If you think Hanukkah is here early this year, well, you’re right. Due to a once-in-a-lifetime quirk of the Jewish calendar, the Festival of Lights is coinciding with Thanksgiving this year. It’s never happened before, and never will again.
While, as we’ve written before here, there is not a single great Hanukkah movie, there are plenty of great Hanukkah songs. And while the one Adam Sandler wrote is probably the most famous- and worthwhile as an anthem of Semitic pride- I’m pretty damn sick of it at this point. This list will have no “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel” either.
Here are my ten favorite popular Hanukkah songs, none of which involve David Lee Roth lighting the menorah:
1. “Hanukkah Blessings,” Barenaked Ladies, 2006:
This song, from BNL’s 2006 interdenominational holiday album “Barenaked for the Holidays,” is not only a beautiful tribute to the holiday and its history, but it’s got the Hebrew Hanukkah blessings right there in the chorus.
2. “Judah Maccabee,” Rabbi Joe Black, 1990
In the interest of full disclosure, Rabbi Black, a pretty major figure in the Jewish music world, was my rabbi growing up, and one of the children on the cover of his album was my then- nine-year-old sister. This is another one that tells the Hanukkah story, and has become a favorite at his holiday concerts.
3. “A Jew on Christmas,” South Park, 1997
From the Mr. Hankey episode- the finale of South Park’s classic, nearly perfect first season- Kyle’s song represents the lament of anyone who ever spent Christmastime as a Jewish kid.
4. “Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?” Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!” (2008)
I remember being totally underwhelmed by Colbert’s homage to old TV Christmas specials back in 2008, with the exception of this lovely duet between two non-singers, a Jew and a gentile. The “Hava Nagila” riff was an especially nice touch.
5. “Hanukkah Harry’s Song (On Moishe, on Herschel, on Schlomo),” Saturday Night Live, 1989
Probably the best thing Jon Lovitz ever did on SNL, “The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas” had Harry stepping in for an ill Santa in order to distribute that year’s presents. Hanukkah Harry’s uncanny resemblance to the then-unknown Osama Bin Laden only adds to the humor.
6. “The Latke Song” (Debbie Friedman, 2001)
Friedman, the legendof Reform Jewish folk music who passed away in 2011, sang “I am a Latke” in her one major Hanukkah song.
7. “Light One Candle,” Peter Yarrow, 1983
This song, touching on both the Maccabees and issues of modern day social justice, has been performed both by Yarrow himself and all three of Peter, Paul and Mary.
8. “Maoz Tsur”/”Rock of Ages,” Stuart Markus, 2009
“Rock of Ages” is the English translation of the traditional liturgical Hanukkah song “Maoz Tsur,” performed here at a 2009 folk festival. It is not to be confused with the Def Leppard song of the same name, nor the hair metal rock musical or its subsequentmovie adaptation, neither of which have anything to do with Hanukkah.
9. “How Do You Spell Hanukkah,” The LeeVees, 2005
The LeeVees, a novelty group consisting of members of Guster and the Zambionis, recorded a whole album called “Hanukkah Rocks.” This song looks at the eternal question of how exactly the word is spelled in English- with an H? CH? Two n’s?
10. “Hanukkah Hey Ya!” Smooth-E, 2004
This parody of Outkast’s then-ubitiquous “Hey Ya!” replaces the original song’s “Hey”s with “Oy”s. Smooth-E, real name Eric Schwartz, is not to be confused with the president of this website’s parent company, a different Eric Schwartz.