Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuneful Tuesday: Nine Songs for Chanukah

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah, and I've been making and eating potato latkes (actually, sweet potato and potato latkes). Since I'm not, after all, Jewish, I don't light candles or sing the blessings, but I do like to listen to some Chanukah songs and eat latkes at this time of year. So, here are nine Chanukah songs: one for each night of the holiday and one for the shammes, the candle that lights the others.

1. Chanukah, Oy Chanukah -- Traditional -- Western Wind. This was the first Chanukah song I ever learned, and probably the first I ever heard of Chanukah. It was in fifth grade at Point Beach School in Milford, CT, and in those days we learned Christmas songs in public school, and Chanukah songs too, at least in my school. So we learned an English version of this song, and probably sang it at some kind of program. Many years later, Onkel Hankie Pants got to sing it on stage, when he played the role of Mr. Dussell in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Minneapolis Jewish Community Center. I like this Yiddish version better than any of the English translations.

2. Hanukkah Blessings -- Steven Page -- Barenaked Ladies. This is a relatively new song, by the guitarist and founding member of the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies. I find it almost too heart-warming. It also addresses the difficulties of maintaining a Jewish identity in the midst of "the jingle bells and the toys, and the TV shows and the noise" of the cultural Christmas celebration.

3. Light One Candle -- Peter Yarrow -- Peter, Paul and Mary and the New York Choral Society. From the quintessential 60s folk group, a quintessential 60s Chanukah song that exhorts us, "Don't let the light go out!" As an old 60s person myself, I think we need songs like this more than ever.

4. Maoz Tzur -- Traditional -- Western Wind. This is a Chanukah hymn:
Rock of Ages, let our song
Praise Thy saving power.
Thou, amidst the raging throng
Wast our shelt'ring tower.
Furious they assailed us
But Thine arm availed us
And Thy word
Broke their sword
When our own strength failed us.

5. Al Hanissim -- Traditional -- Zamir Chorale of Boston. A prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance, said on Purim and, with additional words about the Maccabees, on Chanukah. It's mentioned in the earlier song, Chanukah, Oy Chanukah when they sing "singt Alhanissim".

6. Hanerot Hallelu -- Traditional -- Priscilla Herdman, Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen. This traditional chant, mentioned in the Talmud, explains that the sole purpose of the Chanukah lights is to remember and publicize the miracle of Chanukah, and therefore they are not to be used for any purpose other than to be looked at and enjoyed. The trio of Herdman, Hills and Mangsen is one of my favorites for their beautiful harmonies.

7. Chanukah Chase -- Unknown -- Magpie. I suspect this may be a contemporary song. The duo who recorded it here say only that they learned it from their good friends The Short Sisters. It doesn't have a lot of substance, but it's a very pretty tune and I like the image of the candlelight on the snow.

8. I Have a Little Dreydel -- Attr. to Michael Gelbart -- Zamir Chorale of Boston. Here's the one all our kids learned in nursery school. This version will put nursery school right out of your head! According to the liner notes, the band Tayku was the first to do this rock'n'roll version.

9. Bashanah Haba'ah -- Nurit Hirsh -- Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus. This isn't specifically a Chanukah song. The Hebrew words talk of "next year" when we will sit on the porch, grapes will ripen, everything will be peaceful. They remind me of the prophecy of Micah: "They shall sit every man under his own vine and his own fig tree, and none shall make them afraid." In recent years, new English words have become popular, which seem to look to a time of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. May it be so!

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