What Makes a Good Hanukkah Song?

December 10, 2012 at 7:00 am, by

I saw you on a Tuesday at the deli.
Then on Wednesday you were at the bank.
I should’ve asked the digits to your celli.
But my tongue was tied.
My mind just drew a blank.

Thus begins “Jewish Girls (At The Matzoh Ball)” by The LeeVees, a Jewish band formed nearly for the exclusive purpose of recording the Hanukkah album Hanukkah Rocks. (They’ve had no new album since their 2005 debut, but they have played a few shows).

So, what’s the connection between Hanukkah and these lyrics by The LeeVees, headed by Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of The Zambonis (America’s only rock band whose every song is about hockey)? Answer: Absolutely nothing!

But, when creativity strikes and you’ve got the Jews gathered together, how could you resist the urge to create a funny song mocking Jewish stereotypes?

Last week, Michelle Citrin released a new single, “Hanukkah Lovin’.” While the song mentions some familiar cultural references to latkes and such, it has about as much religious depth as “Santa Baby” (of course, written by two Jews, Joan Javits and Philip Springer).

Does a Hanukkah song need religious depth though? After all, “Dreidel, Dreidel” has the religious shallowness of a puddle:

I have a little dreidel.
I made it out of clay.
And, when it’s dry and ready,
Oh, dreidel I shall play!

Do you see the symbolism?

No?

Well, me neither.

Perhaps we can turn to some unusual suspects for finding deeper songs about Hanukkah.

For example, why not Josh Groban‘s cold wintry album Illuminations? After all, Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. In Groban‘s “Higher Window” (“There is a light from a higher window, / Shining down on you tonight”), maybe we can find reference to Hanukkah’s supernal light we hear about in the Hasidic teachings of the Sefat Emet. On “Hidden Away,” can we see a reference to that miracle of the oil that extinguished long after we thought it would? (“You’re a wonder, how bright you shine: / A flickered candle in a short lifetime.”) On “War At Home,” do we hear echoes of Jewish infighting simultaneous with the external fighting against Antiochus IV‘s imposition of Greco-Roman culture?

Being that there are so few deep Hanukkah songs circulated in English-speaking culture, and being that so many of the songs that deal well with the symbolism of the holiday are, at best, subtly “Jewish,” I don’t know where to find good Hanukkah songs.

What songs light up your Hanukkah?

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4 Comments So Far

  1. Nice article. It seems a shame to simply deploy jokes about Jewish stereotypes and pop culture. Personally, I go for Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’.

    Roni Tabick, December 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm #
  2. Fa La Freezing – My First Earthquake
    Holiday Sweaters: The Search for Hipster Santa – My First Earthquake
    Happy Joyous Hanukkah – Indigo Girls
    Hanukkah, O Hanukkah – Bare Naked Ladies
    Hanukkah Blessings – Bare Naked Ladies
    Rock of Ages – Marc Cohn
    Hanukkah Mix 2009 – Idelsohn Society (and everything else by them)
    Latke Flip-Flip -The Klezmatics
    Sevivon Sov, Sov, Sov – Kenny Ellis
    Dreidel – Don McClean
    Hanukkah Dance – Woody Guthrie

    Josh Bloom, December 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm #
  3. I actually own the LeeVees Hanukkah album! But my all-time favorite is still Tom Lehrer’s Chanukah in Santa Monica.

    Betty Ross, December 10, 2012 at 10:12 pm #
  4. The ENTIRE LeeVees “Hanukkah Rocks” album is fantastic. Elements of The Ramones, The Kinks, Xmas song kitsch-y sound, classic Ska, and I could go on. It is high-q music with wicked smart lyrics that will entertain and warm the hearts of kids and grown-ups alike. Plus, they are GREAT in concert. So glad you featured them here. Happy JHanukkah (you have to listen to the album to understand what that (silent) ‘J’ is doing there- and you’ll thank me for it…you’re most welcome)!!

    Vivian Mikhail, December 12, 2012 at 5:09 am #
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