“Matishayu and Maccabeats: A New Spin on Hanukkah Music!”

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My wife less than fondly remembers about singing in the Christmas concerts of the 1970s at her grammar school in a small town in rural southeastern Connecticut. “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” was a sparse offering and an accommodation to the few Jews in the audience. After looking at recent Hanukkah music offerings, we’ve certainly come a long way!

Before we move on, it is worth noting that “I Had a Little Dreidel” reached near universal status. So popular was “The Dreidel Song” that people thought it was an unattributed folk song. Its origin is with Eastern European Jewish entertainers who wrote many Hanukkah songs in Yiddish, which were then reissued in English to great success. The Yiddish and English versions were composed in 1930 by Mikhl Gelbart and Samuel Goldfarb (supervisor for the entertainment department at the New York Bureau of Education) and the lyrics for both are by Samuel S. Grossman. Grossman adapted the lyrics to English with very little change, except that the Yiddish version had the dreidel made out of lead (Yiddish blay, leading scholars to believe that the Yiddish lyrics preceded the English) while the English version describes it as being made out of clay.

So where are we today?

Recently released, “Happy Hanukkah,” is a new reggae song by Matishayu, the proceeds of which through December 16th (the end of Hanukkah) will benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy. See happyhanukkah.matishayuworld.com

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 result was the 2006 album, “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanuka,” comprising many different songs, including “Happy, Joyous Hanuka” and “Hanuka Tree.” This album gets a gold star! It is phenomenal!!! See http://www.klezmatics.com.

Let’s not forget YouTube sensation “Candlelight” featuring the Maccabeats, an all-male A Cappella singing group from Yeshiva University in New York City. In “Candlelight,” the Maccabeats parody of the music of the hip-hop song “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz, the lyrics reference latkes, candles and a telling of the Hanukkah story. Completely captivating, I have watched clusters of young kids of all ethnicities singing this song on the streets of New York City. see http://www.maccabeats.com

So Get Rockin’ With Hanukkah!

It’s Hanukkah time! Where’s the party?

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A Kosher Christmas Blog Photo ESBLast night marked the first night of Hanukkah! Menorah lightings will abound in homes and in public places. I presided over the menorah lighting at 35th and Park at 5:00. We were crammed onto the median with cars whizzing by! Exciting but a bit on the dangerous side!

Just overhead was the ethereal spire of the Empire State Building glowingly lit in blue and white and wrapped in mist! As with everything of import, there is a story surrounding the Hanukkah lighting of the Empire State Building! In 1997, nine-year old Mallory Blair Greitzer and her father wrote repeated letters to the management of the Empire State Building in Manhattan requesting that the color of the building’s tower lights be changed in honor of Hannukah. This request was steadfastly rejected on the basis that the management’s policy limited the lights to honor each religion on one day per year. (The landmark’s lights are blue and white for Israel Independence Day.) Mallory’s father then wrote to Leona Helmsley, the management company’s owner. Against the advice of her staff, Helmsley granted Mallory’s request. In celebration of Chanukah in 1997, the Empire State Building was (and each year thereafter has been) set alight with the colors blue and white. Grass roots campaigning at its best!

In homes and apartments everywhere, the wafting smell of latkes cooking in oil will flood kitchens and hallways and sufganyot will be plentiful! If you are looking for new and exciting events for Hanukkah, check out the following:

Joshua Nelson, the Prince of Kosher Gospel will perform a Hanukkah concert at the Metropolitan Synagogue at 7:00 pm tonight (40 East 35th Street, www.metropolitansynagogue.org)! For those not in the know, “Kosher gospel” is the union of Jewish religious lyrics and meanings with the soulful sounds of American gospel music. Not to be missed!!!!!!!! You’ll be dancing in the aisles!!!!!!!!

What else is there to do? Check out Major League Dreidel/Target Tops Tournament on December 13th at 8:00 pm! (This one I have written about in my book, “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to be Jewish.”) Created in 2007, Major League Dreidel has been described as an “amped-up Hanukkah party and battle royale.” Players compete for the longest dreidel spin. This year hosts the first doubles tournament. So register at info@majorleaguedreidel.com by Wednesday, December 12th. Proceeds of the event will benefit Playworks, a nonprofit whose mission is to end playground bullying. Even if you don’t register, take a look at the website and then head to Full Circle Bar, 318 Grand Street (between Havemeyer Street and Marcy Avenue), Williamsburg, Brooklyn (347 725 4588).
Matisyahu Festival of Light. Matisyahu, formerly Hasidic but always remaining a reggae star, performs his annual Hanukkah concert on December 15 at 9:00 pm. Spark Seeker Terminal 5, 610 West 56th Street (11th Avenue).

We also want to give a shout out to Jewmongous is Sean Altman! Fabulously funny, Jewmongous is irreverently comedy song concert taking place on December 15th at 8:30, Towne Crier, 130 Route 22, Pawling, New York. NOTE: This should not be mistaken for the Jewmongous show at City Winery on December 25th (more to follow on that one!) www.jewmongous.com

Menorah Horah! A Hanukkah burlesque show tonight, Sunday December 9th at 8:00 pm at the Highline Ballroom, 431 West 16th Street (8th/9th).

Don’t dismiss Santacon! There are always a few Hanukkah Harry(s) and Mrs. Hanukkah Harry(s) amongst the thousands of Santas that throng and cavort around New York City. According to the website (http.//santacon), the New York happening is on December 15th with information to be revealed the night before.

A Chanukah Charol. Comedian Jackie Hoffman reenacts her one-woman retelling of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ using a semiautobiographical and very Jewish lens. December 8th-December 29th at 8:00 pm, New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street (8th/9th).

Fourth Annual Latke Festival. Chefs from 16 local restaurants—including A Voce, Balaboosta and Veselka—compete for first place latke on Monday December 10, 6:30 pm at BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Avenue (Ashland Place/ St. Felix Street). Taste and judge for yourself! Profits from ticket sales will be donated to the Sylvia Center for childhood nutrition.

Gail Simmons: Latke Sizzle. Chef Gail Simmons talks with James Beard Foundation executive vice president Mitchell Davis about Latkes and other types of Jewish food to be followed by a latke tasting and vodka pairing. 8:15 pm, December 11, 92nd Street Y 1395 Lexington Ave (91st and 92nd).

The Big Quiz Thing’s Christmahanukwanzayear Spectacular. Noah Tarnow is host at this holiday-themed multimedia quiz show, 7:00 pm, Tuesday, December 11 – Wednesday December 12, Littlefield 622 DeGraw Street (Third and Fourth Avenues)

Delancey to Doughnuts: A Lower East Side Chanukah 2.5 hours Walking Tour at 10:45 this morning! see nycjewishtours.org