Ghosts Of Chanukahs Past

Ghosts Of Chanukahs Past

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Judging by the Jewish penchant for parody, nothing is sacred in Western culture. We’ve seen Yiddish translations of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman spoofs of classical music and popular songs and Mel Brooks send-ups of classic film genres.

Now comes Jackie Hoffman’s one-woman show, “A Chanukah Charol,” satirizing Charles Dickens’ iconic Christmas story about an old miser in Victorian Britain who learns a thing or two about the true spirit of the holidays. Directed and co-written by Michael Schiralli, the show opens this Sunday evening and runs for three performances only at New World Stages in Midtown.

Hoffman, who plays the ghoulish Grandma in “The Addams Family” on Broadway, grew up in an Orthodox family in Queens, where she attended Orthodox day schools beginning with the Hebrew Academy of North Queens. After graduating from NYU, she started performing in comedy clubs, ultimately spending eight years with the Second City troupe in Chicago, where she won acclaim for her rubbery face, squawky voice and outrageous Jewish-inflected jokes.

Her cabaret shows in New York, which are an annual mainstay of the holiday season at Joe’s Pub, have included “Scraping the Bottom for Chanukah,” and “Jackie’s Kosher Khristmas.”

In “A Chanukah Charol,” which is inspired by Patrick Stewart’s many performances of the Dickens story in New York and London, Hoffman plays the Scrooge character as a Jewish movie star revisiting her past and struggling with the price of fame. The ghost of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, becomes instead the spirit of Yiddish theater star Molly Picon. Among the other ghosts who visit Scrooge are those of the Jewish movie star Shelley Winters and of a boy with whom Hoffman went to yeshiva. And among the spooky visions that move Hoffman to mend her ways is that of a chasidic boy playing in the snow.

“There’s so much stuff in this show,” Hoffman told The Jewish Week, “that only Jews will get — from the very beginning, when I pretend to be interrupted by the audience during a performance at a temple.” (She storms off the stage, vowing never to do another “synagig.”) Her affinity for Scrooge comes, she said, from the fact that she is a “crabby, curmudgeonly person who, in my Scroogedom, made the choice of my career over Judaism.”

Chanukah, Hoffman said, is ripe for comedy given that it is a “throwaway on the Jewish calendar” that has assumed exaggerated importance because of its proximity to Christmas.

Collaborating with Schiralli, who is Italian, has been a particular pleasure for Hoffman. “He’s got a yiddishe kopf [Jewish sensibility],” she said. “He’s scoring it with klezmer. And he totally gets the Jewish mother thing; he knows to count how many times my mother can say food in one sentence.”

“A Chanukah Charol” runs Dec. 11, 18 and Jan. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St. For tickets, $35-$55, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit

read more: