How significant was the Hanukkah episode in American television at the time?
Actually, the most important religious episode on the series was dedicated to Passover. In short, the creators, many of whom were Jewish or had strong ties to Judaism, were asked by Nickelodeon to make episodes based on Jewish themes, as there had been small clues here and there that the Pickles family was Jewish. But the creators weren’t ready to have a Hanukkah episode because they felt it was more complicated to showcase as a holiday that was already pretty mainstream in media, as well as a holiday that gets a lot of attention, but actually isn’t the most important holiday to the Jewish people.
Instead, they decided to tackle Passover, an important festival in the Jewish calendar which received less attention. The implications of this are significant. If you were, say, a kid in rural Alabama who watched the show at a young age and had [“Rugrats”] dolls and toys, and had seen the movies but you had never encountered a Jew before, seeing these episodes with Jewish holiday themes allowed you to learn the stories of Passover and Hanukkah for the first time.
Maybe that’s why “A Rugrats Chanukah” — which turns 21 this year — has achieved a cult-like status among fans of the classic Nickelodeon show. Some watch it every year the way they do with the Passover episode. In fact, the Chabad house at my alma mater, Drexel University in Philadelphia, screens it annually as part of its eight-day programming schedule for the holiday. Along with “Hey Arnold,” “Rugrats” was one of those rare ’90s Nicktoons that explored Judaism, even if it was for an episode or two.
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