December 31st, 2016

Happy Chanukah!

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

The year Chanukah began on Christmas Eve. But since it has eight days, I still get a chance to wish you a happy one—tonight is the very last night to light the candles. And it happens to occur on New Years’ Eve. Nice symmetry.

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.

2 Responses to “Happy Chanukah!”

  1. T Says:

    I hope your Hanukkah was enjoyable and meaningful.

    Thank you for the opportunity and, yes, privilege of being able to hammer the cold steel of our opinions into somewhat usable form on your blog. You do us a great service.

    My best wishes for a Happy New Year to you and all the commenters here. L’chaim!!

  2. Yackums Says:

    Well, the ubiquitous Hanukkah hymn, Maoz Tzur (“Rock of Ages”), spans six verses in its full version (most people only sing the first). Each of the middle four verses (the first is an introduction) tells of an episode of oppression suffered by the Jews at the hands of their enemies, and of their Divine deliverance from them.
    (The last verse speaks of the final future redemption from the now 2000+-year exile, which many argue has begun with the advent of the modern State of Israel.)

    This poem that you posted echoes it somewhat.

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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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