Chag Urim Sameach! Happy Festival of Lights!
Tonight (the 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew year 5757), marks the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (aka Chanukah, Hanukah, or whichever of the 16 different ways you were taught to spell it). For those of you not part of “The Tribe” (that’s what we call ourselves), Hanukkah is a celebration of a small band of Hebrews, the Maccabees, who successfully defended themselves from the mighty Seleucid forces. When the Maccabees later went to light their Temple’s menorah, they gravely discovered the retreating army had contaminated all but one cruse of olive oil. The oil, which should have burnt away in one night, miraculously lasted for eight, providing them enough time to prepare and bless more of the oleaginous, light-giving fuel. It was a very sababa (cool) miracle.
For all the hubbub surrounding it, Hanukkah is admittedly one of our lesser holidays. But it’s proximity to Christmas, it’s general light-heartedness (our other holidays mostly require sitting somberly and not eating for long periods of time), and the Jewish tendency to find any excuse to party, has allowed Hanukkah to become our annual, all-are-welcome, flagship celebration of Hebrew pride. Hanukkah is an opportunity to relax with friends and family, win some gelt in a lively game of dreidel, and exchange gifts around the warming glow of the candled menorah. Of course we picked a holiday lasting eight days and nights to be our unofficial party holiday.
When it comes to great Hanukkah music, though, my semitic brethren often complain to me that we come up short. Sure, Adam Sandler’s pride-inspiring “Chanukah Song” (see below) gets plenty of radio play, but only as a jokey, token inclusion mixed deep within the hours and hours of timeless Christmas classics. After that, there’s the frantic Yiddish melody, “Oh Chanukah” (which always gives me Hebrew school flashback anxiety-sweats), and, finally, the overplayed children’s tune, “The Dreidel Song”. In fact, many of our great Jewish song writers and musicians turned to the greener pastures of Christmas carols, like Irving Berlin, who wrote “White Christmas”, and Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, who both put out complete Christmas albums.
Are we Jews simply doomed to a soundscape of mediocrity for our holiday celebrations?
Of course not! With a lot of digging and a little creativity, we at Nerdist have put together this stellar playlist for your Hanukkah rager. So pop the Manischewitz and invite over your Goyim friends to party like a Maccabee. We kick things off with those Jewish rappers from NYC, the Beastie Boys, asking, “So What’Cha Want [for Hanukkah]”? Next, some surf-rock interpretations of “Hava Nagila” by the legendary Dick Dale and “Oh Hanukkah” by Meshugga Beach Party. Also on the list are a couple tracks from our favorite Hasidic reggae-pop act, Matisyahu: “Happy Hanukkah” and “Miracle”. We’ve also mixed in some relevant country-rock and folk tracks, too, like Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Light One Candle”, and Don McLean’s “Dreidel”.
To slow things down, we’ve sprinkled in some sweet, quieter tracks, like The Living Sister’s “Hanukkah”, Indigo Girl’s “Happy Joyous Hanukkah”, and Kinky Friedman’s “Ride ‘Em Jewboy” (Sidenote: Kinky Friedman is a fantastically weird Jewish country singer who regularly runs for office in Texas, with campaign slogans like, “He ain’t Kinky; he’s my governor!”). There are two versions of “Rock of Ages”, one by Ben Kweller and the other by Sufjan Stevens. They Might Be Giants and Bare Naked Ladies both make appearances. If you’re looking for a more swinging, retro-holiday sound, we have included some Kenny Ellis, and Pink Martini’s “Ocho Kandelikas” to scratch your bossa nova itch.
We’ve also sampled from a handful of talented gimmick bands fully dedicated to Jewish-themed tracks. The LeeVees explore some of the more nuanced charms of the season, like retired parents moving to Florida in “At The Timeshare”. The Macaroons (a spin-off of The LeeVees, actually) put a spin on “The Dreidel Song” with the twangy “Dreidel Bird.” There’s a Hebrew rap version of “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” by Erran Baron Cohen and company. And, for good variety, Gods of Fire, a Jewish metal band, wails about the holiday’s ubiquitous chocolate coins in “No Gelt, No Glory”. While Sarah Silverman’s humorous “Give the Jew Girl Toys” made the cut, I had to draw the line at Frank Zappa’s wildly indecent “Jewish Princess.”
We took a few interpretative liberties with many of the remaining inclusions. Half-Jewish Drake’s “Worst Behavior” gets in for the line: “Bar mitzvah money like my last name Mordecai.” Kanye’s on here, too, for “All Of The Lights” (See what we did there?). In the same vein, Passion Pit for “Eyes As Candles”, REO Speedwagon for “Keep The Fire Burnin'”, and the apropos LIGHTS for her apropos track, “Oil and Water.” Billy Preston’s organ cover of the Beatles‘ “Eight Days a Week” feels particularly in the spirit. Finally, Maroon 5’s “One More Night” marks the end of our eight night soundtrack. Of course, this is just a starter list that, with your help, we would love to keep building. Like the oil in that miraculous menorah, let’s see how long we can drag this playlist out. Let us know what songs you would add to our list in the comments below!
Happy Hanukkah and L’Chaim!
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