A Song For Hanukkah

by Karl Hitzemann

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.

The Hanukkah holiday is a very old one. It honors the struggle of ancient Jews to restore the Temple of Jerusalem. To commemorate this extraordinary event, the Jewish people of today celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah and call it the "Festival of Lights." They light a menorah, which is a special candelabra with eight candles. A ninth candle, the shammus, is placed in the center and used to light the others.

In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is considered to be a minor holiday and therefore, a bit more lighthearted. But for "A Song For Hanukkah," we decided to do a more pensive and haunting treatment, alluding to the struggles of and atrocities committed against the Jewish people. This coincides with the 20th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., which was dedicated in April of 1993. The lyrics refer to many Hanukkah traditions and customs, but they also speak of dedication, prayer, honor, and hope.

The piece has a playable piano part that would work well for a live performance. This would then give you the opportunity to ebb and flow as you wish. The accompaniment track is also a bit rubato, but it is marked well in the piano/vocal score. Once you and your singers hear it a few times, you'll know how it goes. The accompaniment track features piano, bass, strings, and a beautiful cello solo, superbly played by Marjie Hanna.

Referring to the lyrics of the song, be sure to explain to your singers that "shalom" is a term of greeting or farewell and can mean "peace," "be well," "be safe," etc. And "nes gadol haya sham" means "a great miracle happened there." It also refers to the Hebrew letters n, g, h, and s, that are found on the sides of a dreidel.

You could use this song as an opportunity to not only talk and learn about Hanukkah, but also the history, religion, and culture of the Jewish people.