With Hanukkah approaching I'd offer you a sample of some of my favorite songs of the holiday. I will say outright I have certain, stringent standards for my personal Hanukkah playlists: no kitschy songs about dreidels made of clay, no dreadful pseudo-hipster tunes and absolutely, positively no Adam Sandler.
Actually, there really is a rich tradition of beautiful Hanukkah songs beyond "I Have a Little Dreidel" that deserve a wider exposure to American Jews. Here's a taste of some of my favorites - I hope you enjoy them!
• "Hanukia" by Kat Parra and the Sephardic Music Experience. While many are familiar with "Ocho Candelikas" by Flory Jagoda, it feels to me as if this song is becoming the "token Ladino song" typically sung at Hanukkah gatherings. Of course there are many other great Ladino Hanukkah songs and this is one of them. Parra's version has a pretty awesome salsa vibe. Here's a more traditional version of the same song, sung by the late Judy Frankel.
• "Maoz Tzur" by Pharoah's Daughter. The most well known version of this Hanukkah hymn is based on a 15th century German folk song. But there are many others, like this original setting by one of my favorite contemporary Jewish-American musical groups. Another beautiful version is this Italian melody, sung here by the Canadian-Jewish group, Tzimmes.
• "O Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh" by the Klezmer Conservatory Band. This is one of the rare mournful Hanukkah songs. The words come from a Yiddish poem by Morris Rosenfeld, one of the great radical Jewish-American "sweatshop poets" who wrote poems about the working conditions faced by workers in New York at the turn of the century. In this poem, a sweatshop worker gazes at the Hanukkah candles and dreams of liberation as in days of old.
• "Happy Joyous Hanukkah" by the Indigo Girls. Several years ago, the Klezmatics released an album of Hanukkah songs written by American folk legend Woody Guthrie. While Guthrie wasn't Jewish, his wife Marjorie Mazia Greenblatt was - and he was well acquainted with Jewish life. His Hanukkah songs were largely unknown until they were discovered in the Guthrie music archives by daughter Nora, who gave them to the Klezmatics to record. They've since been covered by a number of other artists. I'm particularly partial to this one - as well as this version of Guthrie's "Hanukkah Dance" by the Watkins Family Hour.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah,
Rabbi Brant Rosen