Chanukkah: In Story and Song

Sung by The Western Wind:
Phyllis Elaine Clark & Kathy Theil, sopranos; William Zukof, countertenor
Michael Steinberger & Neil Farrell, tenors; Elliot Z. Levine, baritone
with guest instrumentalists:
Mary Rowell, violin; Anne Demarinis, accordion; Brett Simner, double bass

Leonard Nimoy, Guest Narrator
Narration written by Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

Track List:
1Chanukkah, Oy Chanukkah2:24Chassidic Melody
3Mi Ze Y’malel1:47Sephardic folk song
5Hayo Haya1:58Chassidic song • solos: Zukof/Theil/Levine/Clark • arr. Elliot Z. Levine
7Mi Y’malel1:29Israeli folk song
9Al Hanissim1:39folk melody • arr. Elliot Z. Levine
11Maoz Tzur1:30Hugo Chaim Adler (1895–1955) based on a melody by Benedetto Marcello
13Rock of Ages/Maoz Tzur1:35German Synagogue Melody
15Lo V’chayil2:29Elliot Z. Levine
16Psalm 301:34Sephardic song (instrumental)
18Los Siete Hijos de Hanna3:25Sephardic song • solo: Clark
20Hanerot Hallalu1:42Louis Lewandowski (1821–1894)
22O Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh3:15folk melody • solo: Theil • arr. Lawrence E. Bennett
24Boruch Ate, Zingt der Tate1:53Solomon Golub (1887–1952) • arr. William Zukof
26Tzindt on Likhtelekh1:08folk melody • arr. Cheryl Bensman Rowe
27Mi Ze Hidlik1:41folk melody • arr. Elliot Z. Levine
28Akht Kleyne Brider0:55Meir Posner (1892–1931) arr. William Lyon Lee
29Lichvod Hachanukkah2:09folk melody • solos: Farrell/Clark/Levine/Zukof • arr. Phyllis E. Clark
31Kemach Min Hasak1:40F. Greenspan arr. Cheryl Bensman Rowe
33Hazeremos una Merenda0:58Sephardic song • solos: Clark/Theil • arr. Western Wind
34Quita’l Tas2:12Sephardic song • arr. Cheryl Bensman Rowe
35Ocho Kandelikas2:18Flory Jagoda • arr: Joshua Jacobson
37Gut Yon-Tef, Aykh Kinder
(We Come To You Children)
1:37L. Dreytsel • solos Steinberger/Theil/Levine • arr. William Zukof
39S’vivon0:54folk song • arr. Max Helfman
41Drey Zikh, Dreydele2:10Avrom Goldfaden (1840–1908) • arr. Elliot Z. Levine
42I Have A Little Dreydle2:39Michel Gelbart (1899–1966) • solo: Clark • arr. Levine, Zukof, Clark
Total time: 61:29
(Narration tracks are 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 30, 32, 36, 38, 40)

Chanukkah in Story & Song was originally created for National Public Radio in 2001

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik, spiritual leader of The Forest Hills Jewish Center, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1981, at which time he also received a masters degree in Rabbinics. Prior to his rabbinical studies, he had earned a masters degree in Hebrew Culture from New York University.

In addition to his responsibilities at The Forest Hills Jewish Center, Rabbi Skolnik is involved in numerous communal activities. He serves on the Board of Directors of UJA-Federation of Greater New York, as well as chairing the Sub-Committee on AIDS of its Communal Planning Committee. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Solomon Schechter School of Queens; the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards; and the Board of Trustees of The Forest Hills Community House. Rabbi Skolnik has published a number of articles, lectured extensively throughout the New York area, and has appeared on national radio and television.

Rabbi Skolnik is married to Robin Segal Skolnik, a social worker. They have four children, Hillel, Leora, Talya, and Matan.

Narrator Leonard Nimoy earned the admiration of generations for his portrayal of the Vulcan, Mr. Spock, on Star Trek. He also directed two Star Trek movies as well as the hit Three Men and a Baby.

In 1991 Nimoy starred in and co-produced Never Forget, portraying a survivor who fought a successful court battle against those who denied that the Holocaust had occurred. He also received an Emmy nomination for his performance in A Woman Called Golda.

In addition to his autobiographies, I Am Not Spock (1975) and I Am Spock (1995), Nimoy has also written three volumes of poetry and recorded ten narrative albums.

About the Music

The music for The Chanukkah Story is an eclectic compilation of songs and compositions from many different sources reflecting the diverse and international nature of the Jewish experience. The oldest music on the recording is drawn from the songs of the Spanish Jews, the Sephardim. Residing in Spain for a millennium until their expulsion in 1492, the Spanish Jewish community carried thousands of songs with them to the Near East, Greece, Italy, North Africa, England and Holland as part of their rich cultural heritage. These songs, many of them in Hebrew, Ladino (the Spanish vernacular of the Sephardim), or a mixture of both, were passed on from generation to generation until they were captured for posterity, and notated by twentieth-century musicologists. These songs often personalize and elaborate on biblical stories — Mi Ze Y’malel gives us a Chanukkah history lesson in five verses of elegant Hebrew; Los Siete Hijos de Hanna (The Seven Sons of Hanna) movingly depicts Hanna, “the good Jewess” and her sons withstanding the temptations of apostasy. Other songs give us delicious details of everyday life – as in the recipe songs Quit’al Tas and Hazeremos una Merenda. A more modern melody, Flory Jagoda’s delightful version of Ocho Kandelikas, sung in the Sephardic-Yugoslav dialect of Sarajevo, “revives exciting memories of Chanukkah from her childhood: On each night of the holiday matchmaking parties were held; while the children sang and danced, their parents and grandparents enjoyed planning their weddings. Traditional “pastelikos” – almond honey cakes – were served as a portent of good luck and happiness, an assurance of a successful match.”

Perhaps the best known Chanukkah song is Maoz Tzur, an acrostic poem by Mordechai from the 13th century. Its rapid dispersal throughout Europe at the time of the Third Crusade, a period of vicious persecutions, attests to the morale-raising power of the Maccabean heroic archetype. Our recording presents two versions of “Maoz Tzur”: Hugo Chaim Adler’s setting of the Benedetto Marcello tune, and the popular German synagogue hymn. Both melodies have interesting and traceable histories.

In about 1720 in a Venice synagogue, the Italian composer and Judeophile, Benedetto Marcello (1686–1739), heard a hymn sung by Venice’s German Jewish community. Appreciating the beauty of this melody, he carefully transcribed “Maoz Tzur” with the music written from right to left to follow the Hebrew. He published this Hebrew transcription above his own setting (in Italian) of Psalm 15 which he based on this haunting Jewish melody. Over the years many Jewish composers harmonized this melody but often attributed their compositions to Marcello. The first version of “Maoz Tzur” sung on The Chanukkah Story is a four-part setting of Marcello’s transcription by Hugo Chaim Adler (1896–1955). Originally published as By The Waters of Babylon, Alder created a lucid composition in a contemporary idiom that illuminates the beauty and rapture of this melody.

The second version of “Maoz Tzur” (Rock of Ages in English) is one which will be familiar to almost every Jew of German and Eastern European background, as well as to Christians raised in the Protestant tradition. Our harmonized version is taken from The Union Hymnal, the songbook of the late 19th-century American German Jewish community. This melody is based on some of the same sources that Luther used for his hymns – German folk melodies from the Renaissance.

Folk melodies form a major part of the music on The Chanukkah Story. The texts for these songs were written by several important writers who were part of a movement, starting in the 1850’s, to create two new literary languages: Yiddish and modern Hebrew. Yiddish had evolved since the middle ages as the vernacular of European Jewry, but its literature only began late in the 19th century. Mordkhe Rivesman (1868–1924), who provided the poems for Channukah Oy Chanukkah and Tzindt On Likhtelekh, and the “labor poet” Morris Rosenfeld (1862–1923), who gave us the poignant, O Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh, were two important figures in the development of Yiddish poetry. Two of their counterparts in developing a modern Hebrew literature were Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873–1934), author of the text for Lichvod Hachannukah, and Levin Kipnis (1894–1990) who wrote many poems for children, including Mi Ze Hidlik, and S’vivon. The marriage of these Yiddish and Hebrew poems to folk melodies supports the poets’ aspiration to create a literature that was rooted in the experience and language of the people.

A corresponding Yiddish art-song movement pioneered by well-educated and musically literate composers is represented on our recording by Solomon Golub (1887–1952), Michel Gelbart (1899–1966), and Meir Posner (1892–1931). Often beginning their musical careers as boy soprano “meshorerim”, choristers who improvised accompaniments for cantors, these composers went on to conservatory training in Europe and came to America in the early decades of the twentieth century intent on raising the level of Jewish Music. Gelbart organized the Workmen’s Circle chorus and devoted himself to educating children and creating children’s music and lyrics – under the “nom de plume” of Ben Aaron – like his Chanukkah hit, I Have A Little Dreydle. Posner succeeded Gelbart as the conductor of the Workmen’s Circle chorus, authored a Yiddish harmony text, and created a Yiddish singing translation of Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah. They were also popularizers of contemporary Yiddish poetry as evidenced by Solomon Golub’s setting of Boruch Ate, Zingt Der Tate by Avrom Reisen (1876–1953), which touchingly conveys the harsher side of the American experience and the uplifting energy of the Chanukkah lights.

Certainly no recording containing Yiddish songs could be complete without a number by Avrom Goldfaden (1840–1908), the founder of the Yiddish musical theater. A musically illiterate tunesmith, Goldfaden brought the music of the Eastern European ghetto to the stages of Europe and America. The children’s song, Drey Zikh Dreydele, is actually a tune from Goldfaden’s operetta, Bar Kochba, with new words by Chane Mlotek.

The 19th century European classical music tradition is represented on The Chanukkah Story by Louis Lewandowski’s (1821–1894) lyrical setting of Hanerot Hallalu. Reminiscent of Mendelssohn, his linear writing and stirring harmonies convey the majesty of the Prayer Book command to use the Chanukkah lights only for contemplation.

We asked Elliot Z. Levine to provide original compositions to complete our story. Mr. Levine, a singer/composer in the Western Wind for more than 20 years, has set Zechariah’s prophetic utterance, Lo V’Chayil (Not by Might), to music. Using a vigorous folk melody, he has also fashioned a new polyphonic arrangement of Al Hanissim (Of the Miracles), the sole reference to the Maccabees in the Prayer Book.

Psalm 30, the Psalm associated with Chanukkah, is performed in a Sephardic version (by instruments and narrator) and concludes the section on the Maccabees in The Chanukkah Story. Psalm 30 begins with the words: “A Psalm: A Song for the Dedication of the Temple By David”. A form of the word Chanukkah, dedication, is used in that brief introduction to the Psalm. By linking an ancient dedication of Solomon’s temple to the Maccabean re-dedication of the Second Temple, the ancient rabbis imply the continuity and seamlessness of Jewish history, a theme that resonates with meaning even today.

Notes by William Zukof

Texts and Translations

Chanukkah, Oy Chanukkah Mordkhe Rivesman (1868–1924)

Oh Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah
What a beautiful holiday!
It is happy and joyous.
It has no equal.

Every night we play dreydle (spin the top)
And eat tasty, hot latkes (pancakes), as many as you want.

Hurry children, light the candles.
Each one of you sing “al hanissim” (about the miracles).
Praise God for the miracles
and dance together in circles.

Mi Ze Y’malel (Sephardic song)

Who can describe the miracles of God
performed in the days of Mattathias the son of Yochanan.
I will rejoice in the Lord.
He performed great deeds for the sons of the Hasmoneans.

He is exalted above all exalted ones.
He was revealed at Sinai.
His chariots are “myriads upon myriads.”

In each generation many rise up against us
and would destroy all memory of our remnant
If not for our God, Lord of Hosts, who humbles them.

And in the days of the Greeks, sons of iniquity,
They took counsel against us.
They prohibited the observance of the Sabbath,
the celebration of the New Moon and circumcision.
These three they tried to take away from us.

Our arrogant enemies drew their bows against us
Alisha, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim *
(Against us) a nation of priests
They entered and defiled the temple …

Translated by Shalom Goldman

Hayo Haya (Chassidic song)

Once there was a wicked King,
His sword was sharp, his darts did sting.
What was his name? Antiochus!

He came to Jerusalem’s holy quarter,
And shed our blood like water.
What was his name? Antiochus!

He came and burned the Torah,
Put out the Menorah.
What was his name? Antiochus!

Rose the hero Judah the brave,
His ancient land to save.
What was his name? the Maccabee!

In the Temple he lit the Menorah,
And then the Jews had light.
When was this? On Chanukkah!

Mi Y’malel (Menashe Ravina)

Who can retell
The things that befell us?
Who can count them?

In every age
A hero or sage,
Arose to our aid!

Hark! In days of yore, in Israel’s ancient land,
Brave Maccabeus led the faithful band.
But now all Israel must as one arise,
Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.

Translation by Ben N. Edidin

Al Hanissim (Prayer Book)

For the miracles, and for the deliverance, and for the mighty acts, and for the acts of salvation that You performed for our ancestors in those days, at this time of year; In the days of Mattathias the son of Yochanan, the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the Greek Empire sought to force Your people Israel to abandon Your Torah and to deviate from Your chosen laws and practices, You in Your great mercy stood with them in their hour of distress …

Translated by Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) (Mordechai, 13th Century)

English singing translation by Marcus Jastrow and Gustave Gottheil,
adapted from the German of Leopold Stein

Lo V’chayil (Zechariah 4:6)

“Not by might, nor by strength, but by my spirit,” said the Lord of Hosts.

Psalm 30:1–4 A Psalm: A Song for the Dedication of the Temple, by David

I will extol thee, Lord, for Thou hast lifted me up and not made my foes rejoice over me.

Lord, my God, I cried unto Thee and Thou hast healed me.

Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: Thou didst keep me alive that I should not go down into the pit.

Sing unto the Lord, ye who follow Him, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.

Los Siete Hijos de Hanna (Sephardic song)

Hanna has seven sons,
Hanna the good Jewess,
The king had them summoned
all seven in one day.

“Come here, son of Hanna,
Hanna the good Jewess.
I will give you my crown
and you will sit upon my throne.”

“I do not want your crown,
nor will I sit upon your throne.
I will not forsake my Holy Law;
nor believe in idolatry.”

Hanerot Hallalu (Prayer Book)

We kindle these lights in remembrance of the miraculous deliverance Thou didst effect for our forefathers through Thy holy priests. These lights are sacred to us throughout the eight days of Chanukkah. We are not permitted to use their light. We are only to contemplate them, and thus to offer praises for the wonderful miracles of Thy deliverance.

O Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh (Morris Rosenfeld)

O you little candles,
You tell stories,
Tales without an end:
You tell of bloody battles,
Of skill and courage,
Wonders of the past!

When I see you glimmering,
a dream comes to me, twinklingly,
and this old dream reminds me:
“Jews, you once fought battles,
Jews, you once were victorious”
it is hardly believable!…

“You were once a nation,
and you ruled a people,
you had a country,
and you were strong!”
Oh, how deeply I am stirred!

Oh, little candles!
your stories
arouse my anguish;
Deep in my heart something begins to stir
And I ask with tears in my eyes:
What will happen now?…

Boruch Ate, Zingt Der Tate (Avrom Reisen)

“Boruch Ate” (blessed art Thou), the father sings
As he lights the candles.
And the mild, delicate light falls
Upon his pale face.
A fire that’s holy and precious
Shines in his eyes;
And this stooped, tired man
Begins to stand erect.

And it seems to meand we believe it
There still is something here
There remains much to love.
The hour is a holy one.

Old sounds, long forgotten?
But no, they are still resounding.
Sing father, “Boruch Ate …”
I am still your child.

Tzindt On Likhtelekh (Mordkhe Rivesman)

Light little candles, the little thin ones, the pretty ones.
Let them burn one after another.
You, as a people, will live forever.
For eight days we Jews sing happily,
For eight whole days our song resounds.

Twinkle cheerfully, little candles, twinkle,
May you brightly light up every corner.
Children loudly sing “al hanissim” (about the miracles).
Brothers, merrily sing Chanukkah songs
So that you do not forget the miracle of Chanukkah.

Mi Ze Hidlik (Levin Kipnis)

Who is it who has lit these thin candles like stars above.
The children themselves know that today is Chanukkah.

Every happy candle, every dear candle, burns, hints, sparkles.
The children stand around and their joy is boundless.

Translated by Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

Akht Kleyne Brider (A. Katz)

Eight little brothers
create a great flame
They sing silent songs
Of a noble ancestry.

Of an ancestry of fighters,
Brave and loyal,
Of proud victors
Who triumphed over slavery.

Eight silent witnesses,
Your light recalls
Our forefathers
In a distant land.

Lichvod Hachanukkah (Chaim Nachman Bialik)

My father lit candles for me,
And the shamesh (helper candle) was his torch.
Do you know in whose honor he did this?
In honor of Chanukkah.

My teacher gave me a dreydle,
made of poured and molded lead.
Do you know in whose honor she did this?
In honor of Chanukkah.

My mother gave me a pancake,
a pancake hot and sweet.
Do you know in whose honor she did this?
In honor of Chanukkah.

Translated by Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

Kemach Min Hasak (S. Bass)

Flour from the sack,
oil from the pitcher,
It’s Chanukkah today,
a pleasant and beautiful holiday,
la, la, la …
Flour flour from the sack,
Oil from the pitcher,
Let us prepare
pancakes for the holiday,
la, la, la …

We’ll add an egg from the basket,
More sugar, thin and fine,
Come to the table,
We’ll eat pancakes,
la, la, la …

Translated by Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

Hazeremos Una Merenda (Sephardic song)

Let’s make a meal!
What time? You decide.

One takes the oil from a container.
The other takes flour from a sack,
To make little cakes for Chanukkah.

Quita’l Tas (Sephardic song)

Bring out the tray.
Put down the food.
The girls set the table
in the month of Chanukkah.
Let’s feast again.

Take the chicken from the kitchen,
Give the soup to the neighbor,
So that the month of Chanukkah
may be sweet for her.
Let’s feast again.

One takes ten measures of oil from a container.
The other takes ten handfuls of flour from a sack,
To make little cakes for Chanukkah.
Let’s feast again.

Ocho Kandelikas (Sephardic song according to Flory Jagoda)

Beautiful Chanukkah is here
Eight candles for me.

One candle, two candles, three candles, four candles,
five candles, six candles, seven candles, eight candles for me.

I will give many parties
With happiness and pleasure.

I will eat the little cakes
With almonds and honey.

We Come To You Children / Gut Yontef Aykh Kinder (S. Tsesler)

English singing translation by William Zukof

S’vivon (Levin Kipnis)

English singing translation by Max Helfman

Drey Zikh, Dreydele (Chana Mlotek)

English singing translation by William Zukof

I Have A Little Dreydle / Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl (Ben Aaron)

English singing translation by Samuel S. Grossman
Yiddish translations by Abe and Gert Gershowitz