Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Hanukkah

I would like to wish one and all a happy Hanukkah. Even if it is not your holiday, I wish you the joy of the season. I was raised in a secular Jewish household. That may sound strange, but it ties in with one of my selections. So fear not, all will be explained. In this post, I will share what Hanukkah means to me. And I have some fine music to help.

Marc Cohn: Rock of Ages (Maoz Tsur)


Jewish holidays always open with a prayer. Rock of Ages is a traditional one for Hanukkah. Marc Cohn, best known for Walking in Memphis, offers a wonderful version.

Emily Kurn: Light the Lamp


Thanks to Susan for this song. She mentioned it last year in response to the first post I ever put up on Oliver di Place, and this year she sent it to me.

Emily Kurn, like me, is a non-religious Jew. But, like me, she observes Hanukkah and, I assume, Passover. How can this be? More to the point, why? Judaism is more than a religion. Some of us feel it primarily as an identity. These days, we can talk of having lost someone “in the camps”, and nothing more needs to be said. Those victims lost their lives, even if they were not religious. Hanukkah, on its surface, is about the freedom to practice religion, but there is more. There is a sense of heritage, of family, and of connectedness. Kurn captures this idea perfectly. Thank you again, Susan, for this song.

The LeeVees: Nun Gimmel Heh Shin


The story is told that the Greeks had forbidden the practice of Judaism. The Jews hid in caves to study Torah, and posted lookouts. Whenever the Greeks came, the Jews would quickly hide their Torahs, and take out their tops and pretend that they had been gambling. This is why the tops, called dreydls, are part of the Hanukkah tradition. Nun, gimmel, heh, and shin are the Hebrew letters on the four sides of the dreydl.

The LeeVees were started by Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis.

Joan Baez: Dona Dona


Dona Dona is a traditional Yiddish song, here rendered in English. The song tells us that freedom must be an attitude before it can produce action. This is a theme that runs through many of the Jewish holidays. You must believe in your freedom before you can achieve it. At Hanukkah, this is related to the belief that the Maccabees could prevail against the Greeks, despite the odds. This belief, and the miracle that sustained it, made the victory possible.

Tom Lehrer: (I‘m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica

[I am unable to find purchase information for this one. If anyone knows what album this is from, please leave a comment. Thank you.]

This last selection has no profound meaning. In the end, Hanukkah is a celebration, an occasion for joy, and a little silliness is not out of place.


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