Making Hanukkah happier
As a Jew I have a problem around Christmastime. No, it's none of the things you probably think it is. I don't have a problem with the focus on consumerism and materialism--not any more than many Christians do, at any rate. Nor do I resent being in the minority or not getting to participate in the biggest birthday party in the world. Neither is it off-putting being wished Merry Christmas by people who assume I too am a Christian; I'm happy to accept, and offer, good wishes any time of the year. It's also no biggie that Christians get to have a tree, while we Jews joke about Hanukkah bushes. It's certainly not that Xmas can be spelled only two ways, while we Jews can't agree on which of more than a half dozen spellings of our holiday to use. Here's my problem: I love Christmas music--the carols, the holiday standards--but I'm not crazy about Hanukah music. We Jews have a glorious musical heritage, just not during the Festival of Lights.
Let's face it, Christians croon "O Holy Night;" we chant "Oh Chanukkah." Christians harmonize "Deck the Halls;" we warble "Dreidle, Dreidle." Christians have Handel and his Messiah in three parts; we have Adam Sandler and his three (count 'em! three!) versions of his Chanukah song. As we sing at another holiday, "It would have been enough ..."
But lately my holiday discomfort has been considerably soothed--and this season will be eased even more. Three years ago, the Klezmatics released Happy Joyous Hanukkah, a CD that I've since enjoyed all year round. And for December 14th, the sixth day of Hannukah, my true love gave to me tickets to see them at the Ark.
The Klezmatics, one of the finest klezmer bands in the world for more than twenty-five years, show no signs of hanging up their horas. Virtuoso instrumentalists, singers, scholars, and inveterate collaborators, they've written, performed, or recorded with, among many others, Itzhak Perlman, Tony Kushner, and
Allen Ginsberg. And with Woody Guthrie--the Okie Folkie himself! Turns out that in the 1940s Guthrie was married to Marjorie Mazia, a Jewish dancer in Martha Graham's company and, though he never converted, was for a time immersed in Jewish culture. And whatever Woody encountered, he wrote about. In the past few years Guthrie's daughter, Nora, has been unearthing hundreds of his unpublished song lyrics. When she came across some Hanuka-themed ones, she knew who best would breathe melodic life into them. The resulting music is a perfect pairing of Guthrie's effervescent creativity, wondrous wordplay (he created Honeyky--yet another spelling!), and social consciousness, with the can't-stay-in-my-seat beats and the must-listen-to-raptly music of the Klezmatics.
Their concert will be the best Chanukeh gelt I'll get this year.
[Originally published in December, 2012.]