It might come as a shock (especially to those of us in the 30+ crowd) that Adam Sandler’s iconic “The Chanukah Song” is almost 30 years old. First performed on Saturday Night Live on December 3, 1994, Sandler has released a few updated versions over the years featuring more contemporary references. However, for readers who have ever found themselves wondering who the Jews in the original version are, here is a totally unauthorized annotated guide.
To quote the song: “Here’s a list of people who are Jewish just like you and me”:
David Lee Roth lights the menorah
Sandler starts things off with a shoutout to David Lee Roth, former vocalist for the rock group Van Halen known for his wild stage persona. In 1993, the singer was arrested for buying 10 dollars’ worth of marijuana from an undercover cop in New York City. Oops. Roth has since developed a much more wholesome persona working as a licensed EMT in New York State. According to him, he has responded to several hundred 911 calls!
So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah
James Caan and Kirk Douglas, both actors famous for their work in high-profile films like “The Godfather” and “Spartacus,” respectively, are not necessarily the mensch-iest on this list. Douglas, the father of actor Michael Douglas, was born Issur Danielovitch in 1916; his 103 years on earth were marked by wild professional success, a reputation for being “difficult” to work with (as recounted in his own autobiography — not a great sign), a deep love of Judaism in the later years of his life — and some serious accusations of sexual assault.
While Caan won an Oscar for his portrayal of Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” readers may remember him more vividly as Buddy the Elf’s cranky human father in Elf. Whether life imitated art or vice versa, Caan frequently played tough guys; in real life, he had several scrapes with the law (including pulling a gun on someone — yikes) and struggled with drug addiction.
Dinah Shore (née Frances Rose Shore), on the other hand, was a trailblazing singer, actor and popular talk show host. Her mother showed real Jewish Mom Energy™ when Dinah contracted polio as a child. According to Shore, her mother’s around-the-clock care pulled her through the life-threatening virus.
Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli
Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzarelli
“Bowser from Sha Na Na” refers to a character played by actor and musician Jon Bauman. Bauman, a child prodigy who began studying piano at Juilliard when he was twelve years old, was a member of the band Sha Na Na, a sort of 1950s-style rock group that got famous when their friend Jimi Hendrix got them into Woodstock in 1969. Since the group disbanded, Bauman has enjoyed a successful acting and game-show-hosting career. He is a vocal supporter of Democratic causes and has done some serious work to help expand Medicare.
If you don’t know who Henry Winkler is (he played Arthur Fonzarelli, or The Fonz, on the show “Happy Days”), get thee to his social media now: the man is the zayde we all want and deserve. His acting (film! TV! Theater!), writing directing, and producing credits would take all of Hanukkah for me to transcribe, but contains such gems as “The Waterboy,” “Parks and Rec,” “Arrested Development,” and HBO’s “Barry,” for which he’s racked up some serious award show hardware. It is amazing to think that Winkler’s parents barely escaped Nazi clutches when they fled to America in 1939; many of his relatives did not survive the Holocaust.
Paul Newman’s half Jewish, Goldie Hawn’s half too
Put them together, what a fine lookin’ Jew
Born in 1925, Paul Newman was one of old Hollywood’s most iconic actors. Famous films include “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (where he costarred with another Jewish legend, Elizabeth Taylor) and such fine cinematic masterpieces as Disney’s “Cars.” Newman supported LGBTQ equality and climate justice long before these were popular causes and attended the 1963 March on Washington. His face graces the labels of Newman’s Own products in grocery stores across the country, the proceeds of which (reportedly upwards of 150 million dollars to date) keep his philanthropic spirit alive.
Hawn’s career is no less impressive. After making her TV debut in 1969, she’s been a Hollywood icon for over fifty years. She’s won an Oscar and Golden Globes along the way for such hits as “Cactus Flower,” “The First Wives Club,” “Death Becomes Her” and “The Banger Sisters” (just to name a few) while also maintaining perfectly feathered hair. Her daughter Kate Hudson recently mused about the strong connection she has to Judaism though Hawn’s mother.
You don’t need “Deck The Halls” or “Jingle Bell Rock”
‘Cause you can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock — both Jewish
Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock: These names are bound to be familiar as characters on the ground-breaking space odyssey show “Star Trek,” which aired in 1966, catapulting Jewish actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy into superstardom. Shatner recently made headlines as the oldest person to fly into space — 90 years old! — when he joined the crew of a Blue Origin sub-orbital flight in October 2021. Shatner’s close friend Leonard Nimoy wore many hats besides that of Mr. Spock: musician, poet, Yiddish speaker, active member of the Jewish artistic world and his local Jewish community. He was mourned the world over when he died of COPD in 2015, a few days after tweeting one of his poems: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” His memory is certainly a blessing for many.
Put on your yarmulke
It’s time for Chanukah.
The owner of the Seattle Supersonicahs
Here Sandler is likely referring to a man named Sam Schulman, who brought the Supersonics, a professional basketball team, to Seattle — a move that cleared the path for other professional sports teams in Seattle. Interestingly, he was sued by the NBA over (long story short) violating their draft rules, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled in Schulman’s favor.
O.J. Simpson, not a Jew
But guess who is? Hall of famer Rod Carew — he converted
So, Rod Carew is a Panamanian professional baseball player who — it was later clarified — is not Jewish himself, but was married to a Jewish woman with whom he has three Jewish kids. He reportedly told Sandler he thinks the song is funny.
As for O.J. Simpson, who, as Sandler rightly explains, is not a Jew… well, I don’t have the time, space or enough gin and tonicahs to go into that here. Any reader who doesn’t know who he is should buckle up and give him a Google.
We got Ann Landers and her sister Dear Abby
Harrison Ford’s a quarter Jewish — not too shabby
Some people think that Ebenezer Scrooge is
Well he’s not, but guess who is
All three Stooges.
Ann Landers and Dear Abby refer to a pair of Jewish sisters who were both famous advice columnists. My favorite part of their story is that the sisters — twins — were named Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman (respectively), though their family called them Eppie and Popo. The two ran rival newspaper columns that strained their relationship for decades.
Harrison Ford and the Three Stooges need little introduction. It is, however, interesting to note that the Three Stooges — slapstick characters played by Moses Horwitz and Louis Feinberg, with several actors, including Moses’ brothers Samuel and Jerome Horwitz, rotating in as the third stooge — spent much of the 1940s making anti-Nazi films mocking Hitler. And though Sandler describes Ford as “a quarter Jewish,” Ford is halachically Jewish, since his mother is Jewish (his father is Christian). When asked in an interview which religion he was raised with, the actor cheekily replied: “Democrat.”
So many Jews are in showbiz
Tom Cruise isn’t, but I heard his agent is
Infamously a Scientologist himself, this reference to Tom Cruise’s potentially Jewish agent is just gossip. At the time, Cruise’s agent was a man named Kevin Huvane. Huvane isn’t Jewish, but his first-ever client was Sarah Jessica Parker!
And there you have it! A guide to all the Jews (and some non-Jews) in the OG version of “The Chanukah Song.” Feel free to use this information to impress your family and family at Hanukkah gatherings. And don’t forget to “have a happy, happy, happy, happy Chanukah.”