(September 15, 2013 / JNS) For your Hanukkah party this year, impress and surprise your guests with songs that aren’t explicitly about the Festival of Lights, but relate to the holiday in an imaginative way. JNS.org takes care of your playlist for the most wonderful time of the Jewish year.
Eight Days A Week (The Beatles)
If you’ve ever wondered why Hanukkah lasts eight days, it’s not because the menorah has eight branches; in fact, the original menorah only had seven. Only two holidays on the Jewish calendar run for eight days—can you guess the other one? It’s actually Sukkot, and the correspondence is no accident. Having taken back the temple, Judah and the Maccabees wanted to hold a grand reopening festival worthy of the dwelling place of the divine. For inspiration, they looked to the biblical holiday of Sukkot, which, among other things, marked the dedication of the original tabernacle and lasted for eight days (seven days, plus Shemini Atzeret). No wonder Lennon and McCartney chose the eight-day week to symbolize love that goes above and beyond.
Light My Candle (from the show “Rent”)
An obvious choice for its title, even if the lyrics aren’t the most PG. For those who don’t know the story, this number is about the power of bringing a little light into someone’s dark times, acting with kindness toward a stranger in need. The image of light is perhaps the oldest symbol of goodness, purity, and hope in human imagination. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in “Seasons of our Joy,” points out that Hanukah is scheduled close in time to the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and so may have been truly a “festival of light” for ancient Israelites.
Seize the Day (from the show “Newsies”)
Hanukkah celebrates the improbable victory of the Jewish people in their struggle for political and religious independence from the Seleucid-Greek empire. Any musical based on the Maccabees story would need to include a song like this one, all about stepping up and facing down a fearsome enemy in the name of freedom. “Nothing can break us/no one can make us/give our rights away/arise and seize the day!”
You Spin Me Round (Dead or Alive)
Though games of chance are not generally looked upon favorably in rabbinic literature, spinning the dreidel has become an indispensable Hanukkah pastime. Not only that, but “Dreidel, Dreidel Dreidel, I made it out of clay,” has without a doubt become the most widely recognized Jewish holiday tune on the North American continent. For a twist (couldn’t help myself) this year, let the kids twirl themselves dizzy to one of the quintessential sounds of the ’80s.
Wannabe (Spice Girls)
Finding the perfect Hanukkah present is a complicated affair. Since we don’t (yet) ask kids to open Hanukkah gift registries, gift buying can easily become an exercise in thankless guesswork. Perhaps we could all save ourselves some aggravation by adopting the frank attitude of this girl-group classic’s opening dialogue: “So tell me what you want, what you really, really want!” “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want!” “So tell me what you want, what you really, really want!” “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want!”
Binyamin Kagedan has an MA in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.