Imagine being stuck in your mother-in-law’s cabin in the Adirondacks with no wifi and no DVDs. The 1000-piece fisherman puzzle is driving you batty and with few entertainment options, you agree to watching the VHS tape of Yentl, one of the better movie choices available. You honestly just remember it as a musical about a Jewish woman, but oh boy, would you be wrong.
Get comfortable. The list of adult topics I had to broach with my 5-year-old son while we were watching this movie together is lengthy and completely unexpected.
Gender issues in religion: Explaining to my son why girls weren’t allowed to go to school or study anything back in the day was easy compared to the conversation around why women were subservient to men and had to do whatever they said. We’ve had limited religious conversations because as an interfaith family, it always seems so complicated. Tackling the history of women’s place in Judaism means that we probably won’t be talking about religion again anytime soon.
Crossdressing: Yes, that woman is dressed up like a man. Yes, she tied her breasts down and is pretending to be a boy. But she’s doing it to subvert gender norms and so she can go to school. See how awesome school is!
Lesbianism: When Babs almost kisses Amy Irving, my son looked to me and reminded me that Barbra is really a girl pretending to be a boy. (See the above point.) What I think he meant was that in the movie, two girls got married and were about to kiss. I told him that girls kiss all the time and that Amy Irving doesn’t actually know that Barbra is a girl. (Side note: really? She really doesn’t know?) Also, Amy Irving is a total hottie in this film, making me wonder what Amy Irving is up to these days.
Intricacies of Judaism: All the scenes with the Torah and the prayers and the customs. Oy. Since I’m not Jewish, I was happy to deflect these questions to my husband and mother-in-law. Easy pass for me.
Mandy Patinkin’s naked butt: Okay, so I didn’t address the nudity of the situation as much as I enjoyed it. Mandy was extremely young, hot (and hairy) in Yentl, lest we forget.
Immigration: As Babs is taking the boat to America and belting out her last ballad, I was able to explain to my son how his grandmother had done the same thing when she was younger, except without the singing. I also left out the part about escaping from the Nazis.
Barbra herself: I thought it was important that my son get introduced to a Jewish icon, especially one as talented as Barbra Streisand. Seems like it’s the least I can do to honor my husband’s religion. My kid seemed more impressed when I mentioned that Babs was the same singer featured in his favorite movie, Wall-e.
I was surprised by how into Yentl my son was, considering how much of it he didn’t understand. I was not surprised when he woke up in the middle singing. Yes, Papa, I can hear you and you’ve been warned.
Tara is a writer, recovering stand up comedian and slow runner. Looking for a new adventure, she moved her family to Ireland earlier this year and since arriving, has enjoyed learning new slang, drinking pints and answering question’s about America’s sanity. You can read more on her website (https://www.taracalihman.com/) or find her trying to be funny on Twitter (https://twitter.com/tarable).