CHAPTER 11: POP GOES THE CULTURE

82: Chanukah as a symbol and metaphor

     A.  The main themes about Chanukah reflected in popular (and traditional) cultural forms are lights, freedom, bravery, heroism, and resistance. The holiday has become a metaphor to celebrate the underdog who overcomes overwhelming odds.

83: Are there many books, songs, TV shows, movies, and books?

      A. Amazon.com lists 3,455 books under “Hanukkah.” (It lists all the books with alternate spellings under the same category.) If you include all departments, there are 10, 887 Chanukah- related items, including Mensch on the Bench toys and Chanukah-themed hoodies. There are 39-46 (depending on the spelling of the word) dvds on Amazon with Chanukah or Hanukkah in the title. There are only nine movies on imdb.com listed with Chanukah or Hanukkah in the title, but there are 66 when looking up movies under keywords.  In all cases, the majority are for children. If you look under “Maccabees” or “Menorah,” another approximately 10,000 items are listed, although many overlap with those found when searching for “Chanukah” or “Hanukkah.” Hanukkah,, ,The numbers demonstrate just how prevalent the holiday has become as part of U.S. popular culture. It is an impossibly daunting task to list even a small sampling of the songs, TV shows, movies, books (fiction and nonfiction) dealing with the holiday. Instead of a small sampling, here is a miniscule one of a few songs, TV shows, and movies.

84: Traditional songs

     A.  In addition to liturgical songs such as Ma’oz Tzur (question #47), there are several songs in both English and Hebrew familiar to anyone who attended Hebrew school or went to a Chanukah party at a synagogue or Jewish Community Center, such as “Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah,”  “I Have a Little Dreidel,” “Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov.”

Most of the songs are for children, although adults enjoy them as well. One of the best known, which is in English, is called “I Have a Little Dreidel,”

I have a little dreidel.

I made it out of clay.

And when it’s dry and ready,

Then dreidel I will play.

Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,

I made it out of clay,

And when it’s dry and ready,

Then dreidel I will play.

            (Repeat until your parents threaten to take away all your Chanukah gifts and send them to needy children on the moon.)

85:  Modern songs

    A: These are only three of the best known songs, and one album. (Copyright laws limit the reprinting of complete lyrics.)

  1. “Light One Candle,” by Peter Yarrow– ©1983 Silver Dawn Music ASCAP

“I wanted to write a song that would be a call for peace and reconciliation”.  – Peter Yarrow.

  1. “Hanukkah in Santa Monica,” by Tom Lehrer

Originally written for and performed on Garrison Keillor’s “The American Radio Company, 1990., this is probably the only song to rhyme Jewish holidays with names of locations: Chanukah and  Santa Monica, Shavu’ot and East Saint Louis, Rosh Hashana and Arizona, Yom Kippur and “Mississipper,” and the non-location based Purim and endure’em.

  1. “The Chanukah Song,” by Adam Sandler, Lewis Morton, and Ian Maxtone-Graham. Originally performed on “Saturday Night Live ” on December 3, 1994, the now iconic song has since been modified and updated several times, the last in 2015. (There is still time for a 2016 version.)

“Okay … This is a song that, uh …There’s a lot of Christmas songs out there and, uh … not too many Chanukah songs. So, uh … I wrote a song for all those nice little Jewish kids who don’t get to hear any Chanukah songs.” – Adam Sandler

Sandler, who used this song as the basis for his movie “Eight Crazy Nights,” (question #87) managed to rhyme Chanukah with yarmulke, funukah, Seattle Supersonicahs, harmonica, gin and tonicah, and marijuanikah.

4. Several years ago, Nora Guthrie, who directs her late father Woody Guthrie’s archives, found a trove of Jewishly inspired lyrics he had written but never recorded or even put to music. In 2006, the Klezmatics won a Grammy for World Music for their album “Wonder Wheel,” a selection of those lyrics now put to music. That same year, the album “Happy Joyous Hanukka,” consisting of lyrics written by Woody Guthrie to celebrate Chanukah with music written and recorded by the Klezmatics was also released.

86. Live-action movie

     A: There are very few live-action movies listed on imdb.com that are based entirely on Chanukah. One is The Hebrew Hammer, a 2003 R-rated independent film about an Orthodox Jewish self-styled superhero (The Hebrew Hammer) who saves Chanukah (and Kwanzaa) from the machinations of Santa’s evil son. The humor is broad and crude, the characters are stereotypical and offensive, and the concept parodies the “blaxploitation” films of the 1970s. Reviewers either loved it or hated it

Another, very different film, is the short (21 minute) award-winning “There’s No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein,” based on a children’s book by the same name.

Only slightly more common are movies that have a scene or reference to Chanukah. In The Diary of Anne Frank, for example, there is a particularly moving and poignant scene in which the three families try to maintain the pretense of normalcy in their hidden room, knowing the Nazis could discover them at any time.

87. Animated films

     A: With its PG-13rating for “frequent crude and sexual humor, drinking and brief drug references,” Adam Sandler’s ”Eight Crazy Nights” is not exactly a kid-friendly movie, although doubtlessly, kids will love it for exactly those reasons. Imdb.com describes it as a “full-length animated feature about basketball, old girlfriends, holiday spirits, and the mall …”

“An American Tale,” which tells a story of a young mouse separated from his family while emigrating to the United States, is not specifically about Chanukah, but is often identified with it, probably because both the movie and the plot opened on Chanukah. On Christmas Eve, the movie theater was sold out, with the vast majority of the audience being Jewish.

88. Live-action TV Shows

      A.  Although there have been several episodes of TV series which have featured or at least mentioned Chanukah, none are listed on imdb.com.

89. Animated TV Shows

     A: Not surprising for a child-centric holiday, there are many animated TV shows that have featured Chanukah. Among them have been episodes of Rugrats, Teletubbies, Clifford’s Puppy Days, and Lambchops.

90. Documentaries

     A:  Although there are very few documentaries about Chanukah, and most of them are historical explanations of the Maccabees rather than the holiday commemorating their victory, there is one documentary which encapsulates the joy and fun of the holiday: Hava Nagila, the Movie is an exuberant, respectful examination of the iconic song, its development from a wordless tune (nigun) to a multicultural phenomenon. Recommended viewing while digesting the piles of latkes and sufganiot ingested after lighting the hanukiah.