Let’s be honest: This year, Hanukkah finds us living in a world that doesn't offer the Jewish people (or the rest of the world, for that matter) much reason for wholehearted celebration.
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Perhaps in the darkness of terror, violence, the loss of hundreds of innocent lives and no sign of things improving anytime soon, it’s more important than ever to appreciate light where we can find it, even if it’s merely a flickering Hanukkah candle.
But still, the atmosphere doesn’t exactly leave one in the mood to view the traditional Hanukkah video offerings from the Jewish music crowd, namely a boy-band-with-yarmulkes strutting around the streets of the Upper West Side, exulting in song God’s blessings and being a better person, to the tune of that particular year’s viral pop hit. We’ve gotten several of those from the Maccabeats in past Hanukkah seasons.
Thankfully, whether it’s because they were feeling quirky or wanted to keep their budget down and decided to limit filming to a single kitchen, the Maccabeats' offering this year isn’t about the light but about something that can offer more substantial and genuine comfort — food.
Their video this year, "Latke Recipe," is set to the tune of Walk the Moon’s hit “Shut Up and Dance” and has pretty straightforward lyrics — literally a recipe for the crunchy potato pancakes that make the holiday worthwhile.
Two other big 2015 hits also received the full-on Hannukah parody treatment. One was unusual in that it was a relatively downbeat ballad - not the typical cheery holiday fare. But since “Hello” is the biggest smash of the winter season, turning it into "Shalom" was probably inevitable. The performer, Ari Blau, however could use some voice lessons the next time he tries to take on a vocal powerhouse like Adele.
On the cheerier front, the cappella yeshiva boy band Six13 can always be counted on to make the funkiest audience-pleasing choice delivered in the goofiest manner possible (they did, after all, bring us Uptown Passover with “don’t be slavin’ just nosh” last spring)
For Hannukah they took on the big dance hit of the past year with “Watch Me Spin” - except, instead of “nae-nae” they added “drei-drei” (as in dreidel, get it?)
But if you are seriously looking to forget the troubles of the world and latkes or Top40 hits won’t do it for you, one of the edgiest Hanukkah videos we’ve seen has hit the Internet. It’s actually not an entertainment video, but a product demonstration. The product in question is a very different kind of candelabra for the holiday — a menorah bong — designed not for lighting candles but for lighting up marijuana (“A miracle! The stash lasted for eight days and eight nights?!”) A look at the date of the video shows that it was actually published last year, but came so late in the season that it managed to go unnoticed and the spotlight has only landed on it this year — so much so that the menorah bong appears to have sold out, despite its hefty price tag of $699.
If there is still a way to tolerate a cutesy classic Hanukkah shtick this year, it’s through children — because even if the adults aren’t feeling so happy, shouldn’t the small folks have a chance to experience full-on joy and celebration? The video “We Love Chanukah” features “The Caps Band,” three very adorable ultra-Orthodox yeshiva kiddies — all boys naturally — rocking out on guitar, keyboards and drums, the modern instruments contrasting with their black velvet kippot, tzitzit, and in one case, side-curls.
The melody and lyrics are pretty simplistic:
We love lightin’ the candles
We love spinnin’ the dreidel
We love latkes too
But hey — they play and sing very well for ten-year-olds, and they get credit for actually playing instruments, writing their own tune and not jumping aboard some Top 40s hit, and bless them, sparing us Maccabeats-style “One Direction”-inspired choreography and breakdancing.
Laughing always helps take one’s mind off troubles, and another video offering this year is a comedy clip from "Jimmy Kimmel Live," beginning with the Jewish host announcing that while many Jewish singers have released Christmas albums, “never before has a non-Jewish entertainer released an album of Hanukkah songs.” The sketch then cuts to country singer Jake Owen in a menorah sweatshirt, addressing the audience with a “Shalom, Y’all” and announcing his conversion to “Jake Cohen.” He charmingly mispronounces “Hanukkah” as “Chanukkah” before inviting everyone to “chelebrate” with him by singing songs highlighting his cluelessness: “Flat Tater Tots,” “Lighting the Pointy Candle Thing” and — one hitting the heartstrings of deprived Jewish kids everywhere — “Nobody is Coming to Town.”
The jokes fall flat, but the effort is appreciated, though if he’s pranking, I’d rather have Kimmel feature the reaction of kids when their parents tell them they ate all their Hanukkah chocolate gelt and donated their eight gifts to charity.
But at holiday time, there’s nothing like the classics, so perhaps the most exciting offering of the season is Adam Sandler’s updated set of lyrics to his now-legendary “Chanukah Song.”
The original holiday tune, which makes Jews missing out on Christmas feel better by comically listing celebrity Jews, was first performed by Sandler when he was a young "Saturday Night Live" comedian in 1994 and immortalized on an album two years later. He’s updated his lyrics with hot new Jewish celebrities twice before — making this his fourth version of the song. He debuted the latest track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall and posted a video of himself performing it in San Diego two weeks later.
The 2015 incarnation features one daring foray into scandal, mentioning Jared Fogle, the Subway pitchman recently sentenced to prison on child pornography charges. Sandler sings:
Jared from Subway: Goddamit, a Jew!
But guess who’s Jewish and can fix him? Loveline’s Dr. Drew
Luckily, the song ends on a happier note:
So drink your Jaegerbomb-ikkah and smoke your medical-marijuan-ikkah
If you really, really wanna-kah, have a happy, happy, happy, happy Chanukah
Maybe Sandler is one of the lucky few who got their hands on that bong.