Today's little known holiday song -- this time, for Hanukkah -- comes from what I believe was the first season of the animated series South Park. It was their initial Christmas special, centered around the adventures of Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, which brought the show even more attention. I have a couple of tangential stories connected to the song, "It's Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas."
As I think I've mentioned, back in my dark days of P.R. I was the unit publicist on the movie BASEketball, which was directed by David Zucker (of the Airplaine! and The Naked Gun series, which was why he brought me along) and starred Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who did -- and still do -- South Park. During the movie's production, which overlapped with them being in production on South Park (so, in essence, they were doing two jobs at the same time), Matt and Trey mentioned that the only reason they signed to do the movie is because they were sure the TV series would be canceled after 10 episodes, and they'd have plenty of time to make the movie. Ha. So much for the best laid plans. It was during the movie's production that the TV series started peaking -- for instance they made the cover of both Time and Newsweek during the film. They said that if they had any idea that the TV show would still be going on, they never would have agreed to be in the movie. It was a crushing schedule -- including having an editing trailer for them on the set every day, and going back to their production offices after the day's filming -- but they handled it seriously impressively.
Anyway, going back several months, we had a read-through of the movie script one night, and given that it was the "South Park guys," families and kids were invited. And as it happened, the read-through took place the night after their Christmas special aired.
In the milling around phase of the evening, I went over to Trey and Matt to introduce myself, and I also wanted to tell them how much I particularly had loved this specific song. Given the fame of South Park at that time, they were not surprisingly surrounded by a bunch of young boys gushing about the show. But in particular, they were gushing about another song in the TV special. So, I stood off to the side and waited for their fans to finish.
The other song in the show was sung by the character 'Cartman," and lasts about 30 seconds, with the words basically being, "Kyle's mom is a big fat b*tch, she's a b*tch, b*tch, b*tch, she's a big fat b*tch," over and over for half a minute. The little boys just loooooved that. And one after another, they enthused to Matt and Trey about it, and kept singing the song back at them.
After the kids all departed, I finally walked over. I said hi, we chatted a bit, and then I said how terrific I thought the song, "It's Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas" was. That the lyrics were so funny, yet touching, and the music was wistful, and it was just really nicely crafted. And what was hilarious and memorable was how their faces suddenly filled with a smile of relief. They completely understood why the little boys all loved the "Kye's mom is a b*tch" song -- but this other was an actual song. And one they took great pride in. So, they were SO relieved to have someone praise it, rather than the one getting all the attention.
A few months later, during production I also had a question for them that had been nagging me. About a minute into the song, the character Kyle singing it mentions some Hebrew phrase which I couldn't make out, words it seemed from some Hebrew Hanukkah song he has to sing instead of getting to sing "Silent Night." I asked what it was, since I didn't recognize the song, and if they did research to find it or what. Trey broke out with a big laugh, "Oh, that," he said, "we just made the words up. We didn't know any Hebrew, so we just wrote some gibberish that sounded right."
(Note: When I originally posted this for a few years, it's only been the audio track of the song from the special since the sweet video wasn't available. But I kept checking and finally -- it's at last there, and I found it. So...huzzah. Or rather, chuzzah.
I've written in the past about my love (and that of the inveterate Chris Dunn) for the series, Frank's Place. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear available to stream, and only a couple of episodes can be found on YouTube (at just mediocre quality). But happily, one of those two is a Hannukah episode! And we have it today as part of our Fest.
The quality is a fuzzy, but watchable. You may have to turn the volume all the way up, as well. I wish the video was better, but this is it, and since it’s hard to track down much of anything from Frank’s Place, I'll take what we can get. Especially during the holiday.
By the way, the video may jump start, and the opening credits being at the :40-second mark. The episode itself begins after commercials at 3:00. (This should start at 0:00, but I was having a little trouble. If for any reason it doesn't, just scroll back.)
For today's Fest of little-known seasonal material, from music to comedy and anything in between, we keep the season at Hanukkah with a wonderful piece that Stephen Colbert did. A few years back, Colbert noted that while there would be 146 new Christmas movies that season -- with half of them on Hallmark and Lifetime channels -- there were (quoting Cosmopolitan magazine) "basically zero Hanukkah movies." I think there were eight -- and I've noticed that when those air, the stories usually tended to have some overlap with Christmas.
So, his show decided to do something about that and correct that oversight. And they came up with trailers for some of their own Hanukkah movies.
Two days ago, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) sent a “demand” letter to the Department of Justice that they open an investigation of Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, because Kagan had just written an op-ed warning of the possibility of a Trump dictatorship.
Making this even more bizarre, if his demand wasn’t enough already, is that Vance’s attempt at reasoning was to suggest to the DOJ that Kagan’s opinion piece was a dangerous “call to arms," in essence an attempt to incite an insurrection. (And no, for those uncertain, Mr. Vance is totally unbothered by the actual, armed Insurrection on January 6 to overthrow the government.)
The added irony of this was that Vance's faux-concern for an article warning about Trump's growing danger came the very day after Trump himself had said on Fox television that he would be a dictator if re-elected -- though only, apparently, on just Day One. For all the other days he would probably only be a despotic tyrant.
I noted on social media that if anyone had any doubt that the fascist GOP under Trump would go after the First Amendment, they only had to look at Kash Patel who, if Trump is re-elected, is for some reason, rumored to be his next director of the CIA, and said on Steve Bannon’s podcast --
“We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media.” Adding -- "Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections — we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out."
So, yes, they’re very clear about it. And what with the GOP banning school books and banning the teaching of Black history, it’s a natural fit.
In Trump World, the standard operating procedure when you say something reprehensible. So, you know how unacceptable Kash Patel's words were when, yesterday, some people on the Trump team actually noticed that what Patel said might not be the best campaign issue for the American public and tried to do some damage control.
For instance, one Trump adviser told a reporter, “Idiotic comments like this have nothing to do with our campaign.”
Of course, that should properly read, “unnamed Trump adviser,” which is not the most substantive denial when you refuse to go on the record to refute your fascist policies. Further "have nothing to do with our campaign" isn't even a denial -- it's just saying that it was idiotic for Patel to talk about it out loud because we don't want to make it a public issue. More to the point, the only denial that matters in the slightest in this case is Trump’s -- and not only is his track record on denials incredibly bad, but his denial on what Patel said has been non-existent.
(Also worth noting is that it took Republicans two days before denying something so utterly reprehensible and against the foundations of American freedom.)
But arguably almost an even weaker defense of Trump -- yes, weaker even than an anonymous denial, which is saying a lot -- came from Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), who has his own sketchy past, saying, “Donald Trump was president. Did he jail his opposition? No. Did he lock Hillary up? No.”
Well...he actually sort of at least tried. As Reuters reported at the time, “U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen was ordered released from prison and will go into home confinement on Friday after a federal judge found he was subjected to retaliation for planning to publish a book about the president ahead of November's election.”
But that aside, what a weird way to defend someone. For starters, "attempted murder" is just as much a felony as murder, you don't have to have hit your victim in the head with a crowbar when you swung it. Or as the expression goes, intent follows the bullet. Trump shouted so relentlessly he wanted to put Hilary Clinton in prison that he made "Lock Her Up" a core part of his campaign to build support among the chanting GOP base overcome the fascist concept. And if he didn't actually get around to jailing Hilary Clinton, it was not only because she didn’t do anything illegal, but also Trump had some semi-responsible attorneys and advisers during his first time in office, who served as a barrier against Trump’s worst instincts. They won’t be around to restrain him if there’s a second term.
Besides, “Hey, at least he didn’t beat his wife” is not only not a great defense of anyone (especially when they've been found liable for the equivalence of rape) -- and an even worse defense of them for what they’ll do in the future, but it's a horrible defense for what someone will do in the future when that person has said that, if re-elected, “I will be your retribution” and “I will be a dictator, but just on Day One” and that he will work to get around the Constitution and has plans for building internment camps and deporting immigrants, and had his prospective CIA Director say, “We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media…Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out."
And has repeatedly called the press "the enemy of the people."
This isn’t a hard one to figure out. Trump and his allies are not only telling you -- they are connecting the dots.
As we've reached the first night of Hanukkah, that means it's time for my annual tradition of my New Tale of Hanukkah, along with the tale behind it.
A New Tale for Hanukkah: The Legend Begins
Several years back, a mixed group of writer friends was discussing religion, when it veered off track a bit. "A bit" as in, someone whimsically bemoaned that Christmas got all the good colors, while Hanukkah was pretty much stuck with blue and white.
I'm guessing that this wasn't the kind of debates Spinoza or Moses Maimonides ever got into. Though you never know.
Another person decided to raise the holiday spirits, suggesting that since there was an actual, physical limit of primary colors in the world, and therefore nothing could be done about that at this point, perhaps instead a new fable could be created. A few days later, this second fellow and his wife came up with the Twin Dalmatians of Hanukkah, Pinkus and Mordechai. The pups scour the earth to bring hats of joy, filled with treats, to the children on the first night of Hanukkah. Pinkus, the cheerful one, would load them up with tasty goodies, while practical Mordechai with a bell on his collar would leave practical gifts, like slide-rules.
The benefits of this new legend were clear to see. For one, it meant that that you could add a whole new color scheme to the Hanukkah celebration palate for displays across the land and trimmings in stores everywhere - black and white, the Dalmatian decorations! And also, Pinkus and Mordechai "pug helpers" would prance throughout shopping centers to the joy and happy laughter of those with childhood in their hearts. And of course, when you're competing with Rudolph, Frosty, the Little Drummer Boy, Scrooge, Magi, Santa, and so many more, it never hurts to have as many fables as possible to pass down through the generations.
He and his wife wrote a few verses to show what he meant, and I thought an unfinished poem was no way to celebrate the season of holidays, and therefore completed it.
Like all good stories of the season, this one ends with a miracle. My friend went on to create a network TV series a few years later, and then another one for a different network. So, it's good to know that poetry and warm spirit in his heart (along with a touch of lunacy in their heads) had such a positive impact on their lives. He also now has a reputation to protect and by request shall remain nameless.
Since 'tis the season, then 'tis appropriate to finally bring the story out of its dusty pages where it has annually passed from glowing face to glowing face of the few lucky children to hear it told, and when a few years back on the Huffington Post I presented the new fable to the world.
Okay, maybe there haven't been all that many glowing faces, and maybe it's passed Hanukkah this year (man, it came so early this year!!), but it's the holiday season and time of miracles, so anything's possible.
'Twas the night before Hanukkah,
And all through the shul,
Not a creature was stirring,
The meshpocheh was full
With latkes and brisket
And kugel and more.
Through the heads of the kinder
Spun dreidles galore.
But I in my yalmulka,
And she in her wig,
Settled down in our beds
With warm milk (but no pig).
When up on the roof
I heard such a bark
That I yelled "Oy, gevalt"
(To the goyim that's "Hark").
And I knew with a jingle,
Then a second great "woof,"
That jolly ol' Pinkus
Was up on our roof.
Though t'wasn't just Pinkus,
But Mordechai too,
The Hanukkah Puppies--
Those Dalmatian Jews.
So I sprang to my feet
And quick threw on a shmotta.
And I saw our kids' hats
Were now filled with a lotta:
Toys and candy from Pinkus
And from Mordechai, socks.
And for me and the Mrs.
Some bagels and lox.
The dogs silently worked,
As if studying Torah
(Though Pinkus got playful).
Mordechai lit the menorah.
Then straight up the chimney
Pinkus leapt from the floor.
Mordechai politely went out
the front door.
It's hard to explain
The joyous nakhes I felt
As I saw the Dalmatians
Go to hand out more gelt.
And I heard Pinkus bark,
"Kids can have all they want if."
"Happy Hanukkah," said Mordechai.
"And to all a Good Yontif."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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