If you’re ever tried to buy any fun items for Hanukkah, you’re probably aware of how often companies miss the mark. The sweaters don’t make sense, the grocery stores really don’t get it. When Jewish writer Alex Zeldin saw an ad for a Hanukkah shower curtain — yes, a Hanukkah shower curtain — from Bed Bath & Beyond, he was a bit surprised at their choice of design.
Possibly unpopular opinion?
Companies that want to cash in on the Jewish holiday spirit should hire a Jew or 10 not just to avoid obvious embarassments like this, but to know that, uh, this isn't our holiday season.
The Jewish holiday season was in October. pic.twitter.com/T8jw4pSRCt
— Alex (@JewishWonk) November 25, 2019
The Hanukkah shower curtain is a mish-mash of words associated with the holiday — including the Hebrew letters on the dreidel, latkes, “eight nights,” “eight lights,” menorah, and miracle — along with some other words that don’t quite make sense. Shalom? Mazel tov? Not exactly part of the Hanukkah story. But the real kicker was the inclusion of “seder,” the traditional meal Jews partake in on Passover (and sometimes other holidays like Tu Bishvat and Rosh Hashanah), but definitely not Hanukkah.
“My first thought was ‘wow it’s impressive that this went from idea to sale and nobody thought to run this by a Jew who could call out them featuring not one, but two inclusions of seder,'” Zeldin, 28, told Alma. “My second thought was ‘what am I saying, a computer algorithm made this.'”
One day after seeing the ad and tweeting about it from his account @JewishWonk, Zeldin realized that while yes, this Hanukkah shower curtain made absolutely zero sense, he had to have it. “I had a little time to marinate on it and decided that this was Jewish comedic gold,” Zeldin says, and thus began his quest to host the very first Hanukkah bathtub seder at his apartment in New York.
The people have spoken! I bought the Hanukkah Seder shower curtain and secured the bath tub guests. All I need now is a photographer. pic.twitter.com/nc99uyhqe8
— Alex (@JewishWonk) November 26, 2019
And reader, I’m happy to report that he delivered.
On December 18 and 19, Zeldin posted a thread on Twitter full of photos and insights from the Hanukkah seder. And while yes, the photos are amazing and the whole thing is completely ridiculous, he actually illuminated a pretty powerful statement about Hanukkah, Judaism, and humor along the way.
“The American ‘holiday season’ is a tense time for many Jews. Especially those of us who grew up secular, in public schools, and in social contexts where even the Jews were not Jewishly-literate and some (many?) of us internalized a dismissive attitude towards Jewish practice,” Zeldin tweeted. “Even for those who are Jewishly literate/observant, all Jews have, since the beginning of the diaspora roughly 2,000 years ago, had to cope with living in societies whose norms and cultural practices were quite different from our own. Many times, that difference made us targets.”
Zeldin then talked about his experience taking a course on Jewish humor in college, where it was really driven home for him how Jews have used humor throughout centuries of persecution. “Until the recent rebirth of Israel, for most of Jewish history humor has been the main tool in our arsenal for deescalating dangerous situations. The group of drunk cossacks may beat you to a pulp, but if you tell them a good joke maybe they’ll be on their way.”
Which brings us back to the Hanukkah shower curtain. “I wanted to engage with the ‘holiday season’ on Jewish terms. So I asked how can I best illustrate how ridiculous a Hannukah Seder shower curtain is and how do I do it in a way that makes the perennial outsiders feel like the insiders for once? The Hanukkah Seder was born,” Zeldin tweeted, and then proceeded to share a series of truly fantastic photos.
First up: Zeldin himself posing in front of the infamous shower curtain.
There needed to be wine and gelt, naturally:
No Hanukkah seder is complete without a lively debate (and a cat):
Soon the party moved to the bath tub (it is a shower curtain, after all).
Now that Zeldin knows how fun a Hanukkah seder can be, he suggests the designer of the shower curtain “not stop at Hanukkah seder. Come out with a seasonal magazine for all the new Jewish holidays. A travel guide for tzom gedaliah. A Shemini Atzeret cookbook. The world is their delightfully traif oyster.”
But Zeldin warns about what could happen if this really catches on. “It’s like when we all said YOLO ironically to make fun of people on the internet until we said it so much that it just became a part of daily speech and now our families are a little concerned for us. You gotta be careful what you wish for. I already adopted the American Jewish minhag for Nittel Nacht of ordering Chinese food and watching Die Hard and as we say for Hanukkah seder, dayenu.”
All I can say is, while it definitely wasn’t their intent, I want to thank Bed Bath & Beyond for bringing so much joy and humor to the Jewish people this Hanukkah season. May all your seders be filled with oil and peace.
All images courtesy of Alex Zeldin.