December 3rd, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Hanukkah video helps Jews sing new tune

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Face it: Good Hanukkah songs are hard to come by.

For decades, school children performing in holiday concerts have droned on about that dreidel, dreidel, dreidel they've made out of clay. That showstopper (and please don't let this be a reader stopper) goes like this:

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

I, for one, have never seen a child make a dreidel out of clay, let alone wait for it to dry so he or she can play, but that's not the issue here.

The point is this pervasive song is a sorry answer to the melodies filling our malls this time of year - the Christmas carols which, by the way, were often composed by Jews.

That's right. Irving Berlin brought us "White Christmas," Johnny Marks gave us many seasonal hits including "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas," and "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" came courtesy of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. Oh, and don’t forget Mel Tormé's "The Christmas Song" - the one about chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

But Hanukkah songs we can be proud of? These musical geniuses gave Jews bubkes. That would be Yiddish for nothing.

In recent years, comedian Adam Sandler has brought Jews light amid the Hanukkah music darkness. And partnering up last year with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg to pen "Eight Days of Hanukkah," was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) - a devout Mormon known to wear around his neck a mezuzah, an encased Jewish prayer scroll.

Matisyahu, a Hasidic reggae and hip-hop artist, just released "Miracle," his contribution to the dearth of Hanukkah song options. In an essay he wrote this week for NPR, he said:

Jewish musicians might feel more inclined to make Hanukkah music if they knew that someone would actually want to listen to it. Until the holiday music market shows it can support Hanukkah songs, it's highly unlikely that we will ever hear Jewish holiday music at the mall, or a gas station, or the DMV, or on every radio station that Santa currently rules.

Now, making its viral video and international debut, we have the Maccabeats.

Out of New York's Yeshiva University, this 14-member a cappella group introduced just this week, "Candlelight," a music video that parodies Taio Cruz's "Dynamite," and specifically Mike Tompkins' rendition of the song.

The song educates listeners about the story of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, an eight-day holiday which started Wednesday night. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt and the menorah (candelabrum) that stayed aglow for eight days, despite a lack of oil.

But the song's chorus also invokes some of the symbols and customs associated with the holiday, including the traditional potato pancake (latke) Jews eat during Hanukkah and that spinning top, the dreidel - again, not made out of clay.

I flip my latkes in the air sometimes,
Sayin' ayy ohh, spin the dreidel.
Just wanna celebrate for all eight nights,
Singin' ayy ohh, light the candles.

More than 815,000 YouTube viewers , as of early Friday morning, have tuned into the video since it posted. TV shows are calling. Emails are filling the group's inbox. Requests for appearances are coming in from across the country, including California, Florida and Ohio. People want to know what the Maccabeats' performance rates are.

Watch other viral holiday videos

Granted the goal was to go viral and market the group that was formed in 2007, but that hasn't made the attention any less overwhelming, said Julian Horowitz, 23, a recent graduate of Yeshiva University who serves as the group's musical director.

The online sensation took four days to shoot and three weeks to edit, according to Uri Westrich, 25, who directed and edited the piece. By releasing this song and video, the Maccabeats hope to give Jews a new Hanukkah tune and attitude.

"Around this time of year, it's sort of depressing being a Jew in America, walking around hearing Christmas music," said Horowitz, who at one point can be seen dancing the Macarena in the upper right-hand corner of the video. "We've provided an alternative."

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Holidays • Judaism • Music • Technology

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