Hanukkah Singing

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Worldwide, we have a lot of holidays.

One that is being celebrated just about everywhere this month is the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah).

Lady Pennywhistle and I have undertaken to explain a bit about it in a three-part series. This is part two.

If you're planning to celebrate by lighting the menorah, Hanukkah this year falls on 20-28 December. If you'd just like to know more about it, InterfaithFamily.com has lots of information1.

In the interest of full disclosure, and to let you know where we're coming from: Lady Pennywhistle is Israeli. I am not Jewish, but I speak Yiddish and know a fair amount about US Jewish culture.

This week, we're going to talk about... – DG

Hanukkah Singing

Hanukkah dreydl.

How do you celebrate Hanukkah? First of all, you need a menorah. A menorah can be elaborate or simple. It is an eight-branched candelabrum with a separate holder for the Shamash – the candle used to light the others. On each night of Hanukkah (at sundown), an additional candle is lit and blessings are said.

Sung, really. The blessings are in Hebrew. The first blessing of the night goes like this:

Borukh Ato Adoynoy Eloyheynu Melekh Ho-oylom Asher Kiddeshonu Be-mitsvoysov Ve-tsivonu Lehadlik Neyr Shel khanuko.
Translation:: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

If you go to this site, you can hear a boy singing the blessings.

The lights should be visible from the street, so that you are sharing the story of the miracle with the outside world. Once you've lit the candles, you can play dreydl, eat fried foods, and sing Hanukkah songs. What language you use, and what kinds of songs you sing, depends on where you're from, or where you live now.

An Israeli Song from Lady Pennywhistle

In Israel, songs often emphasise the military-victory aspect of the story. A good example of the new, Zionistic, underdog-victory songs is 'Anu Nos'im Lapidim' ('We Carry Torches'). The lyrics actually include the phrase 'No miracle happened to us'. It's all about marching in the darkness to bring light, and working, and coming together.

Anu nos'im lapidim

Be-leylot afelim

Zorkhim ha-shvilim

Mi-takhat ragleynu

U-mi asher lev

lo ha-tzame le-or

Yissa et eynav

ve-libo eleynu



Nes lo kara lanu

Pakh shemen lo matzanu

La-emek halakhnu

Ha-hara alinu

Ma'ynot ha-orot

ha-gnuzim gilinu

Nes lo kara lanu

Pakh shemen lo matzanu

Ba-sela khatzavnu ad dam

Va-yehi or!

We carry torches

On dark nights

The paths are glowing

Under our feet

And anyone who has a heart

that thirsts for light

Shall lift his eyes

and his heart to us

To the light

And shall come!

No miracle happened to us

We found no jug of oil

We walked to the valley

We climbed the mountain

We found the hidden springs of lights

[Or: We found the springs of hidden lights]

No miracle happened to us

We found no jug of oil

We dug in the rock till we bled

And there was light!

The song – 'Banu Khoshekh Legaresh', ('We Come to Banish the Darkness') is similar, but more kid-oriented, and actually has a mention of dreydls (in the verses nobody ever sings).

Diaspora Music from Dmitri

Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors lived in Spain, sing Hanukkah songs in djudezmo, a language that comes from Spanish, and Ashkenazi Jews, those whose ancestors come from Central and Eastern Europe, sing in Yiddish, a fusion language derived from Hebrew and Middle High German. A popular Yiddish song is 'In dem templ', to the tune of 'Dona, Dona':

In dem templ, zukht men beyml

Beyml reyn tzu tzindn lekht

Dan gefint men, nor a bisl,

Vos es brent

un brent akht nekht.

Khaneke iz a yontev,

a yontev fun a nes

Kum-zhe esn latkes,

zing un nit farges.

Dona, dona, dona, dona,

Dona, dona, dona, don.

In the temple, they seek oil

Pure oil just to light the lights

Then they find some, just a little,

Which then burns

and burns eight nights.

Hanukkah is a holiday,

a holiday about a miracle

Come and eat some latkes,

sing and don't forget

Dona dona dona dona dona

Dona dona don.
Tune: Dona, Dona

Ashkenazi tradition also gives us hymns. The popular 19th-century hymn 'Rock of Ages' can be sung in English (and is sometimes sung in Christian churches, too):

Rock of Ages, let our song
Praise Thy saving power;
Thou, amidst the raging foes,
Wast our sheltering tower.
Furious they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us,
And Thy Word
Broke their sword
When our own strength failed us.
– 'Rock of Ages', English words by Marcus Jastrow.

So sing, enjoy! Next week we'll do recipes, and you can eat until you plotz.

The Post General Features Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

Lady Pennywhistle

12.12.11 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1And is approved by Lady Pennywhistle, who didn't like the Lubavicher site. We are not endorsing any particular flavour of religious practice here, merely trying to share the lore.

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