When I was growing up, the Jewish Day School I attended showcased a Hanukkah “Zimriya” recital each December. Since that time, much of my affinity for Hanukkah has been connected to music. There is a certain beat associated with this holiday for me, and it is not just the spitter-spatter of the scalding oil flying out of the frying pan. Hanukkah songs range from the traditional to the parodic, and are often menacingly catchy. Feel free to jam out – or jelly out, sufganiya style – to these old favorites and newer hits.
Maoz Tzur is the definitive traditional Hanukkah song. It includes the famous themes of the holiday – rededication, praise to God, miracles – but does not shy away from the more controversial issues at hand: war, assimilation and delayed salvation. The lyrics are worth reviewing in full, as a reminder of the powerful lessons of Hanukkah. But if you want a more PG version, this video uses a catchy remix featuring a dancing rabbi.
Anu Nosim Lapidim
"Anu Nos'im Lapidim," which means "We carry torches," was trumpeted by pre-state Zionists, who found inspiration in the themes of Hanukkah. The Zionists looked at the Hanukkah story as a model of human will, self defense and national autonomy. “A miracle never happened to us!” they sang, as they worked to make their vision of statehood come true.
This is a great song to put on in the background while peeling potatoes, but if you pay attention to the lyrics you will find some profound statements about faith. Matisyahu reminds us that amidst the bustle of our daily lives, we need to take a moment to appreciate that we're "Just livin’ in the miracle." And if that’s not enough, we can ponder how eight might be the number of infinity!
Did I mention latkes enough yet? Leave it to Debbie Friedman to remind us why we really love Hanukkah: Deep fried potatoes.
Light One Candle
Set to a catchy, folky tune, Peter, Paul and Mary's "Light One Candle" speaks of peace and reconciliation, and is a powerful contribution to the Hanukkah tradition.
You can always rely on the Maccabeats to lighten to mood. This video, made by the A Capella-singing proxy-Maccabees of Yeshiva University, made me swoon when I first saw it as a college student; there is nothing quite like seeing a bunch of boys serving each other homemade latkes and playing dreidel indoors with their sunglasses on.
And if you like this one, you'll love their cover of “Miracle."
Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen’s brother, Erran, this remix of traditional Hanukkah lyrics is set to a ska beat and features Yiddish rap.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the spoof song that started it all. We are eternally grateful to you, Adam Sandler, for using up all the words that rhyme with Hanukkah in just one song. And for reminding us that Paul Newman is half Jewish. Here’s to eight crazy nights!
Zoe Jick is a candidate for the Masters of Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School, where she focuses on Jewish studies. Previously, Zoe was the Associate Director of the World Zionist Organization: Department for Diaspora Activities. Zoe is a Wexner Graduate Fellow for Jewish Education.