The Festival of Lights is upon us! This Hanukkah, we want to shout out some of our favorite films and TV specials that celebrate the holiday and Jewish identity.
The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
Arguably one of the funniest and most inappropriate Jewish comedies, The Hebrew Hammer centers around an Orthodox Jewish crime fighter named Mordechai Jefferson Carver, also known as “The Hebrew Hammer.” When Santa Claus’s evil son, Damian, kills his father and takes over the North Pole, Damian sets out on a sinister plan to destroy Hanukkah. The Jewish Justice League enlists the help of Mordechai, who is the only one capable of stopping Damian’s nefarious plan. Mordechai teams up with the beautiful and headstrong Esther, who works for the Kwanzaa Liberation Front. Together, they embark on a mission to save Hanukkah. The film is packed with humorous stereotypes and cultural references, poking fun at various religious and cultural tropes. It’s a story of unity, as different cultural representatives come together to fight a common enemy, blending action and comedy to create a cult film that celebrates Jewish identity and humor.
You can stream The Hebrew Hammer on Prime Video.
The Rugrats Hanukkah Special (1996)
Rugrats may be a kids show, but it still slaps. The Rugrats Hanukkah special, titled “A Rugrats Chanukah,” is a timeless classic to celebrate the holiday. The episode introduces Hanukkah to its young audience through the eyes of the show’s main characters, a group of adventurous toddlers. The story begins with the Rugrats’ families preparing to celebrate Hanukkah. Grandpa Boris and his rival, Shlomo, are set to act in a synagogue play about the holiday’s history. The babies, Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, and Angelica, are intrigued by the holiday but misunderstand its significance. They believe that Hanukkah is about a “Meanie of Hanukkah” and think Grandpa Boris is in danger from this fictional villain. Throughout the episode, the babies embark on a series of imaginative adventures to “save” Grandpa Boris. Meanwhile, the episode interweaves the actual story of Hanukkah, recounting the historical events of the Maccabees’ revolt against their oppressors and the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that burned for eight days. The special is notable for its educational approach, teaching about Hanukkah in a way that’s accessible and entertaining for children. It blends humor, adventure, and Jewish culture making for a comforting family-friendly watch.
You can stream The Rugrats Hanukkah Special on Paramount Plus.
Hanukkah on Rye (2022)
If you’re Jewish or have Jewish friends and family members, you have probably asked or heard the question: what is the Hallmark Deli Hanukkah movie? Praised by critics as the “first good Hanukkah movie,” this Jewish rom-com is a refreshing addition to the canon albeit cheesy in classic Hallmark fashion. The story revolves around two young people, Molly (Yael Grobglas) and Jacob (Jeremy Jordan) who meet through a Jewish matchmaking service. However, drama ensues when they discover their families own competing delis in New York’s Lower East Side. While Jacob’s family embraces a modernized take on Jewish food, (kosher fajitas?), Molly’s family is all about traditional Jewish cuisine to honor their immigrant roots. It takes a Hanukkah miracle to turn these rivals to lovers, and the help of their meddling Jewish families. Hanukkah on Rye is perhaps one of the first Hanukkah films that doesn’t feel like a Jewish version of a Christmas movie. It’s a celebration of American Jewish identity—neurotic bubbes (grandmothers), latkes, Reuben sandwiches, and meshuggeneh shenanigans.
You can stream Hanukkah on Rye on the Hallmark Channel and Peacock.
Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
If your family plays Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” from SNL every December, then you’ve probably seen or heard of the animated musical comedy, starring Sandler, called Eight Crazy Nights. A Hanukkah staple, this bawdy comedy follows the troublesome antics of an alcoholic who must come to terms with his grief to understand the true meaning of Hanukkah. Davey (Adam Sandler) is given one last chance to avoid jail time by doing community service as a referee for a junior basketball league. He is supervised by the elderly and diminutive Whitey Duvall, who hopes to reform Davey. Over the course of the Hanukkah holiday, Davey confronts his past traumas, reconnects with his childhood sweetheart, and ultimately learns the importance of forgiveness and community. The film is notable for its blend of adult humor, emotional storytelling, and holiday spirit.
You can stream Eight Crazy Nights on Hulu and Prime Video.
Full-Court Miracle (2003)
Surprisingly heralded as one of the best Hanukkah movies, the Disney Channel Original Film Full-Court Miracle revolves around a team of young Jewish basketball players lead by a former college basketball star, Lamont Carr (Richard T. Jones). Lamont Carr was actually a real basketball player who played for the Virginia Cavaliers, but after suffering a knee injury, he was forced to abandon his dream of playing in the NBA, which is how he ended up coaching basketball at a yeshiva school. The film’s young lead, Alex, believes Lamont is the modern-day incarnation of Judah Maccabee, who was also nicknamed “The Hammer.” As the team prepares for a big basketball tournament during Hanukkah, Alex and his teammates find parallels between their struggles and the ancient Maccabees’ revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The film combines themes of faith, perseverance, and teamwork, blending the story of Hanukkah with the world of high school basketball.
You can stream Full-Court Miracle on Disney+.
Lights: The Miracle of Chanukah (1984)
An oldie but a goodie. The 1984 animated short Lights: The Miracle of Chanukah is a retelling of the story of Hannukah in ancient Jerusalem. Narrated by Judd Hirsch, this family-friendly film uses the Hebrew alphabet as a personification of the Hanukkah lights, symbolizing how language has historically kept cultural identities hopeful and alive.
Lights is not available to stream on any major platform, but thankfully you can watch the entire short for free on YouTube.
Lost In Yonkers (1993)
Starring Richard Dreyfuss and Mercedes Ruehl, this adaptation of Neil Simon’s Pulitzer-winning play follows the story of teenagers Jay and Arty Kurnitz, who move in with their strict Jewish grandmother and their disabled Aunt Bella in Yonkers after their mother’s death. The film explores family dynamics and the struggle for survival, particularly Jewish families who came to America to flee persecution and unravels intergenerational trauma with a blend of humor and dramatic scene work. The sternness of the grandmother is revealed to be a response to her own traumatic past in Germany. While the story delves into dark waters, it does end on a happier note that will leave you feeling hopeful.
You can watch Lost In Yonkers for free on YouTube.
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
OK, hear me out. Although Call Me by Your Name isn’t a film explicitly about Hanukkah, its final scene where Elio stares abandoningly into a winter hearth after Oliver calls with devastating news does take place during the holiday. The film has been praised for its portrayal of queer romance around the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, but the undercurrent is poignantly Jewish. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) are both queer Jewish men and first relate to each other as being “the odd Jew out.” Throughout the film, they grapple with their religious identities in different ways. Elio, for example, is surprised to see Oliver openly wearing a Star of David. This moment marks a turning point for Elio, who later starts to wear his own Star of David necklace, symbolizing a more open embrace of his Jewish (and queer) identity. Call Me by Your Name uses Jewish themes not only as a backdrop but also as a critical element that parallels and enriches the central narrative of love, discretion, and persistence.
You can stream Call Me by Your Name on Netflix.
The Hannukah film canon is tiny, but it’s heartwarming to see more stories that center Jewish identity make their rotation during the holiday season. Here’s hoping we’ll see more rom-coms and family comedies that highlight diverse Jewish experiences in the years to come. Chanukah Sameach!