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple — a couple whose life isn’t always easy, but who are learning to trust and rely on G-d.
The movie is realistically filmed on location in the Ultra Orthodox, Me’ah Shearim quarter of Jerusalem. The dialogue is in Hebrew, but there are easy to read English subtitles. ￼
If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy the following:
Sukkot – Feast of Tabernacles
Tikvah Means Hope
The Mysterious Guests
The House on the Roof – A Sukkot Story — Read by Keren
The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays