Naughty or Nice? A Santa in Maccabee’s clothing!

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Maccabee-Santa chocolateA Hanukkah Brouhaha: Jennie Rivlin Roberts, owner of ModernTribe, an-online purveyor of holiday accouterments, gifts and treats, had an inspired idea: to order chocolate renditions of Maccabees to sell on her website at Hanukkah-time (or as HEEB called them “chocobees.”) When she removed the foil wrapper to taste the chocolate, what she found, instead of a Hasmonean, was….a chocolate Santa!

According to an online piece in the Forward, Rivlin Roberts stated: “The next thing I did was call our supplier, who are way more observant Jews than I, who basically said, ‘Yeah, what of it?’ They said they couldn’t afford to purchase a new chocolate mold and chose, instead, to use the chocolate company’s Santa mold. His question to me was, ‘is this blasphemous or offensive to someone, what’s the big deal?’”

Rallying the chocolate troops, Yo Semite asserts that Hanukkah “deserves better than second-hand Christmas mold….In the midst of this supposed ‘War on Christmas’ I keep hearing about, it looks like Christmas just launched an ICBM (Inter-religious Chocolate Ballistic Missile) preemptive strike against Hanukkah.” ” (HEEB, November 11, 2015)

The counter- opinion appears to be “so what?!  Yo Semite himself says: “Of course, delicious milk chocolate is gonna be delicious milk chocolate, no matter what seasonal holiday it’s molded for.”

The comments to the HEEB posting range from “oy, oy, oy!” to it’s a “Shanda!” to “Two. Two. Two holidays in One!”

Thank you to Rabbi Deborah Prinz for bringing this issue to our attention! For more on the historical nexus between Jews and Chocolate, see: On The Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals And Recipes To The Magic Of Cacao.

While Visions of Hopjes Danced in My Head!

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Hopjes

We all know that smells, tastes, sounds and other sensations in the present day can evoke memories of the past. Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, we were entertaining friends who are Dutch and make their home in Florence, Italy. We decided to break bread together on an early Sunday morning at the Russ & Daughters Café on Essex Street on the Lower East Side.  After a lovely meal and much discussion about the lack of Jewish fish purveyors in Amsterdam, we asked for the check. With the check came hard coffee-flavored caramel candy– Hopjes! Instantly, I was taken back to my childhood in a small rural town in Connecticut, where my American-born Hungarian Jewish grandmother always had a bowl of Hopjes on the coffee table in her home.  Our Dutch friends immediately recognized the candy…as it is Dutch. They, in fact, read the label in their native language. I, in the meantime, was overcome by nostalgia. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I started to reflect on how and why my grandmother would have had these particular candies.

Curiosity led me to dig a bit. There is a bit of folklore that surrounds Hopjes! A Dutch candy, Hopjes supposedly originated in the eighteenth century when Baron Hendrik Hop was recalled from his posting as an envoy in Brussels when the French invaded Belgium in 1792. Apparently, he moved into rooms above the confectioners Van Haaren & Nieuwerkerk. As the story goes, the Baron, addicted to coffee, left his coffee with sugar and cream on the heater one night, where the liquid evaporated. The Baron loved the resulting substance! Advised against coffee by a doctor, the Baron asked the confectioner Theodorus van Haaren to make him some “lumps of coffee”. Whereupon, Van Haaren created a sweet made of coffee, caramel, cream and butter. Thus started the Hopjes tradition!

A Google search reveals plenty of references to Hopjes being eaten by Jews. (One European reference is in the book We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates by Theo Coster about his encounter with a man who worked at the Rademaker Hopjes factory, an “exhilarating discovery for a child.”) As for America, the proximity of cultures in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century immigrations to New York City on the Lower East Side coupled with an amazing array of candy purveyors in the neighborhood contributed to this cross-cultural exchange.

 

A Feast For The Soul!

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Happy Hanukkah Union Square MarketFor a fantastic radio story-telling hour centered on Hanukkah, the holiday of miracles and light, check out NPR’s annual Hanukkah Lights special! NPR gathered a collection of stories from both iconic and unknown writers. Hosts Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz spotlight original work from Isaac Bashevis Singer, Kathryn Blume, Leah Lax, Eric Kimmel and Jonathan Safran Foer. See http://www.npr.org/2015/12/04/458032945/hanukkah-lights-2015

 

No Maccabee Ever Saw A Latke !

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Russ & Daughters Latkes

Photo: Russ & Daughters, Lower East Side, New York City

So what actually makes a potato pancake a latke? To us, American Jews, it is more than a pancake that we make from potatoes—it is a pancake imbued with symbolism, a pancake layered with the flavor of both tradition and history.  Latkes, so central to the celebration of Hanukah (which began this year last night on Sunday evening, December 6th), have a multi-faceted origin, one not necessarily rooted in Hanukkah cuisine.

Hanukkah commemorates, and in fact celebrates, the triumph of the Maccabees over the capture of the Israelites by the Syrian-Greek King Antiochus in 168 BC, who had plundered and defiled the holiest site of the Jewish people, the Temple in Jerusalem. The term “Maccabees” derives from an acrostic of the Hebrew “Mi Kamocha B’Elim Adonai” (Who among the mighty is like you, God?).

After the battle, the Maccabees purged the temple of idols and, finding a small amount of purified olive oil, lit the golden menorah. The oil, ostensibly enough to burn for just one day, lasted for eight days. According to tradition, this was a miracle. To commemorate the Miracle of the Oil,  Jews throughout the world eat foods fried in oil on Hanukkah.

Over the centuries, a spectrum of recipes has been developed using local ingredients reflective of local cuisines. Jews living in Mediterranean countries or in the Middle East had freshly-pressed olive oil available to fry their holiday foods, which coincided with the end of the olive-pressing season. Greek, North African and Turkish Jews also developed several kinds of olive oil-fried dough-based desserts.

Food historian Gil Marks credits the origin of latkes to somewhat modern times: “The Maccabees never saw a potato, much less a potato pancake.” Potatoes were brought from South America to Europe, where they were slow to be adopted as a food into the various cuisines. According to Marks, the concept of a pancake began with Italy, where Italian Jews fried pancakes in olive oil. They were later associated with Hanukkah by Rabbi Kalonymus ben Kalonymus in the thirteenth century. Pancakes at the time were ricotta cheese-based. After the expulsion of the Jews from Sicily in 1492, the pancake travelled to other locales, and, along the way, became firmly associated with Hanukkah because of its successful combination of two traditional food types—dairy and fried. Because of the reluctance to fry cheese in the traditional animal fat and, during winter months the scarcity of milk products in northeastern Europe, substitutions for the cheese were made. Most involved local grains. In the meantime, the potato was slowly gaining in popularity and reach. Eventually, the potato became incorporated into German cooking and, later, after crop failures in Eastern Europe in the early 1800’s, into the local cooking of that region.

The word “latke” is Yiddish in derivation, a German-based language fused with Hebrew and Aramaic, oft-spoken by East European Jews. For the Jews of the shtetl villages in Eastern European countries such as Russia and Poland, potatoes comprised the most abundant of crops. Grating and frying the potatoes, often in chicken fat (schmaltz) was the culinary vernacular. According to Tel Aviv-based food writer Phyllis Glazer, who researched the word “latke,” certain sources “claim it derives from the Old Russian oladka, and is a diminutive of olad’ya, from Greek eladia, the plural of eladion, which means ‘a little oily thing’ and comes from elaia, which means ‘olive’.”

Let’s face it, everyone has their own recipe, idea or version of what a latke should be. Family history and food traditions come into play here. Latkes can take form from coarsely or finely grated potatoes. Flour or matzah meal can be the binding agent. As creativity prevails, latkes can be made from potatoes with a bit of onion, or may take form from sweet potatoes, beets, carrots or even zucchini and feta cheese.

It is the method of cooking, the frying in oil, that renders a latke a latke!

Hanukkah Goes Mainstream!

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Hanukkah Lighting 2015Merriam-Webster’s word of the day today: Menorah! Hanukkah is in the public consciousness of America! How and why?!

Two significant historical events facilitated the growing awareness for Americans that Hanukkah was a major holiday for Jewish people and that it was fast becoming attendant to Christmas festivities. The first was the formal recognition of Hanukkah by the White House that was accompanied by a menorah lighting ceremony. On December 17, 1979, President Jimmy Carter became the first sitting American President to participate in the lighting of a public menorah, located across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park. Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Abraham Shemtov attended the presidential lighting ceremony and presented President Carter with a small menorah as a keepsake.

In 1982, the menorah lit in Lafayette Park was publicly referred to as the National Menorah by President Reagan, thereby equating its lighting with the National Christmas tree lighting. The first display of a menorah in the White House is ascribed to President George H.W. Bush in 1989, upon receiving it as gift from Synagogue Council of America. By 1993, the menorah lighting rite had officially moved into the White House when President Bill Clinton hosted a small ceremony for school children in the Oval Office. The first President to hold a White House Hanukkah party at which he actually lit a menorah was George W. Bush in 2001. This tradition has continued to the present.

The second historical factor that contributed to the presence of Hanukkah in the public domain was the campaign waged by Chabad-Lubavitch to place menorahs in as many public venues throughout the United States, from malls to city parks and halls. The drive was initiated by the late Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in the 1970s. In 1980, Rabbi Schneerson issued a directive encouraging menorah lightings in public places and initiated a movement by sending rabbinic emissaries to cities throughout the United States with the express mission of publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah to inspire pride in Jewish onlookers.

At first, public displays of menorahs began appearing in cities with large Jewish populations, such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  Media coverage of the menorah lighting ceremonies in these cities often showed the local mayor and prominent government officials helping Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbis to light menorahs. The first such lighting, in 1974, occurred in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and involved a small group of Jews holding a small menorah. The following year, in San Francisco, the local Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi, Chaim Drizin, and public radio station KQED program director Zev Putterman, arranged for concert promoter Bill Graham to sponsor the creation of a twenty-two foot high mahogany menorah to be erected in Union Square. The menorah, affectionately called Mama Menorah, was erected next to Macy’s ornate Christmas tree, the largest public tree in the city. Bill Graham also underwrote an attendant festival, now called the Bill Graham Menorah Day Festival, which includes musical performances, arts and crafts, food, and is capped off by the Chabad-Lubavitch sponsored menorah lighting.

Perhaps the largest menorah lighting to take place in this early period was at Dolphins Stadium in Miami in 1987, when Florida Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Tennenhaus lit a menorah in front of 70,000 people. In this same year, Rabbi Schneerson launched a global Hanukkah menorah lighting campaign.

The lighting of public menorahs was not without controversy. Challenges to the constitutionality of the menorahs in the public square paralleled challenges to crèches and other Christological symbols.

Check out Hanukkah lightings all over New York City and throughout America tonight (and throughout Hanukkah). One in particular is at 35th and Park Avenue in Manhattan,where I will be leading the lighting!

 

Oy To The World! The Advent of the Ugly Hanukkah Sweater

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A rite of the Christmas season for many who participate involves the wearing of highly-decorative Christmas-time sweaters. The origin of this seasonal custom  probably is rooted in sweaters made by the hands of well-meaning older relatives to be given as gifts. Recently, and somewhat ironically, the trend was picked up by the so-called hipster generation resulting in what has evolved into the broad-based mass market appeal of the “ugly Christmas sweater.” Vendors were quick to leap upon this idiosyncratic bandwagon in order to mine what would become a multi-million dollar trend.

So, does this leave some of us non-celebrants out-in-the-cold, so to speak? Or as one Jewish entrepreneur asked: “why should Jews celebrating Hanukkah be denied the pleasure of giving ugly sweaters as gifts to friends and family?”

Not so, says Laura Rosenfeld of TechTimes: ”For those among us that celebrate Hanukkah, you too can have your ugly sweaters and eat your gelt, too.” In an apparent cross-over attempt, vendors are now marketing “ugly Hanukkah sweaters!” And people are buying it! One on-line comment posted on Amazon.com’s web site states: “At last I have the perfect sweater to compete with the ugly X-Mas sweater. I wore it during Hanukkah and got a lot of ‘Happy Holidays’ my way. Really changed my mood during this dreaded time of year when everyone says Merry Christmas constantly and all the stores are already jingling the bells and inciting consumerism.“

In an effort to tap into this burgeoning market, retailers of all stripes are entering the fray—although some with questionable success. Recently, high-end retailer Nordstrom was upbraided for marketing a sweater that vaunted the image of a menorah and was emblazoned with the words “Chai maintenance” and “Hannukah J.A.P.” Generating controversy and offense because of the verbal pun on the Hebrew word “Chai,” meaning life, combined with a derogatory phrase which stands for “Jewish American Princess,” public outcry resulted in Nordstrom ceasing to market the sweater and apologizing for its insensitivity.

The last word on the subject: For a full, but somewhat distracting, array of Ugly Hanukkah sweaters, check out a Hanukkah musical collaboration by Erez Cohen, Six13, A.K.A. Pella, & The Y Studs called “A One Direction Hanukkah” or “The Ugly Hanukkah Sweater Song” posted at JewTube!

Hanukkah and Chocolate: A Natural Pairing!

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Chocolate Dreidels on Bleecker Street

Chocolate Hanukkah Gelt and Dreidels on Bleecker Street (December 2015)

Chocolate Dreidels Flipside

Zabar’s is doing it! Lilac Chocolates is doing it! Godiva is doing it! And, a bit surreptitiously as “Coins of the World”, Trader Joe’s is doing it! Hanukkah Gelt has made it into the cultural vernacular. According to preeminent Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna: “We’ve morphed that gelt into chocolate coins, as a kind of cultural memory.” Sarna credits the twentieth-century ascension of chocolate gelt to a cultural phenomenon of adopting new traditions and connecting them to the past. He clearly places this into the larger story that underlies Americanization:”You were able to signal that wonderful sense of being part of the larger society, and apart from it, at one and the same time,” he says. Or, as NPR correspondent Deena Prichip said in a 2014 radio essay: “Just as with chocolate bunnies or Santas, a simple treat can be a passport to this history of belonging, and ritual, and nostalgia — no matter how the chocolate tastes.”

 

CHOCOLATE COINS ON HANUKKAH: How Hanukkah Gift-Giving Began In The 17th Century

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Starting on Thanksgiving and continuing through most of the month of December, our neighborhood Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan sets out harvest baskets near the check-out line that are filled with mesh bags containing “coins of the world.” These bags sell for $1.99 each and contain milk chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. Anyone in the know would recognize that these generic “Coins of the World” are, in actuality, Hanukkah gelt in disguise. Hanukkah gelt, an American Jewish tradition, has entered popular culture.  For one hundred years, Jewish children have associated Hanukkah in America with receiving gifts on each of the eight nights of the holiday. The roots of this gift-giving tradition date back to the Middle Ages, to a more simple time in which coins were given at Hanukkah as a means to support Jewish teachers and dispense charity in the Jewish community.

Chocolate Hanukkah coins date to 1920 in America when the item first became commercialized. And yet, the giving of Hanukkah coins is often attributed to a legend connected to the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the ancient Greeks. During the Hasmonean dynasty, when independence was brought to Judea, the Hasmoneans celebrated their freedom by minting the first Jewish coins in history. In 1 Maccabees 15:6 King Antiochus declared to Simon “I turn over to you the right to make your own stamp for coinage for your country.” Yet, it was only in 1958, two thousand years later, that the Bank of Israel started issuing annually special commemorative coins to be used as Chanukah gelt. The first coin portrayed the same menorah that had appeared on the last Maccabean coins of Antigonus.

Legend aside, the origin for giving gifts of Hanukkah coins dates back to Europe. Traditionally called Chanukah gelt in Yiddish or maot Chanukah or damai Chanukah (Hanukkah money) in Hebrew, this Askenazi custom of giving money or gifts at Chanukah is not mentioned in the Bible, Talmud or Shulhan Aruch. The custom of giving money as a gift developed in the seventeenth century among Polish Jews. The giving of Chanukah gelt originally pertained to charitable giving of money for the holy objects in the synagogue (klai kodesh) and to the poor. Beggars would stop by the homes of Jewish kinfolk to collect their Chanukah gelt gift. Even though begging door-to-door was generally prohibited by Jewish communities, Chanukah time was considered an exception to the rule.

Gelt giving to teachers (melamdim) became an important component of Chanukah during the Middle Ages. After dinner, during the nights of Chanukah, parents would give their children several coins to take to school the next day to distribute to their teachers in the schools (hedarim). These monetary gifts (or Chanukah gelt) were spread throughout the week of Chanukah. They were deemed to be bonuses and actually counted among the teachers’ primary means of support. The giving of Chanukah gelt was also a way to emphasize and model the dignity of Torah learning. The tradition later broadened to include gifts to Jewish communal workers. Eventually, the custom expanded to the giving of coins to children for their own account and then to students during the holiday, to sweeten the process of Jewish learning and reward Torah study.

It was also the custom during Chanukah for poor Yeshivah students to visit the homes of Jews who would dispense Chanukah money. The rabbis approved such Chanukah dispensations to publicize the story of the miracle of the oil. The tradition of giving Chanukah gelt to students and children ultimately supplied money for children’s dreidel games and students’ card games. In days of extensive Jewish poverty in Eastern Europe and, later on in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, Chanukah gelt provided children mired in poverty with greater opportunities and relief.

Similar customs existed amongst the Sephardim of Turkey and Greece. The synagogue leaders distributed potato pancakes to families in their homes in exchange for monetary donations designated for community needs. Among the Sephardim of Salonica, during Chanukah, children were given money and candy while newlyweds were given household items and new clothes.

Perhaps American Jews, in the late twentieth century, expanded upon the European Jewish practice of supporting the poor in the Jewish community as part of the Chanukah gelt tradition. The propensity for Jews acting charitably during Jewish holidays, notably Chanukah, may have made it easier, ultimately, for American Jews to embrace volunteering at Christmas-time. American Jews, acting in the spirit of Chanukah, have broadened the gelt-giving practice to acts of tzedakah outside of the Jewish community. Furthermore, Jewish institutions have used the tradition of Chanukah gelt as a theme for fundraising.

 

 

 

 

Hanukkah Reflects America’s Religious Liberty

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In 1974 in Philadelphia, a small menorah was lit in front of Independence Hall, home to the iconic Liberty Bell. The menorah was crude and made of wood. Five people attended what is now considered to be the first Chabad-Lubavitch public-menorah lighting. Regardless of the constitutional implications of this action, the idea of religious freedom embodied by the Hanukkah holiday deeply resonates with the core principles of American democracy. The attention currently lavished by American Jews on Hanukkah makes it difficult to imagine that there was once a time when it was a minor holiday. Yet, across America, Hanukkah’s magnification as a Jewish holiday now has broader implications.

In recent years, Hanukkah has evolved into a symbol of religious liberty for all Americans. In 165 BCE, after the Maccabees, a minority, successfully revolted against the majority – the Syrian kingdom led by Antiochus Epiphanes IV – there was a rededication of the Jerusalem Temple and the rekindling of its golden menorah for eight miraculous days. This origin story naturally translates into contemporary American motifs of religious liberty and survival represented by a Hanukkah festival of lights. The story of Hanukkah also recalls the first pilgrims who arrived on America’s shores after fleeing religious oppression in Europe.

Three vignettes from Montana, Idaho, and Utah exemplify how the holiday’s underlying Jewish message of religious freedom is now embraced for its strong American values.

Consider this: the largely non-Jewish residents of Billings, MT, used the menorah as a means to fight the anti-Semitism and bigotry that surfaced in the town in 1993. In December of that year, Isaac and Tami Schnitzer placed a Hanukkah menorah in their window. A town resident hurled a cinder block through the Schnitzers’ window and threatened other families and institutions displaying menorahs. The townspeople decided to take a collective stand against bigotry. Through a campaign waged by the Billings Gazette and the town’s sheriff, families and businesses were asked to display pictures of menorahs in their homes and jobs. People responded so enthusiastically that by the time the campaign concluded, an estimated 10,000 people had answered the call. This community-wide protest dramatically decreased the incident of hate crimes in Billings.

Indicative of Hanukkah’s mainstream popularity, even in states with small Jewish populations like Idaho, then-Governor Dirk Kempthorne signed a symbolic proclamation on December 1, 2004, naming December 7, 2004, National Menorah Day in the State of Idaho. The governor declared, “the message of Chanukah resonates quite powerfully with the fundamental principles of American life, as this nation was founded on the principles of hope and religious freedom.” The proclamation reads, in part:

WHEREAS, This year [2004] marks the 25th anniversary of the National Menorah which was first lit in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and given its name by President Ronald Reagan in 1982; and

WHEREAS, Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is among the most widely celebrated of Jewish holidays;

NOW THEREFORE, I DIRK KEMPTHORNE, Governor of the State of Idaho, do hereby proclaim, December 7, 2004, to be national Menorah Day in Idaho.

Finally, the Americanization of Hanukkah is evidenced by the popularity of “Eight Days of Hanukkah,” a song written by Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a Mormon with an affection for Jews and a love of Barbra Streisand. A video of the song debuted via Tablet, an online Jewish cultural magazine, just prior to Hanukkah in 2009.

The production of this song was a multicultural endeavor. The writing was inspired by a challenge to Senator Hatch from journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. Hatch’s collaborator was Jewish songwriter Madeline Stone, who hails from the Upper West of Manhattan and now writes Christian music in Nashville. She said, “I’m a pretty liberal Democrat. But it became more about the music and the friendship for me and Orrin.” The song was performed by Rasheeda Azar, a Syrian-American vocalist from Indiana. [According to Goldberg, “Rasheeda’s participation closes a circle of sorts, since the Syrian King Antiochus was, of course, the antagonist in the story of the Maccabean revolt.”]

Senator Hatch calls “Eight Days of Hanukkah” a “gift to the Jewish people.” He said his ultimate goal would be for Streisand to perform one of his songs. “It would be good for her and good for me,” Hatch said, while acknowledging that given her outspoken liberalism, “that union might require another miracle.”

Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah Songs: Old Wine in New Vessels

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There is a recent American tale of old wine in new vessels,  a part of  our national folklore revealing that Woody Guthrie composed Hanukkah songs. In a 2003 concert  the Klezmatics, a popular Grammy Award winning Klezmer band, performed Hanukkah songs that showcased a selection from the many lyrics written from 1949 through the early 1950s by Woody Guthrie, the iconic American folk troubadour and songwriter. The lyrics had laid fallow and long forgotten in Guthrie’s archives until their discovery in 1998 by Woody’s daughter, Nora Guthrie. Nora asked the Klezmatics to write original music for the lyrics, which fuses strains of Klezmer music with American folk and bluegrass. The 2006 album, “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanuka,” comprises many different songs, including “Happy, Joyous Hanuka” and “Hanuka Tree.” Two of the eight songs, “The Many And The Few” and “Hanuka Dance,” had lyrics and melodies penned entirely by Guthrie. The songs were in part biographical. Woody was married to Marjorie Mazia, a Jewish dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company who was the daughter of Aliza Greenblatt, an activist and Yiddish poet. Nora remembers “For Hanukkah actually, we had a hat—we didn’t get presents—but we had a hat with different amounts of Hanukkah gelt, and every night we’d pick out five cents or twenty-five cents of gelt. My mother played piano, and we used to sing and dance every night.”[i]

At the 2003 debut concert with the Klezmatics at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, folk legend Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son and Nora’s brother, joked that as children they would dance “around the Hanukkah tree.” Happy Joyous Hanuka” counts down each candle on the menorah (“Seven for the sons of Hannah that died/Six for kings and the tricks they tried/Five for the brothers Maccabee”), while “Hanuka Tree” has a lively simple melody (“Round and around my Hanukah tree/Round and around I go/Round and around my Hanukah tree/Because I love you so”). According to Nora, most of Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah songs seem to be written within November or December within five days of each other “because he had  bookings in December for children’s Hanukkah parties in assorted Brooklyn community centers.”  As was his wont, Woody would “write songs only for the gig a few days before and then go on to other songs for other gigs.” For the Guthrie family, a family of improvisers not of traditions and for whom the approach to religion was “all or none”, the tree was a “Christmas tree, a Hanukkah tree, and a holiday tree. It was a fluid thing!”

Indeed, the popularization of Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah songs by the Klezmatics demonstrates the vital role that music plays as an  intrinsic cultural force  contributing to the  Americanization of this Jewish holiday (coexisting  side by side with  Christmas)

 

[i] Telephone interview with Nora Guthrie, August 17, 2011.