December 2nd, 2013

Happy Chanukah!

[NOTE: This is a slightly edited version of a previous post.]

Chanukah began the night before Thanksgiving. But since it has eight days I still get a chance to wish you a happy one—tonight and for two more days, anyway.

The words of this Chanukah song in Yiddish—written in 1924 before the Holocaust and before the establishment of Israel—are not happy. But I didn’t know that when I first heard it, and I post it anyway because I think it’s very beautiful:

Here are the lyrics, as translated by Theodore Bikel (you can hear an excerpt of him singing it here):

O little lights of mystery
You recall our history
And all that went before
The battles and the bravery
And our release from slavery
Miracles galore.

As my eyes behold your flames
I recall our heroes’ names
And our ancient dream:
“Jews were learning how to fight
To defeat an awesome might
They could reign supreme”

“They would rule their own domain
When the enemy was slain,
The Temple cleansed and whole.
Once there was a Jewish land
And a mighty Jewish hand.”
Oh, how it moves my soul!

O little lights of mystery
You retell our history
Your tales are tales of pain.
My heart is filled with fears
My eyes are filled with tears
“What now?” says the haunting refrain.

Remember: written in 1924.

Bikel translated the song that way in order to make the rhymes come out. But a more literal translation of that last verse might be:

Oh little candles,
your old stories
awaken my anguish;
deep in my heart there
stirs
a tearful question:
What will be next?

Indeed.

5 Responses to “Happy Chanukah!”

  1. Ann Says:

    Beautiful. Even not knowing the lyrics, I would have found it a sad song.

    I like Bikel’s “What now?” says the haunting refrain”; it captures especially what’s happening now.

    And it makes me want to shake all of Europe by the shoulders, for I am convinced that if they had stood firm against the PLO in its early days, things would look very different today for both Israel and the Palestinians, and for Israel in the eyes of the world.

  2. vanderleun Says:

    Wonderful. And remember, as the Obama web site reminds us, Chanukah means you have eight chances to praise Obamacare to your family!

  3. Bob From Virginia Says:

    time for my sons’s Hanukkah poem:
    Gothanukah and the Dreidel of Doom

    By Yair, son of Bob From Virginia

    I have a little dreidel
    That is spinning with disease
    It’s not made out of clay
    But the blood of my enemies

    The Dreidel of Doom was forged by Satan
    To please my vengeful heart
    But deals with the Devil can go sour in seconds
    And rip your soul apart

    He told me he would kill them
    With plague and pestilence
    And trap their souls in a Dreidel
    This hell’s Dreidel would be thy beneficence!

    Damn you O Dark Dreidel!
    I made you out of hate
    Damn you O Dark Dreidel!
    You will soon decide my fate

    “Gimel” means I live
    “Shin” means I die
    “Hay” means I can keep
    One of my two eyes

    “Nun” means I burn
    For eight long days and nights
    I don’t think I’ll survive
    This dark festival of lights

    The Dark Dreidel spins
    As I cower in fear
    A great miracle would be nice
    But it won’t happen here

    The Dark Dreidel falls and it’s “gimel” for the win
    I awaited Satan’s decree
    The Devil gawked at the Dreidel and shouted he
    “Best two out of three!”

    or
    Possible Alternate Ending:
    The Dark Dreidel falls and I’m free minus one eye
    Which is really not so bad
    In fact, come to think of it
    still ‘tis the best Hanukah ever had I

  4. DNW Says:

    To be blunt, despite having some academic background in “Jewish Cultural and Intellectual” history, the sensibility, or better stated, part of it, eludes me. It’s difficult – for me – to see beauty in pain, fear, anguish, hand-wringing … It’s defeat without glory or pride.

    However the reestablishment of Israel has literally meant that living with bated breath, the treading on egg-shells, can be left behind.

    I don’t know the details of land tenure in Israel, but I am sure that there is a property owning class there; self-determining, beholden to and seeking permission from no one. Enjoying nowadays the same benefits of life which Obama and his clients consciously seek to destroy here.

  5. увеличение груди естественным методом Says:

    Amazing things in this article. I’m just pretty content to look this page. Thank you and I’m getting excited about hint you. Might you be sure to decline us a send?

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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