A friend of ours is getting ready to light Chanukah candles for the first time this year (two friends, actually, but only one is local). Since I’m in the business of guiding people through their Jewish journeys, it’s an extra privilege to help someone a friend to find the tools and learn the skills to lead a Jewish life. So, the very first thing I did was look to my calendar for when I could invite our Charlotte friend over to join us in lighting the Chanukah candles.
Alas, it seems that my family of four will only be together in our home for one night of all eight nights of Chanukah! And that one night is the SEVENTH night, which is not a great night to help someone kick off the holiday for the first time. While we negotiate our complicated schedules, I thought it would be best to put together a little Chanukah How To for these two ladies and all of you!
First, you can learn how to light the Chanukah candles from the rabbi and cantorial soloist at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton. This video is endorsed by the Union for Reform Judaism. And on this page, you can find blessings sheets, more blessings recordings, and every detail you could ever want to know about Chanukah.
For those of the preschool set, or the young at heart, our friends at Shalom Sesame and the URJ can teach us all about Chanukah. Here are songs, videos, and ideas for celebrating the Festival of Lights with your little one.
Latke recipes abound and are only ever a google search away. I think the most important thing to know is that, like all things Jewish, there isn’t really a right or wrong way to do it. What you need to figure out is how your family does latkes! I grew up eating latkes from a mix (foodies, avert your eyes!), but I loved them and still do. In fact, I have in my mind that I might even make some instant-mashed potato latkes to use up the leftovers from the box I bought for my kids’ preschool Thanksgiving Feast. Someone shared their grain-free latke recipe with me today – substitute coconut flour for wheat flour. If you are paleo-minded, switch for sweet potatoes, coconut flour, egg, and coconut oil and you will get a very paleo-friendly version. You could even top with some brisket. Yum.
Now, to bring you the full bounty of the internet, here is some great Chanukah music! Let me start with the classics.
First, here is Theodore Bikel singing Oy Chanukah in Yiddish. Both Bikel and this song are as classic as Jewish music can be. He is a superstar and this song has been passed down many generations. I remember my mom coming in to my Hebrew School to teach it to us in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English.
Haneirot Halalu is a very old chant mentioned in Masechet Soferim, an 8th c. Palestinian work often included in addenda to the Talmud. There are traditions that prescribe singing this text after the new candle is lit each night, or at the very least sung after candle lighting. For me, this melody capture some of the mystical warmth and gratitude that we hope to bring into our homes with the lights of Chanukah. That sentiment is certainly captured by this all-women’s arrangement of the traditional melody. The text means, “We kindle these lights because of the wondrous deliverance You performed for our ancestors. During these eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred; we are not to use them but only behold them, so that their glow may rouse us to give thanks for Your wondrous acts of deliverance.”
Another key piece of the Chanukah liturgy is Al Hanisim, which is recited twice a year, once on Chanukah and the other time on Purim, both occasions when we express gratitude for averting grave danger. Al Hanisim is inserted into the Hoda’ah – the Thanksgiving Blessing of the Amida. If you’re at synagogue during Chanukah, you will hear this sung. Here is a zesty rendition of the traditional tune.
Now, I’m leaving a gaping whole in this musical review by not including a version of the number one, most traditional Chanukah song of all time – Maoz Tzur, Rock of Ages. This omission is because I have found no versions on the entire internet that I like. I may need to come back later and add my own….
I’ll wrap this up with three of the most important contemporary Chanukah Songs. First, Debbie Friedman’s I Am A Latke, sung live in 2001. Then, of course, Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song live on SNLhref=”http://www.apple.com”>, or watch TBE’s fine young men Caleb Seidler and Foster Machicote sing it). Finally, here is that ear worm from a few years back from the Maccabeats.
I wish you all a wonderful Chanukah filled with warmth, love, friends, family, and wonder. If you are local in Charlotte, I hope to see you at one of the myriad of Chanukah events that we have coming up over the next week and a half. In fact, if you’re 22-45 and have kids 6 or under (or a little older, too…) there’s still time to register for The Porch’s Southern Fried Chanukah this Saturday at 4!
-Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas