Despite the tragedy of last week's fire, this is the time of year when a Jew is especially grateful to be living in the land of Israel. One of the great joys and miracles of making aliyah is that we Jews can clean our system from Christmas imagery. We get to escape the trappings of America's holiday season and the feeling that somehow Hanukah and Christmas have been unwillingly pitted against each other in a grossly unfair competition. Alternatively and, perhaps, even more upsetting is when the holiday rites and customs of the Judaic and Christian faiths are mixed and assimilated to the point of Hellenistic absurdity.
Mixed and Ironic Hanukah Messages
Perhaps the ultimate irony this Hanukah is that a Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu, named after the hero of the Hanukah story, produced a video version of his Hanukah song "Miracles" which is loaded with Christian imagery. After viewing the Santa outfits, endless evergreen trees, and snow - not to mention one hedonistic "babe" – Jewish Israel was at a loss as to which "miracle" the video was referring to.
Jewish Israel entered the talkback fray at Shiloh Musings and, in a nutcracker, felt that Matisyahu's video serves to reinforce a Hellenistic (melting pot) culture. The very people who need definition and clarity - assimilated Jews - aren't getting it, and it's a shame that the talented and Torah observant Matisyahu didn't rise to the challenge and produce a dynamic and catchy video with an unambiguous and authentic Jewish message. That would have been a major Kiddush Hashem.
A Kiddush Hashem in A Capella
Yeshiva Univeristy's a capella Maccabeats appear to have overwhelmingly trounced Matisiyahu with their new Hanukah video "Candlelight" - based on Mike Tompkins' version of "Dynamite".
The talented YU singers appeared live on CBS, were featured on the Today Show, and received publicity from the Wall Street Journal , CNN , and the Washington Post. Matisyahu's video made it into Haaretz, whileTime and the Huffington Post posted on performances by both Matisyahu and the Maccabeats.
As of this blogging, the Maccabeats YouTube video is enjoying over 2 million hits and 4,500 comments, compared with Matisiyahu's 340,000 plus hits and 1700 comments.
Could the popularity of unadorned singing bochurim indicate that American Jewry is hungering for latkes accompanied by simplicity and authenticity, and that American society appreciates a genuine, no frills Hannukah story (even if it is a musical imitation delivered a capella style – which in Italian means "in the manner of the church")?
While American Jewish composers have penned some of the most popular and well-loved Christmas songs, it's high time that creative Jews put the dreidal made of clay on the shelf and get serious about Hanukah by creating some original, inspiring, and entertaining tunes.
But until American Jews can free themselves from their Diaspora baggage, and pack a bag for Israel , we may have to settle for some very funny, but self-depreciating ditties…
Latkes and Liberal laughs
Two years ago Comedy Central's David Jaberbaum and Adam Schlesinger wrote a Hanukah duet which was performed by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. You may not like their politics but "Can I interest you in Hanukah?" clearly drew the line between latkes and jesus, and is worth a revisit.
Jewish Israel wishes our Jewish readership a Happy Hanukah.