TJFF ’23: Less than Kosher

Less Than Kosher follows Viv (Shaina Silver-Baird), a 30-year old singer who’s music career remains at a standstill. Without finding the fame she craves, Viv moves back into her mother’s basement, unsure of what is to come next. However, despite her self-proclamation that she’s a ‘bad Jew’, Viv finds herself taking a job as Cantor within her family’s synagogue. As she leads the congregation with her stunning voice, Viv attempts to reconcile her atheism with her new role in this spiritual setting.

Directed by Daniel Rosenberg, Less Than Kosher is a light-hearted comedy that looks at Jewish culture and faith from within but sits on the outside. Often hilarious, Kosher features some delightful performances, especially that of Silver-Baird and potential beau, David Reale. However, what really sparks the film is its music. In every performance, Silver-Baird’s voice is highlighted with such celebration that one cannot help but take pause in her performance. The songs are not always traditional or even serious in nature (the Yiddish version of ‘Be Our Guest’ is particularly hilarious) but, at all times, her voice embeds the film with a stunning beauty that speaks to all who hear it.

What’s most interesting about the film though is the way that it owns its place in Jewish culture but also speaks to those who have walked away from the faith. Having not been to synagogue in almost 15 years, Viv does not believe in God and has tried to distance herself from her family’s beliefs. As she opens her soul to sing for her congregation, Viv’s participation leading the cantor revives a piece of her soul that had remain closed off. However, her beliefs remain unchanged. 

In this way, Kosher seems less than concerned with the authenticity of belief than it is about participating in within one’s cultural identity. (Even her rabbi argues that Viv’s lack of belief does not disqualify her from helping lead the service.) In Kosher, participating within the Jewish cultural experience is far more important than agreeing with all of its religious tenets. As a result, the film opens the door to celebrate the Jewish culture beyond its root of faith but still firmly rooted within the soul its identity.

Less Than Kosher premieres at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on June 4th, 2023. For more information, click here.

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