8 nights, approximately 1 Hallmark movie, and about 5% of the retail floor space compared to the abundance of Christmas decor at your local TJ Maxx. That’s what Jewish people get for the holidays. I’m not kvetching, I’m just saying, would it kill people to put out a little more Hanukkah product?
Thankfully, the fine folks at Saturday Night Live have always been good to my people, giving us a schtickle of the spotlight while playfully pushing back on the disparity between Christmas and Hanukkah with sketches that reveal our secret Christmastime traditions, our Santa Claus alternates, and our very own Holiday anthem. Additionally, there are a ton of other great SNL sketches that celebrate Jewish culture and/or lovingly lampoon our acknowledged quirkiness with some pretty hilarious self-owns. This is good because laughter is like Jewish penicillin for the soul. And in an era when our space laser has been outed and we’ve had to throw out our 808 & Heartbreak records (plus a bunch of heavier stuff that I’m purposely skipping over), we could use a laugh. So, here now is a humbly selected collection of the best Jewish SNL sketches of all time.
10. Jewess Jeans
This doesn’t exactly land as hard as it did more than 40 years ago when the Jordache jeans ad it’s parodying was in the zeitgeist, but it’s Gilda Radner disco dancing to a song with the line “she’s got designer nails and a designer nose” before crushing the catchphrase by letting us all know that while the jeans aren’t made exclusively for Jewish girls, “it wouldn’t hurt.” There’s also some historic significance to this, as attributed by this interesting article on Jewish cultural representation on SNL and elsewhere. Gilda twirled so Adam Sandler could strum.
9. Drake’s Bar Mitzvah
Take a trip back to Drake (or Drakob)’s Bar Mitzvah for this monologue sketch that quickly turns into a rap about growing up with a Jewish mom and a Black dad. From raising your hands in the air to raising a chair, balling like LeBron and knowing what a W-2 is, and eating knishes with… everyone, Drake manages to celebrate his heritage while getting more than a few laughs.
8. Jewish Elvis
“I mean, it’s a little bit of singing, but it’s mostly complaining.”
Austin Butler nearly steals this one, going full superfan and screaming “ruin me Jewish Elvis, ruin me!” while flipping the script after playing Elvis in the Baz Luhrman-directed biopic. But this is Sarah Sherman’s show, doing her “little move(s)” in a rhinestone and Star Of David adorned jumpsuit as Jewish Elvis while singing about the apex predator known as lactose intolerance and catching some mighty big panties in the process. A tremendous sketch, but “Fools Rosh Hashanah” as a “Fools Rush In” parody was right there!
Honorable mention for Chloe Fineman blowing out the menorah candles like a birthday cake while doing her amazing Jennifer Coolidge impression in the same episode.
7. Jacob The Bar Mitzvah Boy
This Vanessa Bayer desk character is a masterclass in awkwardness as Jacob refuses to be thrown from his well-studied text. Total immersion here by Bayer, who nails the painful attempts at humor and the wooden mannerisms of a bar mitzvah boy living through the sheer terror gauntlet of public speaking in a freshly learned language. Imagine trying to white knuckle through with only the promise of a savings bond and avoiding family shame to keep you on point while Seth Meyers buzzes around you asking about the Yankees. We can’t all be as fly as Drake at our Bar Mitzvah.
6. Adam Grossman: Dinner With Dad’s New Girlfriend
Precocious little pisher Adam Grossman has no filter and sounds like he’s auditioning for a role as a Catskills kid comic on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. A recurring character for Jonah Hill that was born from a story told by Bill Hader, Adam is a 6-year-old who thinks he’s in his element beside adults while roasting his divorced dad (Hader) and intruding on the good times of his fellow diners at the local Benihana. In this second edition of the sketch, Adam is shouting about how being around so many knives reminds him of his bris and how taking a Viagra instead of a Flinstones chewable made for a weird day at Hebrew school.
Hill hasn’t played Adam since 2018, but here’s hoping we get to see him in the future.
5. Coffee Talk With Linda Richman
From a time when catchphrases were King in the early ’90s comes Coffee Talk from Mike Myers, who played his other iconic public-access talk show host character, Linda Richman, in 13 sketches opposite the likes of Madonna, Bill Murray, and John Travolta. A tribute to Myers’ mother-in-law, the big-haired, big personality having yenta character coined terms like “I’m a little verklempt,” “like buttah,” and “talk amongst yourselves” while talkin with celebrity guests and people calling from home. Coffee Talk is also responsible for one of the most memorable moments of that era of SNL when Barbara Streisand surprised Myers, Madonna, and Roseanne during a segment all about Babs’ Oscar snub for The Prince Of Tides.
4. Jewish Willy Wonka
Andy Samberg took the kernel of sing-song-silliness that Adam Sandler pioneered and made a vast field of comedy popcorn on SNL, so it’s only natural that he’d be on this list with his own ode to Jewish culture following in the Sandman’s footsteps. Here, the Lonely Island standout teams with host Ben Stiller to blend the world of Willy Wonka with fever dreams and fine Jewish cuisine. Both kinds of pickles!? Matzah ball soup fit to be complained about!? A sandwich that, like a miracle, lasts for days? It’s all there in this beautifully imagined delicatessen playground of Stiller’s dreams/hallucinations.
For some reason, it’s difficult to find an embed of this one, but you can check it out here.
3. Hanukkah Harry
Santa Claus is many things, chiefest among them is a brilliant symbol and marketing aid. Dude is everywhere, outside your local mall, on holiday cards and decor, being played by Buzz Lightyear and Snake Plissken. I can’t hate the hustle. But I can be very, very jealous, because Jewish people lack that kind of broadly beloved symbol. Unless you count Mel Brooks. And I do, but I also want people to know the legend of Hanukkah Harry. Played by Jon Lovitz, Hanukkah Harry is everything Santa Claus is while being steeped in Jewish traditions. He might also be a little bit nicer (Santa might put you on the naughty list for talking out of turn, but Harry will bring you a little something), even if the gifts he gives out are a little less spectacular. He even has a magic sleigh and a jaunty theme song about his donkeys Moishe, Herschel, and Schlomo.
It’s also proving impossible to find the classic Hanukkah Harry Saves Christmas, but we can all enjoy the similar vibes from the time he saved Easter.
2. Christmastime For The Jews
My affection for this TV Funhouse claymation creation from SNL, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Triumph genius Robert Smigel is abundant. Writing the oral history around its creation is a professional highlight, partly because of how many people have told me how much they love the sketch. To paraphrase a line from the aforementioned story, Christmastime For The Jews means something to people who share an annual laugh, let the song dance around in their head for a few days, and feel utterly seen by its timeless jokes about the Jewish experience.
I joked upfront about barely getting any Hanukkah movies or decor options compared to the cultural behemoth that is Christmas, but it’s kinda weird growing up in the shadow of all of that, and so you kinda feel like an outsider. And nothing tugs on the heartstrings of outsiders more than finding something that signals that we’re not alone. That’s a lot of weight to hang on something where a clay rabbi cuts a squirrel’s nuts off, but tis the season for attached meaning and heartful sentiments. I love Christmastime For The Jews and I hope you do too.
1. The Hanukah Song
This can’t be a surprise. For one, I’ve mentioned Sandler a couple of times along the way here. For another, this is among SNL‘s most famous moments. And yet despite that awesome legacy, it’s so simple in its construction. Sandler, a guitar, and a casual-seeming song that actually has a few layers.
Its very existence nods to the lack of celebrated Hanukkah songs and Jewish people’s fascination with Jewish celebrity and accomplishment. Seth Rogen hit on the same theme in American Pickle when his man-out-of-time character pumps his fist after finding out that a Jewish person cured polio. If one of us makes it, we feel a small sense of pride and accomplishment. That’s not an exclusively Jewish thing, but it’s definitely a Jewish thing, and so The Fonz being Jewish or Paul Newman being half-Jewish or Harrison Ford being a quarter-Jewish? Not too shabby, indeed.
No one could have or would have predicted that this song would spawn such deep seeded and long-lasting affection, to say nothing of the way it sort of turned Sandler into a Jewish icon and our version of Andy Williams, but that just adds to its charm. The Hannukah Song isn’t trying too hard, it’s just a dumb little song that’s trying to celebrate the holiday while making people feel a little pride and a sense of community. What could be better?