Last night (Nov. 28) was the first night of Hanukkah and so, it only seems appropriate to talk about The Ghost and Molly McGee’s latest episode: “The Festival of Lights.” I haven’t talked about this show at all – but now is as good as a time as any to discuss how this show is doing Jewish representation right.
While the main character, Molly, isn’t Jewish; she’s half-Thai and half-Irish, her friend Libby Stein-Torres is. While I have my criticisms of the “Jewish best friend” trope – this show has already done better than pretty much all the others.
Libby is an out and proud Jewish character – as shown first in the episode “Mazel Tov, Libby” where she celebrates her Bat Mitzvah. (Which is great as it also doesn’t engage in the idea that all Bat Mitzvahs are fairly lavish affairs. )
But its Hanukkah episode might be one of the best depictions of the holiday I’ve seen in a TV show. Not only does Hanukkah not play second fiddle to Christmas – but it also doesn’t have Libby explaining every bit of the holiday, which happens so often in these specials.
The plot is simple, on the eighth night of Hanukkah, Libby invites the McGees and Scratch, the titular ghost, over to celebrate. Then the power goes out – with only enough oil for the generator to last an hour, the families and people of Brighton search for ways to pass the time.
Of course there’s latkes, dreidel and gelt – but there’s also the Miracle Box, a tradition unique to Libby’s family. There’s a spelling bee where the contestants have to spell Hanukkah correctly. (In case you didn’t know there are several acceptable ways of spelling it – none of the characters get it right.)
That’s probably what made the episode for me. There is nothing more Jewish than making a joke about the numerous ways of spelling Hanukkah.
But there are a few moments that really stand out to me. The first is Libby’s Hanukkah poem, which repeats the phrase, “ ‘Look,’ they said. ‘Still lit.” And it’s oddly compelling and powerful. It tells a very abbreviated version of the story of Hanukkah when Libby mentions what the holiday means to her, I started to actually tear up.
There’s another moment, something I thought I’d never see on TV let alone a children’s show: the local baker walks into the Stein-Torres’s bookstore after seeing the menorah in the window. She talks about how she was raised Jewish, but since moving away lost that connection. Seeing the menorah in the window “reminds [her] of home.”
You don’t see things like that too much. I hope we see more of Abby – with the Stein-Torres family.
But perhaps the most powerful moment of all is when Libby’s mom talks about the history of the family’s menorah. There’s a flashback to what appears to be Kristallnacht – with Libby’s ancestors escaping with their menorah after their window is smashed to bits. It then goes to a montage of the family using the menorah throughout the ages.
“But it reminds us that even in darkness there is light. No matter what happens, we celebrate that we’re still here: resilient, strong and proud.”
And honestly…that’s what Hanukkah is about. Not just the miracle of the oil lasting eight days but the fight against forced assimilation. They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat. Sure the episode gets a little cheesy when they recognize the generator lasted eight hours instead of one but it’s very genuine.
There are no mentions of presents either – which is interesting but a nice touch. Not every family does presents and many that do – give practical gifts like socks, sweaters or books.
What’s really awesome about this episode is all the little Jewish touches: the Hanukkah cards on display in the store, the Hanukkah decorations, the little sprinkle of Yiddish, the utter joy of winning a game of dreidel…and there’s even a woman holding a siddur (Jewish prayer book) towards the end of the episode.
I really can’t wait to see what Molly McGee crew does next – I really hope we see more of Libby’s Jewishness expressed in different ways: maybe this will finally be the show that does a Rosh Hashanah special.
Or maybe they’ll even do a Sukkot one.
And that’s the scoop.
Grade: A –
Year of release: 2021
Length: 11 minutes
Creators: Bill Motz, Bob Roth
Episode director:: Johnny Castuciano
Storyboarder: Steve Hirt
Writer: Peri Seigel