It’s finals week at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles, and a friend and I decided to stretch our legs a bit and shake off the stupor of being in the library all morning. We were both starving, so off to the food truck we went. Armando’s Lunch Truck feeds hundreds of students in the HUC/USC neighborhood every day and their selection of sandwiches, tacos and other Mexican(ish) yummies hits the spot every time. As the nice lady handed me my tacos, she smiled and wished me “Merry Christmas.” Without missing a beat, kippah-wearing me, a rabbinical student at the Jewish seminary and graduate school half a block away, replied “Thank you. And Merry Christmas.”
The December Dilemma is a thing, and it’s entirely legitimate to debate authentic, appropriate and polite responses to being misread as a Christmas Celebrator. But that’s not where I chose to put my energy, especially since this lady feeds me tacos and is always very pleasant. Instead, my friend and I discussed our experience over our delicious lunch and walked back to school. And I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to some awesome Hanukkah music as a soundtrack to my academic labors.
My husband and I don’t have kids, and to be honest, we don’t put much effort into Hanukkah at home, aside from lighting our menorah and eating latkes, usually prepared by others. But for me, listening to Hanukkah music pretty much is the holiday. So, to bring in the Festival of Lights, I am sharing my Hanukkah playlist with one song for each of the nine candles on the menorah.
#1 Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah. Erran Baron Cohen Feat. Jules Brookes
Erran Baron Cohen’s 2008 Songs in the Key of Hanukkah a terrific mishmash of contemporary arrangements of Hanukkah favorites, as well as new songs. This song has an awesome reggae beat and the Yiddish rap wakes you up and lets you know that this isn’t your Bubbe’s Hanukkah song.
#2 The Dreidel Song. Julie Silver
Yes, it’s that song. But Julie Silver’s bluesy, folk-inflected arrangement is a total toe-tapper that you and your kids will enjoy together.
#3 Dreidel. Erran Baron Cohen Feat. Jules Brookes & Y-Love
We’re on a Dreidel roll, and this one is for grown-ups. It’s a welcome ear worm and the video is a blast. These bad-ass chassids are bringing (C)Hanukkah to the ‘chood.
#4 Chanukah (Shake it Off). Six13
To be totally honest, I’m kind of over Jewish holiday-themed parodies of pop hits. But this take off on Taylor Swift does it for me. I’m a fan of acapella groups and Six13 is one of my favorites.
#5 Light One Candle. Peter, Paul and Mary
And now for something completely different. Peter, Paul and Mary’s classic comes from a time when popular music was working to make the world a better place. I think we can use a little extra light this year.
#6 8 Days of Hanukkah. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
We lost a major talent this year with Sharon Jones’ passing. This funky soulful song is a blast. Any song of this genre that includes the lyrics “We’re cooking up the brisket the kosher butcher sold my Uncle Saul,” deserves to become a classic. NPR presented Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings performing this song in their Tiny Desk concert series, and the video is worth a look to see Jones’ radiant smile one more time.
#7 Ocho Kandelikas. Pink Martini Feat. Ari Shapiro
Speaking of NPR, I’m a total Ari Shapiro fanboy. The All Things Considered host is wicked smart, a looker and totally the Anderson Cooper of radio. Except that AC can’t sing, and Ari can! He performs occasionally with Pink Martini, the pop, jazz, Latin, lounge music, classical crossover band. Here he is on lead vocals of the Ladino classic.
#8 Relics of Love and Light. Erran Baron Cohen Feat. Idan Raichel & Avivit Caspi
One last song from Erran Baron Cohen’s project. This piece features Idan Raichel and his collaborator Avivit Caspi. Raichel is an Israeli star with large following chutz la’Aretz, and he’s known for bringing together musicians from different traditions to create an amazing fusion of Israeli, pan-Jewish and secular genres.
#9 (I’m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica. Tom Lehrer
The prolific composer of humorous novelty songs, such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and the “Masochism Tango,” offers us a Hanukkah tribute to the Left Coast. As a Minnesotan temporarily relocated to Los Angeles, this song makes me smile and helps me cope with missing my friends in the TC. It’s a difficult place to be in December, but someone has to do it.