Divrei Shir: Hanukkah – Words of Song for Hanukkah: Tis the Season? Searching for Our Authentic Hanukkah Music Tradition

By: Cantor David Reinwald

[Note: Many of the music links in this article use Spotify to play the tracks.  Please download Spotify for free at www.spotify.com  If you haven’t tried it yet, it will rock your world!]

This is the time of year where it is easy to feel a little bit out of sync with all of the holiday festivities surrounding us.  This is especially so when you walk into any store, café, restaurant, etc where the Christmas music is being played loud, surrounded by the glitz of Christmas decorations.  It is hard to escape.  This isn’t to say that it can’t be enjoyable.  I do think that Christmas lights are incredibly pretty (although I must add the reflection of Christmas lights on snow and ice is one essential element for me as a Chicagoan!) and that there are some really gorgeous melodies amongst Christmas music.

So, where is our “We Wish You a Happy Hanukkah?” and our “Tis the Season for Making Latkes” . . .  Fa la la la la, la oy oy oy?

Let me begin by saying that Jewish music has often had a certain element in its style that has offset it from other outside styles of music.  Then, as it continued to develop alongside the continuing secularization of the Jewish community, it began to incorporate outside styles as its own more and more.  Traditional Hanukkah music has held onto it’s “Jewishness” for the most part.  The song “S’vivon Sov Sov Sov” Debbie Friedman – S’vivon is a typical Jewish song in a minor key, yet demonstrates that Jewish songs in minor keys can defy the expectation that a minor key sets only a somber, downtrodden mood.  Nope, you can sing an upbeat, danceable melody like “S’vivon” and remain in a minor key!  Much has been said about the history of the tradition song “Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages).” Zamir Chorale Of Boston – Maoz Tzur – Traditional  Whereas, the melody is seen as perhaps the best known song for Hanukkah, and just one of several melodies for the text, it’s most popular melody is likely derived from a Protestant German Hymn (read more of the song’s history here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/At_Home/Candlelighting/Maoz_Tzur.shtml

There actually are a lot of songs for Hanukkah.  Well, the amount does pale in comparison to the collection of Christmas music, but Hanukkah music has never really claimed a spot in the commercial spotlight.  Because of its lesser marketability, this may account for the fact that Hanukkah songs are not trying to fit into the stylistic category of ‘standards’ songs that naturally define so many of the Christmas favorites.  Hanukkah songs fall into three main categories: songs about light, bravery (of the Maccabees), and fun things like dreidels and food (well, maybe just latkes!).  In a response to the feeling that there weren’t any real great folk songs for Hanukkah, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary wrote one of the most quintessential songs for Hanukkah in 1983.  To this day, “Light One Candle” (Peter, Paul and Mary – Light One Candle) remains one of my favorite Jewish songs of all to sing.

Hanukkah music, today, is finding itself in a place where the sky’s the limit for its creativity.  Think beyond just Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song (which I’ll argue really isn’t a song focused on Hanukkah, anyway!), and you can experience another of my favorites in the Sephardic tango of Ocho Kandelikas (actually written by a modern composer and singer from Bosnia, Flory Jagoda).  The song has found itself as a new modern classic, and even has ended up on the equal opportunity holiday album by the jazz combo Pink Martini.  Hear it here: Pink Martini – Ocho Kandelikas

While I tend to favor original music over borrowed parodies, I have found myself in that camp recently.  Last year’s biggest Hanukkah hit was none other than one of these parodies—a rewritten cover by the Yeshiva University a cappella group The Maccabeats of the Taio Cruz dance hit “Dynamite” now retitled “Candlelight” (and we literally could not get our students to stop singing this even way after Hanukkah had passed!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSJCSR4MuhU

And so, I won’t break the mold, as I leave you with my newest addition to this faux “genre.”  Sing along with my new lyrics for Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.”  I call it “Light the Lights (Shout It Out!)”

My parody cover: http://soundcloud.com/davidreinwald/light-the-lights-shout-it-out

Original Song: P!nk – Raise Your Glass

Light the Lights (Shout it Out!)

 Sha-lom, this is my song
I’ll make it short, not too long
Sing out, loud and strong

Hanukkah’s on its way
I mean it’s happenin’ now, it’s here to stay
Light the candles, y’all

Shames candle, lights the others
Light them bright, light your menorah
Tell your sister, Tell your brother
Happy Hanukkah!

We’ll light the lights tonight my friend
And for eight nights, light them all again
And we will celebrate, celebrate
Maccabees who won
Every battle, they fought on and on.
So just shout it out, shout it out!
Hap-py Han-u-kah!
So just shout it out, shout it out!
Hap-py Han-u-kah!

Latke, latke, pile them up now
Tasty when they’re hot, you gotta eat ‘em up with
Sour cream or applesauce!

Spin your dreidle round and round
You’ll win lots of gelt, it’s lots of fun
Chocolate’s on the house.

Hanukkah’s the 25th of Kislev
We’ll get together in December
Tell your father, Tell your mother
Happy Hanukkah


Spoken: Oh, shoot!  I forgot to buy candles for my menorah.

Even if you’re too cool for shul,
Take some potatoes and some oil,
Fry them up and make it right—
Have a happy night.


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