Hey, it’s tiny Shia LaBeouf! It’s the day before Hanukkah, and he is searching the house for hidden presents, a materialistic narrative all children, Jewish or goyish, can relate to.
Downstairs, Mama LaBeouf is frying too-perfect latkes while the rest of the family hovers hungrily (but not actually helpfully). “You know what Mom, you haven’t told us the Hanukkah story since we were little kids,” a brunette teenager prompts.
“Well,” she begins. “Your ancestors – from my side of the family,” and it’s INTERFAITHSPOSITION AWAY as we find this is yet another Hanukkah being celebrated by a mixed family. I have nothing against interfaith familes – indeed, I’m part of one – but SERIOUSLY do no Jews marry Jews in TV land? Or is it that the kind of shows that do Hanukkah specials are the kind that need audience stand-ins (aka cultural Christians) more than usual?
Shows featuring a lot of Jewish characters like your Seinfelds and your Curb Your Enthusiasms don’t tend to give Hanukkah a lot of play, by which I mean I couldn’t find any episodes featuring it for this series; this may be because one of the main functions of Hanukkah is a pushback against non-Jewish cultural hegemony. The Maccabee Revolt it celebrates has been broadly interpreted as an act of resisting assimilation into majority Greek culture, and because the historical date of the event (25 Kislev) falls in ‘the Christmas season’ of majority-Christian cultures it has evolved into an affirmation of non-Christian identity during that time. IE the Jewier the culture, the less major a holiday it is (and it is, for the record, a really minor holiday religiously speaking) and the less need to shout about it, hence Jerry Seinfeld not really caring that much about it.
Interestingly, in “Heck of a Hanukkah” the dad has a line implying the family doesn’t celebrate Christmas unless his relatives are there, possibly signifying that the Stevens parents are aiming to keep their home as ‘Jewish’ a space as possible under the circumstances (ie dominant Christian culture).
The plot is a little “It’s A Wonderful Life” action, led by the spirit of Bubbe Rose, Tiny Beef’s great-great-great-great-grandmother. Tiny Beef has been replaced by a straight-A terror of a child, while his brother(?) and sister(?) are hilarious inversions of their normal selves (I’m guessing).
This is probably screamingly funny if you watch the show regularly. Or…not.
Straight-A Terror rules the household with an iron fist, but Tiny Beef encourages his siblings to go on strike from household chores and teaches them to laugh by flinging raw chicken around the kitchen and leading a conga line. In the end Bubbe Rose sorts everything out and even fixes the Hanukkah presents Tiny Beef RUINED in the first scene of the episode, proving that family is all very well and good but family don’t put rollerblades on the table, which is the important thing.
WHERE MY ROLLERBLADES AT
There is an extremely endearing scene of the Stevenses gathered around a dreidl, cheering it on and shouting “Gimel! Gimel!” and “Nun, nun, nun!” Spoiler alert: no one has ever been that excited about dreidl. It is not a very well-designed game and it goes on 40% too long after all the fun has been desperately wrung out of it. However, it is exactly the same too-earnest, over-the-top way American TV characters celebrate other holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that’s something, I guess.
RATING: 4/8 miracle candles