No love for the Jew on TV?
December 21, 2008 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Are there NO Jewish cartoon characters?

Or have they all just assimilated?

Watching cartoons with my three and a half year old this morning, Franklin's Christmas episode came on, and she turned to me and said "Christmas, AGAIN." It got me to wondering why there's not a single Hanukkah special on TV these days. Of all the cartoon characters I can think of, only Kyle from South Park, and Orange Kitten from Blues Clues are Jewish. Oh, and the Rugrats. There is Eight Crazy Nights of course, which is hands down the best Hanukkah movie out there, but that bar's not too high, and our daughter is several years away from watching that anyways.

Does anyone know of even a halfway decent Hanukkah special for kids? It seems pretty lame that there's not even one. I give Nickelodeon props for making a Dora/Diego Three Kings Day special, even if they are too annoying to watch. You would think if they could do that, they could give a shout out to the Yids too.
posted by SobaFett to Society & Culture (46 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it's still on, but the Rugrats had a significant number of Jewish characters. They also did an episode on passover, but that's all I can remember.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:16 AM on December 21, 2008

Krusty on The Simpsons is Jewish, and there have been some episodes where they've explored his religious side.

Harold on Hey Arnold! was Jewish. There's an episode where he has a Bar Mitzvah.

If you count comic book characters and their cartoon representations, there are quite a few (Magneto and The Thing most prominently).

Dr. Zoidberg on Futurama isn't explicitly Jewish, but he has a Yiddish accent and style of speaking. That cartoon also has RabbiBot attending some Bot Mitzvahs.
posted by painquale at 10:18 AM on December 21, 2008

Krusty the Clown? ...But not exactly for the kiddies.

(I always believed in my heart that Bugs Bunny was Jewish.)
posted by applemeat at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2008

It's not a cartoon, but there is a Lambchop's Playalong Hanukkah special.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2008

Not age appropriate for a 3.5 year old, but there are the Goldmans in the Family guy.
posted by procrastination at 10:22 AM on December 21, 2008

Aren't some of the muppets Jewish? Guy Smiley's real name was apparently Bernie Liederkrantz.

Fievel Mousekewitz is definitely Jewish.

Also, Mel Blanc voiced many characters including Porky Pig, so you can assume Jewishness for at least a few of those, I guess!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:23 AM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ummm, you gotta do a search for ">it. Thats one with leonard nimoy.

If you scroll down, and see what customers "ultimately" purchased, you can also get "Chanuka & Passover at Bubbe's", "Lambchop's Chanukah and Passover Surprise", and "Shalom Sesame: Chanukah Special".

To be totally honest, I'd be pretty happy that cartoons made to advertise kids toys weren't used to bastardize a religious holiday, though.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:23 AM on December 21, 2008

Oh, Fievel in An American Tail is a perfect suggestion. That movie opens with a Hanukkah scene, I think.
posted by painquale at 10:24 AM on December 21, 2008

The Critic.
posted by nitsuj at 10:24 AM on December 21, 2008

OOPS! Here is the link.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:24 AM on December 21, 2008

Pepper Ann
posted by MsMolly at 10:24 AM on December 21, 2008

An American Tail, starring Fievel Mousekewitz, starts on Hanukkah.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:25 AM on December 21, 2008

The thing is, The Thing is Jewish.

At the bottom of that article:


Bernie Rosenthal, is the non-powered sometime-girlfriend of Captain America.
Colossal Boy, Gim Allon, is a member of the Legion of Super Heroes.
Greenberg the Vampire. He's Jewish. And he's a vampire. Go figure.
Ramban, leader of the Hayoth, an Israeli super-team, is a rabbi and a Jewish mystic.
Rory Regan, the Ragman, has powers derived from Jewish mysticism.
Ruben Flagg, main character in the science fiction title American Flagg, is an actor-turned-lawman. He lost his job as an actor to a computer-generated version of his action-hero character.
Sabra, Ruth Bat-Seraph, another Israel-based superhero, has a star of David on her headband.
Shadowcat, Kitty Pryde, is a member of the X-Men.
The Thing, Benjamin Jacob Grimm, is a member of the Fantastic Four.
The Two-Gun Kid, Matthew Liebowicz, is a Harvard lawyer-turned masked lawman on the Old West.
posted by furtive at 10:28 AM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just noticed you meant TV.
posted by furtive at 10:29 AM on December 21, 2008

Superman, kind of.
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on December 21, 2008

Don't some argue Superman was based on the concept of The Golem? I know there's a link out there somewhere discussing this.

I suppose Superman's not explicitly Jewish, so plopping down a thesis in front of your three year old about the Man of Steel and a Rabbi-made monster servant may not be what you're going for.
posted by camdan at 10:43 AM on December 21, 2008

The Simpsons: Old Jewish Man
posted by zippy at 10:44 AM on December 21, 2008

Raising the stakes to all superheos evah!
posted by Artw at 10:45 AM on December 21, 2008

Has "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist" already slipped from our cultural memory? For shame!
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:46 AM on December 21, 2008

More on Superman.
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on December 21, 2008

Bah, Dr. Wu just beat me to Dr. Katz. Although that perhaps isn't the greatest thing if you're looking for something for the kids.
posted by bjrn at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2008

The entire Dr. Katz DVD set was my Christmas gift last year, ironically.
posted by camdan at 10:57 AM on December 21, 2008

It got me to wondering why there's not a single Hanukkah special on TV these days.

Because the economics are all wrong for a Jewish holiday special. Jews are 2% of the US population. Its simply not as profitable as Xmas stuff. The US is 80% Christian.

Television only works when you can deliver a large amount of eyeballs to the advertisers. 2% is nothing. The Sandler movie works because it made money at the theater and didnt need as many people to be profitable. Its already made a profit by the time it got to television.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:02 AM on December 21, 2008

Not quite a cartoon, but the Shalom Sesame series has an episode dedicated to Chanukah. Big memory from my largely TV-less childhood.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:27 AM on December 21, 2008

As usual, PBS has you covered. Check out
Clifford's Puppy Days: Hanukah Plunder Blunder
Chanukah on Planet Matzah Ball
Not a cartoon but a musical celebration - Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert
posted by Sailormom at 11:35 AM on December 21, 2008

Francine Frensky from the PBS show Arthur is Jewish. The Arthur holiday special has a subplot about how Francine can't come to Muffy's Christmas party because it's on the same day as her family's Hannukah celebration. (I know this because my 6-year-old watched the show on TV yesterday.)
posted by Daily Alice at 11:42 AM on December 21, 2008

Because the economics are all wrong for a Jewish holiday special. Jews are 2% of the US population. Its simply not as profitable as Xmas stuff. The US is 80% Christian.

Not only this, but Hannukah is really kind of an unimportant holiday. The only reason it gets any press at all is because we're trying to be politically correct and compete with Christmas. (For what it's worth, I was really peeved to find out, as an adolescent, that kids weren't even supposed to get presents for Hannukah.)
posted by timory at 11:42 AM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

A lot of Christmas specials explore 'the meaning of Christmas' if they are not some kind of explicit Christian allegory. There are very few TV-watching Jews who could tell you with much accuracy what Hannukah is actually about or to name a single character from the related bible story. Those that could, know that it's really not a very pleasant story.

In fact, more to the point, Jewish stories, by and large, don't have happy endings. If they have a happy ending, it's something like "we survived" or "we finally got the bastards." Sin, redemption, salvation, and the corporeal birth of God don't really fit in that well with the type of stories told to Jewish children, so adults haven't gone out of their way to represent them in Christmas specials.
posted by bingo at 11:43 AM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a point of trivia, if not a useful suggestion, I'll note that in the late 70's and early 80's Chicago (on WGN) used to have a Jewish-themed Sunday morning kid's show called "The Magic Door," which was mostly puppets and special effects. It did have some Hanukkah-based episodes, I think. According to the internet however, Magic Door episodes are hard to come by on DVD. Plus the show's production values might seem a bit outdated at this point.
posted by washburn at 11:46 AM on December 21, 2008

Gargamel from the Smurfs, "an obvious Jewish stereotype..."
posted by wfrgms at 12:23 PM on December 21, 2008

Also, Mel Blanc voiced many characters including Porky Pig

I'm all for Jewishness by association, but dude - there is no way Porky Pig is Jewish.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:32 PM on December 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I know you mentioned the rugrats already. But you might not know that the rugrats have a chanukah special. So that's something right there.
posted by I Foody at 12:48 PM on December 21, 2008

Way out of your kid's age range, but Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat) is Jewish. Magneto too, of course.
posted by cmyk at 1:16 PM on December 21, 2008

Also, Mel Blanc voiced many characters including Porky Pig
(a), That was a joke, and
(b), Who says pigs can't be Jewish? The name "Porky" could well be a comment on his weight, not his market value. Nobody's eating him, they're like, hanging out with him and shit.
"Be-deep-be-deep-be-deep" is probably Hebrew or something.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:33 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Of course Bugs Bunny is Jewish.
posted by genghis at 2:39 PM on December 21, 2008

I'm a numbers person to some extent, so I like questions like these which lend themselves to numerical explanations. Leaving aside the fact that Hannukah is a minor holiday in Judaism - which is obviously a factor in this - what statistics show makes me surprised there are any Hannukah shows at all! Here's why:

1) Jewish-Americans represent only 1.7% of the American population.

2) Of the non-Christian religions, American adherents to Judaism are more likely to marry outside their religion than members of any other religious group. So a Jewish parent may not be raising "Jewish" children. via Wikipedia:

In addition to being prohibited by Jewish law and custom, intermarriage is often criticised by rabbis and other community leaders as demographically harming the Jewish people, since relatively few children of mixed marriages are raised as Jews. In the U.S. the Jewish community has decreased dramatically due to high rates of intermarriage, low rates of Jewish education and the late ages of marriage. This last trend leads to later ages of childbirth and fewer children being born. For every 20 adult Jews, there are now only 17 Jewish children.

3) Beyond that, a disproportionate number of the Jewish children being born are born into Orthodox families (who don't intermarry for the most part, and who have a higher birth rate.) In many Orthodox Jewish communities, exposure to secular entertainment is minimalized.

4) What the two facts immediately above mean (ultimately) is that the secularized Jewish-American population - the group who might want Hannukah television shows - is shrinking (and becoming older) as a group.

5) Distribution. Sure, Jewish-Americans don't make up a large percentage of the population, but their are other groups of similarly small size who are catered to via the media. So there could be, theoretically, money to be made by appealing to specifically Jewish interests. But in a mass medium like television animation, the expense is such that it's helpful when it's carried by all major media markets. But Jewish-Americans tend to be clustered in certain markets more than others, so while a Hannukah cartoon special might be enthusiastically picked up in (say) NYC, there would probably be much less enthusiasm in Boise, ID or Kansas City, MO, where the percentage of Jewish-Americans is much smaller than the overall US average. Christmas specials do not have this problem in the distribution of potential viewers - Christians are everywhere, and Christmas is a pretty secular holiday anyway.

6) The rest of the world. I've seen "The Simpsons" in lots of countries, dubbed into local languages. It seems pretty universally popular. Most creators of animated television understand that the world is their market. How much does Matt Groening make from Finland or Brazil? Tons, I bet. What would be the additional markets for a Hannukah special? Possibly Israel - which is a small market. And even then, would there be a lot of interest in an animated special about Hannukah, or would this be like an animated special about St Swithin's Day? (I'm not being snarky, I really have no idea.) There are only two countries with Jewish population of half a million or more.

I could go on and on, but from a statistical and "marketing" perspective, one could pretty reasonably argue that Hannukah is over-represented in cartoons! (There are pretty comparable numbers of Muslim children in America as Jewish children, but you don't see any Ramadan cartoons, despite vaguely equivalent distribution of Muslims across America and despite the much greater importance of Ramadan to Islam than Hannukah to Judaism - and despite an international market roughly 100 times bigger than Judaism's. Think about it.)

Coming from a different country (Bosnia) with a different set of religious traditions (mostly Muslim), I realize the struggles that one must go through to keep up a culture that's outside the norm here in America. And as a person interested in different cultures, I wish things weren't so hard here. Someone mentioned that most Jews wouldn't know what Hannukah is all about, so the first thing I'm going to do (though I'm not Jewish) is to find out - I realized I don't know either.

I went to a "holiday" show here once, which was understandably mostly about Christmas, although an attempt was made to put a little spotlight on Hannukah and Ramadan. Unfortunately, the Hannukah menorah depicted had the wrong number of branches, and Ramadan was described as "a Muslim holiday where people fast all day and party hardy all night!"

posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:51 PM on December 21, 2008 [8 favorites]

Also, Mel Blanc voiced many characters

I read somewhere that Daffy Duck was meant as a caricature of the comedian Jack Benny, and Bugs Bunny was a caricature of Groucho Marx, both of whom were Jewish.

There was an episode of Tiny Toon adventures that featured a neurotic dragon that talked like Woody Allen.

And, as mentioned above: The Critic, Dr. Katz, Krusty, Zoidberg
posted by Afroblanco at 4:26 PM on December 21, 2008

I can't believe this one has been missed, the family at the center of the excellent cartoon Jacob Two-Two is Jewish, and it is discussed fairly regularly.
posted by Ponderance at 4:47 PM on December 21, 2008

Bugs is clearly not goyim.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:47 PM on December 21, 2008

Betty Boop.
posted by Yakuman at 8:30 PM on December 21, 2008

I think there were a couple of Jewish characters in this movie.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:00 AM on December 22, 2008

Zoidberg! "Once again, the conservative, sandwich-heavy portfolio pays off for the hungry investor."
posted by chunking express at 8:52 AM on December 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

the ten commandments for a 3 year old? really? make your daughter watch that after you make her watch a homemade mashup of zoidberg, krusty, dr. katz and the critic.
with all the horrible recommendations we've been offering this little girl is sure to be crying right now.
posted by camdan at 8:55 AM on December 22, 2008

Just watched the Pee Wee Herman Christmas special from years ago. The Dinosaur family that lives in the mouse hole, at the playhouse, is Jewish. They were putting up decorations for Hannukah.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:52 AM on December 22, 2008

Look for stuff created for the Jewish-American market or get something from Israel. A mainstream Hanukkah special isn't going to happen for the reasons Dee Xtrovert stated. But I'd be surprised if there wasn't a direct to video industry that caters to American Jews, after all there is one for American Muslims (who are a smaller part of the general population and a way, way smaller part of people in the media industries). If there is a direct video industry then there probably are a couple of Hanukkah specials floating around as well. Similarly, there must be at least one specialty tv channel for Jewish Americans, and I'd expect they'd air a Hanukkah special or 8 as well.

In short - if you look to the mainstream you'll probably be disappointed (because hey, you aren't the mainstream) but that doesn't mean that there isn't stuff out there for you and your daughter. Hopefully someone will pipe up with a recommendation soon.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:21 PM on December 22, 2008

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