Rugrats: "A Rugrats Chanukah"Season 4 Episodes 1
Airdate: December 6, 1996
Unlike many TV shows, Rugrats did not do a Christmas special. They did one later on, but first they gave us a Hanukkah (which they hilariously spell "Chanukah") episode. Luckily, there just so happened to be a couple of Jews on the writing staff who could create a story about the holiday. I know, I am surprised that there are Jews writing for TV, too!
A narrator tells us that in ancient Jerusalem, everything was awesome the until a Greek king came in and forced the Jews to adopt the Greek way of life. The Jews had to dress as Greeks and worship Greek gods. I did enjoy that imposing Greek culture on the Jews apparently involved gyro shops.
One of the Greek soldiers gives ancient Tommy and Chuckie a book of Plato. I don't think the occupation could have been that bad if introducing Greek philosophy was part of the deal. Back then, bringing Greek literature into society was probably the best thing you could have done for them.
The Greek king banned the Jewish religion, and reading the Torah became a crime. But some Jews wanted to continue the old ways and read the Torah in secret. Here, the Torah is a children's pop-up book. Ha ha, I love Rugrats.
Fed up with not being able to read the pop-up book of his forefathers, one Jew, Judah Maccabee, led an army against the evil Greek king.
This screencap above is probably my favorite image from Rugrats. Tommy is such an adorable little warrior. I also remembered his rallying cry for years after:
"A Maccababy's gotta do what a Maccababy's gotta do."
Wow, Rugrats just got intense.
Turns out this was all a story that Tommy's Jewish grandmother was reading to the babies. The babies are playing with paper towel rolls or something. There's Tommy, in the blue shirt and diaper; behind the couch, cowardly red head Chuckie doing who knows what to Tommy's sleeping grandpa; blonde Angelica at the table; and twins Phil and Lil whacking each other on the head.
Didi, Tommy's mom, calls the grandparents into the kitchen where she is baking Jew pancakes. Tommy's grandpa, Boris, will play Judah Maccabee in the Synagogue seniors' production of Hanukkah: The Stage Adaptation. However, he is mad that the newspaper chose to profile the man who plays the Greek king. His name is Schlomo. Boris and Schlomo both knew each other as children in Russia but despise each other. I like that they both fled a pogrom in Russia and have hated each other ever since.
Fun Fact: Back in 1998, the Anti-Defamation League criticized the image of Boris as anti-Semitic. I don't see what is so Anti-Semitic about him. The depictions of Jews in church's literature were a hell of a lot worse, let me tell you.
This is Tommy's first Hanukkah. He finds the Jew pancakes, dreidels and menorah odd and confusing. Also, he has discovered that part of his penis has gone missing. Lil is not happy.
In the basement, Stu, Tommy's dad, is putting to together an electric menorah display for the festival. It is very large and tied to his car's roof. Stu and his dad are Gentiles and Didi is Jewish, which makes Tommy a mulatto. Stu tries to turn the display on, but it catches on fire, which would have set the car on fire and then the house, but did not. It's a Hanukkah miracle!
The last time I saw a menorah on fire was at a Jew Klux Klan rally.
Stu tells the rest of the gang to head out, he has to finish the display and will meet them at the church.
"It's a synagogue, Hanukkah boy," his father informs him.
Wait, if Stu is making this in his basement, how does he plan to get his car out of there? How did he even get his car down there in the first place?
Angelica wants to watch the Cynthia holiday special, which will be on right after Santa vs the Alien. Cynthia is her Barbie-like doll. But the TV gets turned off because the gang has to heads out.
The whole gang goes to the local Jewquarters for Hanukkahfest '96. I am still not sure what Hanukkah is, but it looks like so much fun! There's a roulette wheel and a ring toss game. So even a Jew will swindle a Jew out of money.
Left side screencap: Does that brown haired kid on the right have a moustache?
Right side screencap: Why is the Greek king wearing an old lady's dress and pearl necklace?
Angelica tries a Jew pancake but hates it. She goes looking for a TV and runs over a man in a dreidel costume. A little blonde haired girl is trampling a Jewish man. This is Munich in 1936 all over again!
Meanwhile, Stu has not arrived with the menorah yet. He is stuck in very slow moving traffic.
The traffic is a holiday parade.
This was Nickelodeon's all time best joke.
Here's what is up with the babies. They misheard the phrase "meaning of Hanukkah" as "Meanie of Hanukkah" and think that is the man grandpa Boris was complaining about. The babies want to protect Boris from "the Meanie." During the play, Schlomo pokes Boris with a fake sword, which causes Tommy to lead the babies in a charge against the Meanie.
Four babies against one old man. This might be a fair fight.
Before the babies can stop the Meanie, they are placed in the nursery. Angelica is there too. Dreidel man caught up with her. Angelica and the babies escape the nursery. And just in time, too. The old nanny gives a bris with each diaper change. Already had a bris? Well, she'll take a little more off.
Meanwhile, the play is going poorly. Boris and Schlomo allow their old rivalry to get to them and start fighting on stage. They grab each other's noses. Being Hebrews, they have plenty to hold on to. We call this Jew boxing.
The curtain goes down. Backstage, Boris and Schlomo argue. Boris berates Schlomo for having spent so much time on his fancy business. Schlomo laments that his late wife and he were never able to have children, so he poured all this energy into his business because he is alone. Now Boris looks like a dick.
Back on stage, some ham actor is keeping the audience occupied. He has planned a monologue which begins, "To be or Maccabee. That is the question."
Meanwhile, Angelica and the babies find a TV. Tommy wants to protect his grandpa, but Angelica makes them form a pyramid so she can stand on top of them to watch the TV. "Careful, that's my soft spot," warns Lil when Angelica steps on her head. "Your whole head is a soft spot," replies Angelica.
The pyramid collapses but the adult in the room does not wake up from his nap. The adults on Rugrats tend to be unbelievably negligent. None of them ever notice when the kids are doing something dangerous. And the kids escape from their playpen every week and it's at least 20 minutes before anyone notices the babies have wandered off, if they even do notice. How Tommy and his friends lived long enough to reach middle school is a Hanukkah miracle.
Tommy wants to use the TV against the Meanie (he knows TV puts old people to sleep) but Angelica runs away with it. Angelica bumps into Schlomo, breaks the TV and starts crying. The babies think the Meanie is going to harm Angelica so they make one last charge to stop him. Schlomo just thinks a bunch of babies are crying.
This is the great charm of Rugrats. We see the babies doing something they think is important, but then we see it from the adult's perspective and it's just a bunch of babies stumbling about.
Boris finds Schlomo with the babies and tells him to read the rest of the Hanukkah book to them. So he does:
After the Maccabees chased out the Greeks, they found their temple in shambles. The menorah had only enough oil to be lit for one day, but by a miracle, it stayed lit for eight days.
That's what this holiday is about?
Oh well, I did enjoy ancient Phil and Lil tossing a football in the temple.
I dunno, I like Spaceballs and all, and I think Hitler really overdid it with the Holocaust, but I'm kind of thinking that it may have been better for the world if the Maccabees had lost. I mean, Greek culture was far from a bad thing back then. And the Maccabees chasing out the Greeks sounds another story of religious zealots triumphing over progressive ideas.
My issue isn't even with Judaism. It is that these events occurred about 160 years before Jesus. If the Jewish religion had been stomped out at the time of the Maccabees, we would have never had the rise of Christianity or Islam.
Can you imagine what a world without Christianity and Islam would be like?
Stu has finally arrived with his menorah. He brings it on stage, but it blows up. That goes over well with the crowd.
The curtain falls down, revealing Boris, Schlomo and the babies. The audience lets out a collective aaahhh because two of cutest things ever are on stage, babies and a sleeping old man who therefor can't complain about things. Schlomo wakes up and gives a speech about the importance of passing on Jewish tradition to their children, but only one of those babies is Jewish.
Boris does not invite Schlomo to celebrate Hanukkah with his family.
I was not raised Jewish and don't know any Jews because the town I grew up in drove the last of them out in 1957. So this taught me a lot about a holiday that was a very minor custom for hundreds of years until American Jews in the 20th century had to inflate its importance as a celebration in order to give their children something that coincided with the insanity of Christmastime.