How do you spell “Hanukkah?,” musing on made-for-TV movies

A photo of Matisyahu from his Twitter feed showing new ‘do.

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Musings of a made-for-TV holiday movie junkie

I have a confession – I am a sucker for bad, as in cheesy and totally predictable, holiday movies.

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I’m not talking classics such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” or “Holiday Inn,” though I adore all three. My guilty pleasure is the made-for-TV variety; more to the point, made for the Lifetime and Hallmark channels.

Nothing says holiday season better than propping myself up in bed, pulling a blanket to my chin and vegging out with one of these mindless affairs. My husband and kids have taken to calling me “Grandma Wonka.”

As an aficionado of holiday-theme, TV movies, I’ve noticed that several feature B-level Jewish actors, including Judd Nelson (“Cancel Christmas”), Tom Arnold (“Moonlight & Mistletoe”), Marla Sokoloff (“Christmas in Boston”), Jennifer Grey (“The Road to Christmas”) and Melissa Gilbert (“The Christmas Pageant”). Henry Winkler has practically built a post-Fonzie career in these gems. His turn in “One Christmas,” based on a Truman Capote short story, practically screams Oscar compared to his more recent forays, “Merry Christmas Drake & Josh” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” currently airing on the Hallmark channel.

That’s the other thing about these seasonal movies: They are played and replayed and then shown again, and return Christmas after Christmas. Kind of like fruitcake.

Although it was made for TV in 2003, I recently caught nice Jewish girl Jami Gertz in her holiday ditty, “Undercover Christmas.” She stars as a trampy waitress who is about to turn state’s evidence against an unsavory former boyfriend. To protect her, a FBI agent hides her at his family’s home during Christmas, where his disapproving parents assume she is his girlfriend. In a Cinderella-like turn, Gertz’s character gets dolled up for the family’s Christmas Eve party. Before you can say “live happily ever after,” she and the agent are doing just that. What’s not to like?

My absolute favorite of the bunch is “Comfort and Joy,” starring Nancy McKeon. While there’s no overt Jewish connection, McKeon did star in “Facts of Life” with Charlotte Rae, who is Jewish. I don’t want to go all Kevin Bacon, six degrees of separation on you, except to say that he’s married to Kyra Sedgwick, who considers herself Jewish, though near as I can tell she hasn’t yet made a made-for TV holiday movie. Then again, there’s always next year.

A holiday by any other spelling…

On the subject of seasonal holidays, what’s the correct spelling of Hanukkah? At the Jewish Light, we follow Associated Press style, which spells “Hanukkah,” H-a-n-u-k-k-a-h. However, according to several websites, there are at least 16 ways to spell the Jewish holiday, including Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hannukah, Chanuka, Chanukkah, Hanuka, Channukah, Chanukka, Hanukka, Hannuka, Hannukkah, Channuka, Xanuka, Hannukka, Channukkah, Channukka and Chanuqa.

Part of the reason for the many spellings probably comes from the fact there is no exact English translation of the Hebrew word for Hanukkah. Regardless, it’s an age-old debate that has inspired books including, “How to Spell Chanukah and Other Holiday Dilemmas,” an anthology of essays by 18 Jewish writers, and the song “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” by The Leevees.

I suppose there is no quintessential right way, though as “Fake AP Stylebook” recently posted on Facebook: “Honestly, you could spell Hanukkah with a ‘D’ and no one would blink.”

This just in . . .

American-born Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu posted a Twitter message to his million-plus followers Tuesday morning revealing himself clean-shaven. He then explained on his website: “No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me… no alias. When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality-not through books but through real life… I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules-lots of them-or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself.”

Still, he added: “Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry… you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.”

Diet for a cause

As part of its “Lose for Good” campaign, Weight Watchers at Heritage Place in Creve Coeur is contributing a pound of food for every pound members lose to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. So far, this local chapter has lost 3,973 pounds and collected just under 4,000 pounds of food. Nationally, the “Lose for Good” campaign benefits two global issues, hunger and obesity. Weight Watchers will donate up to a million dollars to organizations fighting hunger.

And last but not least

Join us at the Light in doing a happy dance to welcome back longtime columnist Lois Caplan after a six-month hiatus. It took a long time for Lois to recover from a bad fall in June, but we are so pleased she has and look forward to Kibbitzing with Caplan (page 11A) as often as possible.