Holiday Special, Show

The meaning of Chanukah…As told by the Rugrats.

Okay. Tonight is the final night of Chanukah, which means this review is coming in kind of late but I had a busy week. I was out late almost every night for work; I’m tired, feeling grimy and took an absolutely horrendous head shot for my photo on my publication’s site because nobody told me were doing photos that day. I needed something quick and easy to write about.

As for Chanukah, I didn’t really celebrate this year. My parents sent me a battery powered menorah, which I lit because we’re not sure how well my apartment reacts with open flames. They sent me a few presents, but mostly stuff I needed for my apartment. Chanukah really isn’t a huge holiday in Judaism, and I suppose, like Christmas, some of the magic goes away as you get older.

A lot of the stuff I ask for now is stuff I need but won’t buy for myself or gift cards. It’s sad… And, literally the only reason Jewish kids get gifts (and American Jewish kids at that) is because of Christmas. I should know, I’ve been eyeballs deep in Chanukah articles for the past two and a half weeks. I know what I’m talking about.

So, by the power of pure exhaustion, I’m less annoyed this year than usual about the complete and utter lack of Chanukah specials or movies. Seriously. As long as I never have to come across a monstrosity like this Santa menorah or Santa dreidel, I’m cool. (I’m not sure how you even play with that dreidel. They know the letters on the side have meaning, right?)

But in the spirit of the season, I decided to review the Chanukah special I grew up with and pretty much the only one I can think of: A Rugrats ChanukahI can’t say I remember a lot about it as a kid. After watching it I realized I got details mixed up with the Rugrats Passover special.

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A Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do.-Tommy as Judah Maccabi

The 24-minute-long special begins with the babies imagining themselves playing roles in the story of Chanukah, but that doesn’t last very long. The main focus is on the babies trying to protect Tommy’s grandpa Boris from the “meanie of Chanukah.”

In reality, Boris is participating in a Chanukah play and his old frenemy from Russia is playing, Shlomo, the villain King Antiochus. There’s no danger. So, the babies go on an adventure to make Shlomo take a nap. Meanwhile, Angelica is on the search for a television to watch a Christmas special and Stu is trying to get a giant menorah he created to the synagogue.

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The babies, Boris (left), Angelica and Shlomo (right) learn about Chanukah

Of course, everything ends up well; the babies soothe the rivalry between the two old men, as Boris realizes Shlomo was jealous because he and his wife were unable to have children (which is pretty mature for a kids’ show, now that I think about it. They could have easily gone the misunderstanding route.) They make up and the episode ends with the babies, as the main characters of the story of Chanukah finding the lone jar of oil and experiencing the miracle of Chanukah.

While the Anti-Defamation League tried to argue that the portrayal of Boris and Minka was anti-Semitic, you’d be hard-pressed to find any other Jewish person with the same opinion nowadays. This show, particularly this episode and a Rugrats Passover were so essential to Jewish kids growing up.

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Lighting the menorah

I can’t think of one other mainstream kids’ show that put in such care and attention to detail for a holiday special, or frankly a Chanukah special. It told the story without juxtaposing it to Christmas or having the plot deal with a Jewish child feeling othered but still offered an explanation of the holiday and its symbols, and not be pedantic. And even more amazingly, it had a mixed-faith couple on-screen and didn’t have the differing beliefs be a source of conflict.

Honestly, if somebody knew nothing about the holiday and I had to pick one piece of media to explain Chanukah, it would be this episode. No doubt about it.

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This isn’t Chanukah. It’s a bit…too much

Even though I didn’t really remember the plot, episodes like this are so important. There should be more episodes of children’s shows dealing with non-Christian holidays. Where are my episodes about Rosh Hashanah? Diwali? Ramadan?

Kids need to see this kind of stuff. And not only do they need to see it, it needs to be with characters they like and can sympathize with, who aren’t just there to teach them about the holiday, but who can deeper into it and explore the themes surrounding the celebration.

Even though Chanukah is not a big deal within the religion, I wish there was more Chanukah specials, just so that people could understand that it’s much more than just a “Jewish Christmas.”

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Score: 9/10

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If you liked this review read: “The Prince of Egypt” is the epitome of animated films

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Year of release: 1996

Available: Hulu

Director: Raymie Muzquiz

Writers: J. David Stem, David N. Weiss

Guest voice actors: Fyvush Finkel as Shlomo

Ron Leibman as Rabbi / Old Man

Alan Rachins as Lowell / Greek Bully / Donut Man

Alan Rosenberg as Mr. Dreidel / TV Announcer

Bruce Young Berman as Parade Crooner

 

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