It begins a few days before Hanukkah each year. First you notice a new parody video, posted on Facebook or Twitter. Naturally, you ignore it. Thanksgiving just ended, after all! But then, within a few days, someone’s grandma, dad, aunt, or cousin finds the video online and sends it to their acquaintances of the younger generation with the subject line “so funny,” “great video!!!!” or something along those lines. Maybe you still ignore it.
Then there’s the follow up email or call: “Did you watch that Hanukkah video I sent you?” So, wracked by Jewish guilt, you watch it. Reluctantly, you laugh here or there (“Haha, nice pun!” you tell your relative. “I like it a latke”). Then you feel uncomfortable, wondering about whether you have just participated in cultural appropriation or debased American Jewish dignity or just compromised your own taste and sanity.
And then the worst thing happens: you start to realize that the video is stuck in your head, maybe so stuck that you feel the need to share it with someone else, immediately. In vain, you resist.
So, what gives with this Internet-age phenomenon? In general, American Jews appear to be spending quite a bit of time making parody videos (particularly the execrable hip-hop-style ones whose entire conceit boils down to “ha ha, look at these rapping rabbis!” extending the shelf life of a problematic gag from the ’90s ) about our various holidays. Hanukkah is probably the biggest season for this dubious practice, for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a way of competing with Christmas-mania, which is what Hanukkah is all about, really. Given that America’s best Jewish songwriters literally wrote the songbook for contemporary Christmas carols, we have a little catch-up to do on our own holiday.
The truth is, the Festival of Lights, pleasant as it is, is a minor celebration of a band of violent, nut-job religious fanatics that was elevated to prominence because of its time of year. Which brings us to the second reason for these videos: when a holiday doesn’t have much meaning to begin with — or has a meaning that, during this particular moment in time, we don’t want to stare at too closely —we manufacture our own. Adam Sandler famously (and I happen to think brilliantly) started the trend by making his “Hanukkah Song” about “counting Jews” in Hollywood, celebrating a slightly dubious pastime that American Jews genuinely enjoy. But it’s been spun off (no pun intended) into a thousand and one schlocky odes to dreidels, eating latkes, and lighting the menorah — and that’s about it, because that’s all we do on Hanukkah.
This year, it looks like the big winner in the schmaltz sweepstakes is a (mildly amusing) hip-hop-style video about weed-spiked potato pancakes called “Pot in the Latkes,” followed by an Adele parody called “Shalom” that absolutely no one needed in their lives:
The Adele spoof reminds me of last year’s big Hanukkah-themed Taylor Swift knockoff, which was similarly OK at best.
These pop parodies reflect a proud tradition that doesn’t quite go all the way from Moses to Sandy Koufax, but can be traced back quite a ways, to even before this “Hey Ya!” tribute from over a decade ago:
Alternative and cult music has a place in this pantheon too. Perhaps my new favorite of all time in this genre is this Rocky Horror Picture Show parody from a Ramones-esque band known as the “Shlomones” (note: the actual Ramones were also Jewish). This video truly has it all: a goofy rabbi in a cheese hat, fake Jewish accents, dancing children, and allusions to a famous movie celebrating cross-dressing and rock and roll.
And then there are the Maccabeats. What can I say about these clean-cut Jewish a cappella bros who genuinely seem to light up many people’s lives each Hanukkah? I personally find them very hard to take, as in, they make my teeth hurt more than eating jelly donuts all night does. But social media suggests that even the most hardened Jewish cynic finds herself melting at these guys’ beat boxing, like a piece of Gelt accidentally left in a coat pocket.
This year they seem to have chosen to ape the band Walk the Moon, the results of which are oiler than the latkes they tout:
But still, nothing is quite as offensive as this “Whip/Nae Nae” parody, which leads me to emulate the great Jewish sages in asking: why, God? (Or more colloquially, as one correspondent begged me today, “Omg stop sending me these Hanukkah parody video monstrosities. Why, why?”)
I would love to propose a moratorium on the creation of these videos. They’re diluting the excellent tradition of Jewish-American songwriting exemplified by George Gershwin, Bob Dylan, Carole King, and of course Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. Quite frankly, the whole thing is starting to get really embarrassing. You know, I’d like to point out that we Jews already have great Hanukkah songs that are taught to us as kids — plus, as I mentioned before, we wrote the modern Christmas songbook too. Yea, our cups overfloweth.
Oh, who am I kidding? I know this effort is futile. Like the single candle that burned for eight days, the once-amusing concept of adapting pop songs for Hanukkah will burn on and on until there’s no more Internet to consume. Whether this long-lasting flame constitutes a miracle or something altogether more sinister, only our ears and consciences can decide.