So I’m scrolling through TikTok the other day, just like a millennial who wants to hold on to their last grasp of youth does, and in the mix of my content related to dogs and computer repair and ancient Eastern Hemisphere cooking, I see an ad for Target extolling the virtues of Hanukkah. It goes a little something like this:
“Hi, it’s Shoshana for Target. My favorite holiday is here: Hanukkah! It’s the festival of lights where the Jewish people celebrate their victory over oppression. There are eight days of Hanukah, and for each one we light a candle on a menorah. We make foods fried in oil, such as potato pancakes known as latkes and donuts known as sufganiyot. And just like on Christmas, we give gifts to the people we love. You can find everything you need to have an amazing Hanukkah at your local Target store or on Target.com. Happy Hanukkah!”
I appreciate the representation. Really, I do. Except there are a few key things wrong with your ad, Target:
- Shoshana’s lighting the menorah wrong.
- No one decorates their house for Hanukkah that much.
- Shoshana’s not even lighting a menorah: A menorah has six candle holders while the Hanukkiah, the special menorah we light on Hanukkah, has eight.
- While the celebration of Hanukkah does celebrate overcoming adveristy, it truly marks the rededication of the Second Temple after the Maccabean Revolt against the Selecuid Empire in the 2nd century BCE, but everyone forgets that the Maccabees then went on to expand their own empire and enforce forced conversion of their subjects to Judaism.
- Is Hanukkah actually anyone’s favorite holiday? I prefer Rosh Hashanah, to be honest: It lasts two days instead of eight, there’s no real financial obligation to anyone, and it hasn’t become as whitewashed or as Americanized.
- Is that actually Shoshana in the ad? Or is it just Brittany, the intern who said that she knew about Hanukkah because her granddad was half-Jewish and killed a Nazi in World War II? Yeah, I know we count ’em all, but there’s no way you have more of a grasp on the Festival of Lights than this full-throated guilt-ridden anxiety-filled wraith of a Hungarian/Romanian/Russian Jewish American, Brittany.
Listen, I love Hanukkah. Nothing beats the celebration with family, the smell of fried potato oil stinking up everything within five miles, the lighting of the hanukiyot, the giving of little gifts and tidings of comfort and joy to one another while ignoring this holiday’s somewhat dark origin. But like with Christmas, I can’t stand the blatant corporatization and capitalizing of Hanukkah. You can’t sell a throw pillow with a Passover quote and say, “We did it! We have Hanukkah merchandise! No one can accuse us of discrimination now!” Trying to turn a cheap profit off of Hanukkah feels worse and more craven than profiteering off of Christmas. Fewer folks celebrate Hanukkah, and we all know the grift, so why even bother?
Is this really what you want to be doing, Target? Preying on the wallets of old Jewish people with kitschy fakakta Hanukkah bullshit? No, it’s fine. It’s fine. They’ll just spend the money they were saving for their cholesterol medicine on your schlock. Sure, they’ll die faster, but at least they’ll be resting their head on a pillow that says “What happens at the Seder stays at the Seder.” Pu pu pu.
If Target or any big-box retailer trying to get in on the Hanukkah business could just hire one real Jewish person to consult them, they’d improve their game a thousand percent. Alas, the Internet must always step in to do the work, as it apparently takes a village. The Instagram account Hanukkah Fails has done a fantastic job tracking the mishaps of capitalizers trying to relate to the local Jewish community. I suggest you give them a look if you want to either laugh or – more likely – heave a deep sigh and look up at the sky as if to say to your ancestors, “Do you see with what I put up?”
Anyhow, it is late at night. The two Hanukkah candles have burned down to nubs. I ate the last of the latkes Becca and I made last night. She bought whitefish to put on top, because it is the prime latke topping. Keep your sour cream and your applesauce. What’s a lot of grease without salt? What’s salt without grease? It’s essentially fish and chips. Try it. You’ll like it.