Ever wonder what a Disney Hanukkah movie might look like — a take-off of the usual Christmas movie? Minnie Mouse is in the kitchen making latkes, symbolizing the miracle of the menorah’s oil remaining lit for eight days straight. Mickey and Goofy spin a dreidel, each hoping to win a stash of chocolate gelt. Goofy wonders why the chocolates are shaped like coins, and Mickey explains that they remind us to give to those in need. The two of them decide to donate some money to charity after their game. Meanwhile, Donald Duck tells his nephews about the Maccabee warriors, and their strength in standing up against the forced assimilation by the Greeks. Each part of the scene highlights a piece of the holiday’s history.
That’s the point of traditions on holidays – they tell stories.
As Jews, we especially love telling our stories through food. So when Disney World announced they’ll be opening a booth with “Jewish fare” as part of this winter’s Holiday Kitchens at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, I was looking forward to seasonal favorites such as latkes and sufganiyot, and possibly some cheese blintzes for Judith, too.
Instead, they’re simply offering a few New York deli dishes, such as pastrami on rye and black and white cookies. This does Hanukkah no justice.
Let’s get this straight: I love deli food more than anyone. But nothing disappoints me nearly as much as promoting deli food as the paragon of the Jewish American experience. And using it as a symbol of Hanukkah only adds insult to injury, since the two are no further correlated than McDonald’s to a Christmas celebration. Disney could swap out the potato knish for some latkes, provide some jelly donuts and dreidel-shaped cookies, or even include some fried dishes from around the world to fit their international theme.
Lack of Hanukkah theme aside, however, the booth still fails. The French and Italian stations serve some fancy-sounding wines — yet the Jews get an anonymous “blue Cosmo cocktail.”? Why is half of the Mexican menu written in Spanish, while the only Yiddish we got was “knish”? If their goal was to educate patrons on worldly cultures, why isn’t our booth as vibrant as the others’ – and why are Ashkenazim the only segment gastronomically represented?
Additionally, what does this deli stand tell us about the state of American Judaism in the first place? When sour cream is being served at the same booth as pastrami, a significant percentage of kosher-observant Jews are automatically alienated from the table. (It’s bad enough that some Jewish organizations, and modern delicatessens, don’t accommodate our kosher-keeping members of the tribe.) When Disney is doing the same, it means that their commitment to inclusion and unity is token at best.
Disney has the resources to fit their magic to people’s needs. They offer substantial vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free menu options in their parks, and even provide portable kennels for service animals.
Why not make their one explicitly Jewish-themed celebration kosher? Why not actually include Hanukkah-related foods, rather than foods out of a Jewish caricature?
An ostensibly Jewish-themed space should represent and accommodate all Jews. Even in — and especially — “the happiest place on Earth.”