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There may not be any Hanukkah parties this year, but that shouldn’t keep us from creating a warm, festive spirit as we light the candles each night.
So how can we set the mood? One way is to use more attractive candles than the low-priced drab-colored ones. I bought a box of sleek, metallic-colored candles this year, made by Ner Mitzvah and can’t wait to see how they look flickering in the silver menorah by my dining room window.
After blessing the candles, I like to fill my home with Yiddish Hanukkah music. YouTube has some wonderful renditions, performed by talented artists. Here are some of my personal favorites:
Hasidic pop star Shulem Lemmer sings a medley of Hanukkah songs composed by the legendary American Yiddish actor and cantor Moishe Oysher. He’s accompanied by the Freilach Orchestra and Shira Choir, and I love the saxophone interlude:
The Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus performed a gorgeous version of the song, “Borekh Ate” [“Blessed Are You”], in four-part harmony at a concert in Merkin Concert Hall in Lincoln Center in 2018. (Full disclosure: the director of the chorus is my brother, Binyumen Schaechter.) This video includes English subtitles to enable viewers to appreciate the beautiful lyrics by author Abraham Reisin:
Lori Cahan-Simon, a jewelry-designer and Yiddish singer in Ohio, does a lovely medley of Yiddish Hanukkah songs, performed in a natural folksy style:
Few people know that the American classic, “Hanukkah o Hanukkah, Come Light the Menorah,” is actually a translation of the Yiddish version written by Mordkhe Rivesman at the turn of the 20th century. Here is American folk singer Pete Seeger performing it, accompanying himself, as he often did, on the banjo:
Here’s a very different rendition of “Khanike oy khanike” performed during a Hanukkah concert at the JCC of Manhattan in 2016. Although this slower, more pensive style doesn’t really match the lyrics (you’d expect a more energetic voice singing the line: “Children, come here quickly and let’s dance!”), the singer, Ayelet Porzecanski performs it in a mesmerizing bluesy alto, and the Sephardi-inflected guitar and oud accompaniment is top-notch:
Six great Yiddish Hanukkah recordings