Music and the December Holidays

Psychology Today has an article on the December holidays, Deck the Halls for Chanukah, in their problem-solving section.

The author talks about growing up with a strong Jewish identity, but celebrating Christmas. (“Caroling in our New England town was a moving spiritual experience even for a young Jewish child.”)

With our yearly Hanukkah music video posts, we’re trying to help show that Christmas isn’t the only holiday with music. And it seems like that’s the point of this article too:

Singer-songwriter Julie Geller, for instance, in the video below, sings an updated version of one of my favorite traditional tunes, Al Hanisim, “On the Miracles…”

Julie’s song centers on the miracle that traditional rabbis have encouraged Jewish people to focus on in the Chanukah holiday. This central miracle of the holiday was that light from a small vessel of oil lasted for a full eight days and nights. Light stands for learning, for studying the Jewish wisdom tradition, for spiritual growth, and for joy that can penetrate even the deepist times of darkness.

At the same time, Chanukah celebrates also a military victory, a miraculous victory of a small band of Jewish citizens who stood up to the tyranical Greek-Assyrian armies that had invaded and were ruling over the country that now is called Israel. The Jewish resistance fighters were fighting for the right of Jews to sustain and celebrate their traditions and customs.

How appropriate at this time of year for all of us to treasure our cultural heritages. Given that so many Jews and Chrisitans have formed intermarried units, it’s all the more vital to remember the importance of Christian and Jewish traditions. Both celebrate joy, light, festivity, and celebration. Each religious tradition carries its history and conveys its moral lessons through its holiday activities.

Watching Hanukkah 2012

You’re right. Hanukkah is almost here and, unlike in years past, I haven’t thrown many videos your way. Sorry about that. Here are some of the news ones making the rounds:

Hanukkah Lovin’ Michelle Citrin is back with a new holiday tune of love and latkes. (And it features my super awesome red Hanukkah dreidel cardigan — I’m wearing it today!)

Eight Nights is a Hanukkah parody mashup of “Some Nights” by Fun, “Die Young” by Ke$ha, “Live While We’re Young” by One Direction. (Stand Four is former members of the Maccabeats, now with their own group.)

Shine is the new, original song from the Maccabeats, released today.

Fire Is in the Air comes from the Bible Raps team, connecting lighting the Hanukkah candles to fire to Torah.

Happy Hanukkah is new from Matisyahu (though not as catchy as his last Hanukkah song, Miracle).

Nice King Hanukkah Song is Jonathan Mann’s addition, part of his “make a new song every day” ongoing project. (This was the contribution for day #1428.)

Let’s Celebrate from Alexandra Kelly, who wrote this because growing up Jewish surrounded by Christmas, she felt Hanukkah songs were lacking.

But it’s not all music…

Puppet News: Hanukkah Edition interviews folks in Times Square about Hanukkah.

Rube Goldberg Machine from Technion (university in Tel Aviv), lighting the menorah with a robot.

In the Kitchen: Chanukah Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup with Dill, teaming up with the chef/owner of the New England Soup Factory, JewishBoston.com shares a great soup to serve with latkes.

Dreidel: Understanding the Game is our new Hanukkah video, explaining the symbolism of the dreidel game and what the letters mean.

Y-Love Speaks Out for LGBT Inclusion in Jewish Community, using the light of Hanukkah as his launching point. (Turn on the closed captioning (the “cc” button at the bottom right of the video) if you want English subtitles as the video is in Yiddish.)

And, with a nod to our friends and family who celebrate Christmas, a video for you.

All I Want For Christmas Is YouAs a friend said, “It’s the second-best collaboration between Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, classroom instruments, and a solo female artist singing a well-known pop song!”

Dueling December Ditties

As many of you know, all the best Christmas songs were written by Jews. But what about Hanukkah songs? Many of us might be able to hum a few bars of Adam Sandler’s parody or “I Had a Little Dreidel,” but surely there must be more, right?

The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation (I hadn’t heard of them either), has just announced the release of an album that will highlight both Christmas and Hanukkah music, but with a twist: it’s bringing listeners through the holidays’ dueling history.

The collection tells a uniquely American story: once Christmas was declared a national holiday in 1870, the competitive campaign to beef up Hanukkah began. The obscure, minor Jewish holiday rapidly elevated: not only will we celebrate Christmas, we will create a rival holiday of our own to celebrate as well! You have one day of presents, we will have eight nights. But Jews could not resist the allure of Christmas, and for reasons of money-making, sentimentality, or a simple love for the music, every major Jewish performer cut a Christmas track. The result was a truly American phenomenon: a category of Christmas music, as sung by Jews, became a vital part of the holiday fabric.

I just listened to Dreidel, and was super impressed to find a Hanukkah tune that I hadn’t previously known.

The two disc album, ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah: The Musical Battle Between Christmas and the Festival of Lights, comes out November 15, and might be a fun way to lighten the December dilemma in our homes.

With a big thanks to our friend David at JewishBoston.com.

Customize Your Hanukkah Celebrations

Our friends over at Jewish Holidays in a Box just posted this to their blog. And, because it’s now November 1, and, because there’s less than 6 weeks until Hanukkah, and, because the post is filled with great ideas for all sorts of families, we’ve decided to cross-post it here. (It was written by marketer/teacher/writer Ellen Zimmerman, who founded Jewish Holidays in a Box to support families who want to lead more joyous home holiday observances with less stress.) Enjoy!

Making your own Hanukkah menorah can be easier than you may think!

Our expanding, diverse family just expanded again. Mazal tov to the newlyweds! So as each Jewish holiday rolls around, I wonder what this huge mix of ages, interests, and backgrounds might enjoy.

For the first time at Rosh Hashanah dinner, for example, we used Bugles (the salty, crunchy snack food) to pretend that we were blowing the shofar, through a series of tekiahs, shevarims, and teruahs. Everyone at the table, except the baby, played along.

One Passover, we wrote new lyrics to a popular tune (“You Are My Sunshine”) as a welcome-to-our-Seder song, then played it on banjo and guitar. We handed out song sheets, so everyone could sing along with us at what might have been the first-ever bluegrass Seder.

As you think about celebrating Hanukkah this year, what does your family care about most? And how can you draw on their talents and interests to create a rich, multi-textured holiday? Do you have:

  • Avid bakers?
  • Younger kids who love to color?
  • Older kids who can make truly fabulous decorations?
  • Photographers and videographers?
  • Woodworkers?
  • Lego-loving kids and adults?

There are endless ways to draw on their unique abilities – from simple, quickie projects to more complicated ones. In bringing them into the preparations through their passions, you add to the joy.

Hanukkah cookies, quick or fancy

If you have bakers in your group, find a recipe for classic Hanukkah sugar cookies or just slice some rounds from ready-to-bake cookie dough. To decorate, use blue and silver sprinkles, a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, or colored sugar.

Or use the fun and easy stained glass painting technique: mix egg yolk with a little water and add a few drops of food coloring to small batches of the yolk mixture. Provide new watercolor paint brushes for each bowl and watch the creativity bloom. After the cookies are painted, pop them into the oven.

Got ambitious and experienced bakers? Try making your own jelly-filled doughnuts, sufganiyot. (Try this yummy-sounding recipe for sufganiyot.) [For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that this is far above my current abilities. One day. Maybe.]

Capturing the moments

Ask family photographers and videographers to preserve holiday prep, candle lighting, and games. For example, budding videographers can capture, then edit a three-minute show featuring baking, table setting, drawing, and present wrapping. Invite them to present their show one evening after you light the candles.

We haven’t gotten organized enough to do this ourselves, but I want to start getting a group shot at family gatherings. The key is planning ahead to identify a place in the house where everyone can fit into the shot, get the camera and tripod ready, and review how to set the timer. Is the best moment at the beginning, before the flow of food and games and candles? Or with everyone surrounding platters of hot latkes, just before they’re served? If you have a technique that works for this, please share. I love the idea of taking an annual shot that becomes a Hanukkah history of your family.

Building with Legos and wood

If you’re a Lego-loving family, check out these two posts from the remarkable Joanna Brichetto to make a lightable menorah and a flameless menorah.

Do you have a passion for woodworking and some tools? You can make your own wooden menorah. My husband experimented with a prototype using a piece of red oak, but you could make it from a piece of a 2 x 4. Here, he drilled holes for the nuts with a Forstner bit, then glued nuts into the holes. To create the shamash (the higher candle), he used a piece of 7/8-diameter wooden dowel. First, he drilled a 7/8” hole in the wood to hold the dowel, then glued in the dowel, and finally, drilled a hole in the top of the dowel for the nut. (NOTE: This prototype is far from perfect. And I apologize to my husband for showing it here. See how one of the holes cuts into the beveled edge? I didn’t, but he sure did. Still, you get the concept. He donated the other, more perfect menorahs he made to soldiers serving abroad.)

Want some other ideas? Just do an online search for “make your own menorah.”

Decorating for Hanukkah

All of these are ways to call out the artistic spirit of your family.

  • Coloring pictures
  • Making a huge banner
  • Creating a centerpiece
  • Assembling a long, colorful paper chain
  • Stringing colorful ribbons around the room

In our Hanukkah in a Box , we provide coloring pages, plus orange, blue, and white curling ribbons to make your home festive, as well as other decorating ideas. We also include Hanukkah napkins. Just dressing up your dinner table with these says, “It’s a party!”

In our Hanukkah Games Box , we have a menorah cut-and-color activity that little hands can color and “light” every night. There’s also a design-your-own banner that can end up a dramatic six-foot-long piece of art, suspended from ribbon. It can be decorated simply, just with crayons. Or it can be masterfully designed and layered with fabrics, buttons, glitter glue, holographic papers, origami, markers, or any other design tools that your artists prefer.

Musicians lead a songfest

If you are lucky enough to have singers or musicians in your midst, you can do a little advance prep and get them a CD of Hanukkah songs or sheet music. Music teachers will often help recommend music at the right level of complexity. Or explore www.jewishmusic.com. I’ve purchased some of my favorite books of Jewish and Israeli music from them, like “Harvest of Jewish Song” and “The Ultimate Jewish Piano Book.”

Your musicians can then lead the group in singing the classic tunes and introduce you to new songs.

Got songwriters? Ask them to come up with new lyrics to a tune everyone knows or pen a whole new creation to unveil.

Bottom line: you can showcase many of the talents in your family to make this a DIY Hanukkah, filled with warmth and bright memories.

For more free holiday ideas, sign up at www.JewishHolidaysInABox.com.

Howard Stern: Anti-Semitism Crusader

As I heard the rhythmic song begin its first beat, I knew this song was not going to be funny or clever.  This morning, Howard Stern introduced his listeners on SiriusXM 100 to an anti-Semitic song created by pseudo-celebrity Andy Dick.  Howard Stern, who often jokes on the radio about being “half-Jewish,” is actually the child of two Jewish parents, Ben and Ray Stern.  Stern has been doing an outstanding job of defending against the anti-Semitism that Andy Dick has been spouting  all over the airwaves.  In an interview several weeks back, Dick ranted and raved about his distaste for Jewish people, and how he felt as if Stern only hired Jewish people.  He also referred to Stern as a “shallow, money-grubbing Jew.”

While Stern has allowed callers to call him a “hook-nosed Jew bastard” and other derogatory terms, he seems to uphold the philosophy that if you are going to make fun of someone, then make fun of everyone.  But with Andy Dick, it’s different.  His anti-Semitism is spiteful and anything but funny.  It’s personal.

Andy’s song, entitled “The Jews are out to get you,” includes the lyrics:  Go home Jews, Hitler’s after you… Hitler’s hanging out in the shadows… he’s looking for you.   

There is one good thing: Andy has pulled the song from his personal website.  The bad thing – you can still listen to it here (warning: you may find this song offensive; Benjamin and I sure did): 

I can’t wait to continue to listen to Stern defend Judaism.

The Passover Hodgepodge

It’s been a while since I’ve rounded up some favorite links, but what better excuse than Passover? There’s something for everybody!

Let’s start with Passover and Easter in a Box. For your convenience, you can now get Passover standards (matzah, a seder plate and grape juice) packaged with Easter treats (candy, chocolate bunnies and Easter cookies).

Sweets aren’t your thing? Is that skewed a little young for your tastes? There’s always the Sipping Seder, a seder in cocktail form! If this isn’t a great way to introduce Passover to your friends and family (of legal age), I don’t know what is.

Looking for the 2011 version of the Passover story? Check out this video:

This year we found a great crop of Haggadahs for all tastes and styles:
[list][*] – JewishBoston.com has a Haggadah and a Leader’s Guide, which is free, downloadable, and easy to edit;[/*]
[*] – haggadot.com">Haggadot lets you pick and choose, for free, which components you want to use and download, as you crowd-source your customized Haggadah;[/*]
[*] – and The Forward has a review of seven more that you can find at your favorite store.[/*][/list]

Following her recent post on religion, exploration and making Passover kid-friendly, Galit Breen has blogged about more ways to make Passover fun for kids.

My buddies at JewishBoston.com are to blame (or be thanked) for this punk seder cover song:

You might enjoy the interfaith Passover video ecard, featuring Rabbi David Wolpe and an interesting version of “Eliyahu Ha’Navi” in the background.

That’s it for now…. Enjoy!

Justin Bieber: Honorary Jew?

Justin felt that if it was something that Jesus would have said, he wanted to say it as well. (-shema/">Jewlicious)

We’re talking, of course, about Justin Bieber saying the Shema before each of his concerts.

But the Biebs isn’t Jewish. His mother, a single parent, is an Evangelical Christian. Before concerts, Bieber and his crew would form a prayer circle. His manager, “Scooter” Braun, and his music director, Dan Kanter, are Jewish.

Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette, is a single parent and a devout evangelical Christian. She would lead the prayers, which would end, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Scooter, an alumnus of Camp Ramah, along with Bieber’s music director, Dan Kanter, are Jewish; and they decided to add in their own prayer to the circles, the Shema.

If you have a ‘tween girl in your life, or, really, pay attention to the media at all, you know that Bieber’s movie, Never Say Never, opened this weekend. In it,

Bieber is seen reciting the “Shema” prayer in Hebrew prior to the big concert, but the sound is drowned out, and only the most astute listener would be able to figure out what is being said. This scene actually ended up on the “cutting room floor,” but was reinserted into the film at the request of Justin’s mother.

And it’s not just Braun and Kanter reciting it:

By their third pre-concert prayer circle, Justin added his voice to Braun’s and Kanter’s prayer as well. Shocked, Braun asked Justin how he knew the Shema.

Having already cribbed this blog post from Jewlicious rather heavily, I’ll leave you with this final excerpt:

Justin replied that he had looked it up online and memorized it. Justin felt that if it was something that Jesus would have said, he wanted to say it as well. It would also connect him more to his manager. Braun, one of the teen idol’s de facto parents and father figures, explained to him what the prayer meant, the oneness of the Lord, and its centrality to modern Jewish worship. Thus began the tradition of Justin reciting the Shema prior to going on stage. (Of course, one can quibble and argue that in the year zero CE, prayer books were not in use and the order of personal prayers differed from the modern selections and patterns. But who am I to quibble?)

Amen.

For more on this story, check out these other sources.

And, for fun, check out the Biebs joining forces with Kanter at Kanter’s wedding in Toronto (Oct. 2010):

And, if that wasn’t enough…

Debbie Friedman z”l

Today’s just not a happy day to be blogging.

On Saturday, while people were hearing news of the Arizona shooting, some of us were saying a mi sheberakh (a traditional Jewish prayer for the sick) for Debbie Friedman, who was quite ill. Then on Sunday, we heard the sad news that Friedman had passed away.

Friedman was best known as a Jewish songwriter, often credited with reinvigorating synagogue music (especially in the Reform movement). Through her music, many people found prayers more accessible and interesting. Friedman could be credited for making Reform Judaism more welcoming to the masses. As BZ wrote on Jewschool, “Her goal was always (as she wrote in the liner notes to Sing Unto God back in 1972) ‘the importance of community involvement in worship’.”

She was among the first to combine Hebrew and English words in liturgical songs. Rabbi Daniel Freeland, Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a 2007 tribute video,

The English tells you exactly what the song is about, what the prayer is about, even if you don’t understand the Hebrew. And she was able to get us to feel comfortable singing Hebrew words because she gave us the English language spiritual overlay – which can be translated into any language. It was a very creative spin, and, frankly, Debbie reintroduced English into the American Reform vocabulary in the 1970s, after it had been totally banished.

(You can watch the full video, embedded below.)

Her impact was so huge, a healing service, put together and held on Sunday at the Manhattan JCC, was not only completely full, but  was streamed online. Several thousand people tuned in to watch it live, and many thousand more have watched it since (and I’m sure many more will do so over the coming days and weeks). You can view the video here; the service starts around the 16:00 minute mark. Unsurprisingly, the service started with one of Friedman’s tunes, with which everyone sang along. As was said in the service, it shifted from a healing service to become an unofficial memorial instead, with the community acting as shomrim (guards), singing her songs with hopes of guarding her soul. (Word of Friedman’s passing spread shortly before this service was scheduled to start.)

You can read the URJ’s statement, an obituary in the Forward or Memories of Debbie Friedman on Jewschool.com. You can also read through #rememberingdebbie tweets or add your own using the #rememberingdebbie hashtag.

The following video was shown as Debbie Friedman was honored with the Alexander M. Schindler Distinguished Service Award at the 2007 Union for Reform Judaism Biennial Convention:

May her memory be for blessing.

Up and Dancing in Circles

I just loved this piece I heard on NPR last night about Abraham Inc., a joint project of classical clarinetist Dave Krakauer, funk trombone player Fred Wesley Jr. (who backed James Brown and Parliament Funkadelic, among others) and one of my favorite young musicians, hip-hop/klezmer maestro DJ Socalled, the performance name of Josh Dolgin. I just think DJ Socalled’s music is amazing–and as you know, I love cultural mash-ups.

There’s a documentary about Dolgin’s music on Youtube, which I knew was coming but didn’t realize had finally been released! It’s $.99 to view on youtube, here. Can’t believe I missed that. I’ll try to watch it in the next week and let you know what it’s like.

I was very tempted to include at least an introduction to other Jewish-African-American musical collaborations, but the list was immense. Then musicians who are both African American and Jewish–also too long. Another day!  Enjoy the video

One More Passover Roundup Post

I think it was Jewschool that tipped me off to the Idelsohn Society Passover Mix Tape. It’s not a tape, really, it’s a sound file with all kinds of music on it. It has Socalled on it and I really love that stuff. (It’s a little hipster-ish, but we like to be hip, right?)

If you feel hip to using the web for your seder, you will love My Haggadah Made It Myself. Our board chair, who is very web-savvy, found this one for us  in a blog post on coolhunting.com. I love the look of these illustrations!

Of course our CEO Ed Case is going to use the latest Velveteen Rabbi Haggadah.

When I tweeted yesterday’s Passover roundup post, I really won the jackpot–Esther Kustanowitz invited me to be a beta tester at haggadot.com, a project her roommate Eileen Levinson,  an artist and graphic designer, is masterminding. If you are the kind of person who knows what beta testing means, write to Eileen at info@haggadot.com.  For a lot of interfaith families, the Passover seder is best when you put together your own service. There are a lot of great resources out there to do this, but this one seems to put the emphasis on the pretty. I’m hoping that next year, this site will be available to everyone to make really personal haggadot that fit your family.