There's a theme running through news/op-ed coverage of Hanukkah. Can it be made more than it has been? How much is tongue in cheek I'm not sure.
Howard Jacobsen, in a NYT op-ed, suggests Hanukkah is not all that authentic to begin with, and because it is always being compared to Christmas some updating of the holiday is in order. He draws upon his experience of Hanukkah as a child:
I’d like it if we had better songs to sing at Hanukkah, too. Something to rival the Christmas oratorios or passions, the hymns, the carols, the cantatas, Bing Crosby even. But all we ever sang was “Maoz Tzur,” compared to which “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” seemed musically complex.In the Washington Post Brad Hirschfield writes,NPR's All Songs Considered:
And there’s another way — for it is supposed to be a children’s festival, after all — in which Jewish children celebrating Hanukkah feel short-changed alongside their Christian friends gearing up for Christmas. The presents. Or rather, the lack of presents. No train sets or roller skates for Hanukkah, no smartphones or iPads. Just the dreidel, the four-sided spinning top with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet on each surface.
How many years did I feign excitement when this nothing of a toy was produced? The dreidel would appear and the whole family would fall into some horrible imitation of shtetl simplicity, spinning the dreidel and pretending to care which character was uppermost when it landed. Who did we think we were — the Polish equivalent of the Flintstones?
So what’s to be done? Either Hanukkah should merge with Christmas — a suggestion against which the arguments are more legion even than the Syrian-Greek army — or it should be spiced up with the sort of bitter irony at which the Jewish people excel. Instead of the dreidel, give the kids their own cars for Hanukkah, in memory of the oil that should have run out but didn’t.
Amazon.com has 48,322 Christmas albums for sale, but only 212 Hanukkah CDs. That's 227 Christmas albums for every one Hanukkah album. Even taking into account that Christians outnumber Jewish people 76 to 1, there is still a huge lack of Hanukkah music. Over the past 100 years, there have been thousands of Jewish singer-songwriters. Where is all the Hanukkah music?NPR All Things Considered:
First and foremost, Christians care about holiday music. Jews, not so much. In Christianity, caroling actually matters. It's been a part of Christmas for more than 500 years. The first English Hanukkah song, "I had a little dreidel," is less than 100 years old, and since then, very little else has been produced.
So, for eight nights, starting tonight [last night], Jews light candles, eat foods cooked in oil, and complain about the paucity of good Hanukkah songs. Here is the Hanukkah gelt standard for songs, the 13th-century poem "Ma'oz Tzur."Amidst this good natured complaining, Brad Hirschfield brings this Hanukkah message,
(Soundbite of song, "Ma'oz Tzur")
Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)
SIEGEL: It's also sung in English as "Rock of Ages."
SIEGEL: And for people listening who might be scratching their bare heads right now saying what does reggae have to do with a Jewish holiday? What does reggae have to do with your life and with your music?
MATISYAHU: Oh, I have two answers. One is that the basis of reggae music is founded on the Old Testament.
(Soundbite of song, "Exodus")
Mr. BOB MARLEY (Singer): (Singing) Exodus.
MATISYAHU: Bob Marley or any of the classic old original reggae singers constantly going back to the Old Testament and the Psalms and using a lot of the imagery from Judaism. And the second thing I would say is that like you were saying, in America, anything is up for grabs, you know? You know, a Jewish kid growing up, turns on the radio, hears Bob Marley and hears something new about his own Jewish history through music of Jamaica. That's the way the world works today. So that's my story in a nutshell.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: That's a big nutshell.
The greasy latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts associated with the holiday recall the oil which burned longer and brighter in the newly rededicated Temple menorah than anyone expected that they would or could. When we eat those latkes and doughnuts, we not only remember that story but also become vessels of the oil that we recall.
As we eat, we remind ourselves that it is within us to move ourselves and our world forward into the next decade in wonderful new ways, ways that will shine more brightly and with greater durability than we often allow ourselves to imagine. Just like the little cruse of oil found in the Temple, we need to see ourselves and each other as having more potential and power than we often remember.