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

soundoff (293 Responses)
  1. ceai verde, green tea, oolong tea, wulong tea, white tea, black tea

    Wonderful beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a weblog website? The account aided me a applicable deal. I had been tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast provided bright transparent idea

    April 8, 2012 at 6:39 am |
  2. amjp

    "A Hanukkah song we can be proud of"? What about Debbie Friedman's "Not by Might, and Not by Power"?

    December 26, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  3. Billi Huyard

    lol Twitter must be outperforming other social websites

    July 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  4. religion.blogs.cnn.com

    Hanukkah video helps jews sing new tune.. Awesome 🙂

    April 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  5. Diane

    I enjoyed all the Hanukkah songs on this website. I have read the story of Judas Machabees (Maccabees) many times in the Catholic Bible. As a Catholic Christian, yes, my God was a Jewish carpenter who was descended from King David and was resurrected after death. I do believe He was and is the Jewish Messiah. Never-the-less, I say to all you young people, whether Jewish or Christian, keep the Commandments.as best you know how to do and stay away from abortion. It kills both Jews and Christians, more so than those killed in many wars. It is a child in the womb not a choice. Dont't do anything that will make you want to make that "choice". Live pure lives, so you don't have to even consider that choice. Shalom.

    December 12, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  6. Kris

    This song is great: http://www.youtube.com//watch?v=B6VMui_Zyl4

    December 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  7. Elena

    This one's the best!

    December 7, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  8. Preacher's Wife

    All religions work for those who practice them (or don't, in the case of atheism). I'm married to a pastor and my daughter's dad is Jewish, plus one of my closest friends is an observant Muslim. Add to that the various Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, agnostic, and atheists, etc. in my life and I say, "Singe and celebrate it all!" Irving Berlin, who wrote "White Christmas?" HELLO! He was a Jew.

    Stop bickering and insisting that YOUR way is the only way. I sure don't, and I'm a follower of Jesus. In the meantime, listen to a song that knocked my socks off!! What a soulful song. !http://www.youtube.com//watch?v=B6VMui_Zyl4

    December 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  9. Tanya

    The great success of the secular Jewish culture, be it Hollywood movies, Broadway shows, literature, lyrics, arts or music, only proves the value of exposure to various cultures and the value of long-term suffering in the creative process. The greatest works of art are always those that depict laughing beneath tears and overcoming of obstacles through perseverance.

    December 6, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Apple12

      Thank you for being one of the people who get how secular ALL Jews are! We've always been so creative to escape or survive obstecals. Here are some of my favorites:

      Freak out Egyptians
      Marry Persian king
      Invent communism ( yeah.... It's a brilliant idea, when ur a group of 3 people)
      Create hollywood
      Not get bored easily
      Be smart

      Do things in a sneaky way
      Overhear conversations

      April 2, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  10. dan

    I sure hope at least one person clicked on whatever YouTube video this is, to make the person who's been spamming it throughout the entire thread happy. http://www.youtube.com//watch?v=B6VMui_Zyl

    I agree that we just don't truly understand each others' nuances and true meaning on comment boards. Like that guy who said, "Mein Fuhrer might have been on to something." Totally misunderstood, I'm sure.

    December 6, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  11. me

    Wow, Maccabeats! You put out another song and spark a massive political, religious debate! Bet you weren't banking on that...
    I love comments. Everyone is severely misunderstood due to the fact that words never have the same clarity as words/voice tone/body language etc and yet they're taken quite seriously.
    Ahhh, freedom of speech! Thanks for the entertainment...:)
    But anyway, great song, great holiday, great country...who cares that everyone has a different opinion? The world would be pretty boring if we didn't.

    December 5, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  12. Hope

    No thanks! I'll stick with Marty Goetz's beautiful presentations!

    December 5, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  13. Robert II of Navarre

    come see the lights
    eight days and nights
    we will remember on hannukah

    from days of old
    stories are told
    we will remember on hannukah

    in the ancient days of Israel
    only one cup of oil for light
    but there was a mighty miracle
    it burned on for eight days and nights

    December 4, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  14. prophet

    Dear 'reality',

    your a very misled unfortunate individual and a lot of people are praying for you as you are propagating deceit and that is unlawful, you speak against God, turn and repent because God wants to help you.

    as for the person who seems to think that islam is about giving their will to their god, they are misled to, as this person said that Adam gave his will to God but he didn't this is why he and Eve had all the problems, so this person who wrote this is clearly misled by those who taught this person.

    The Jews are a Nation and no other can say this, and the others are a people and decend from Abraham but their religion doesn't and i wrote this to put this right. There is no connection between Abraham and His Teachings and islam

    December 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving Muslims is quite easy!!!

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      December 5, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  15. Sharon

    I am a Christian and totally love this song!!!!! It is a catchy tune and tells the story. Even my teenagers love it!!!

    December 4, 2010 at 11:16 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.