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New Music Tuesday: Holiday tunes from 'Twas The Night Before Hanukkah'

Cover of the new 2-CD collection
Cover of the new 2-CD collection "Twas The Night Before Hanukkah."
Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation

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Hanukkah begins this weekend, and if you are looking for some holiday listening that goes beyond the Dreidel Song, you're in luck.

Josh Kun, one of the founders of the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, has released a new two-CD collection called "Twas The Night Before Hanukkah," an eclectic collection of songs about the Festival of Lights and Christmas songs, written and sung by Jewish performers.

“We started this because we thought that the world needed the ultimate musical history of Hanukkah. So we wanted to do a kind of Hanukkah record that was an anthology of Hanukkah songs," said Kun. "A couple things happened, we realized there weren’t as many Hanukkah songs as we thought there were, the ones there were weren’t so amazing, but then we realized that the most Jewish of all Hanukkah songs are actually Christmas songs."

There are, however, a pretty good number of Hanukkah songs, without including the Adam Sandler one. 

Rock of Ages

“The lyrics for this song are fairly old. The Hebrew version is really the main Hanukkah song in terms of a traditional Hanukkah song for the candle lighting. This was one of the first songs in the United States to enter in to the America Hanukkah pop cannon.  We have the original 1938 version on the compilation…but also a version of it in Hebrew that is more of a disco-funk from the 1970’s." 

Hanukkah quiz

 “Its like Jewish musical ad-libs. It’s from a children’s record on the Menorah label part of post war Hanukkah records that were part of the growing musical archive of American Jews in the suburbs. Jews were figuring out post World War two their relationship to religion and identity. So a lot of Hanukkah records in the 1950s had an instructional tone, how to teach your kids what Hanukkah is all about. And it is really a minor holiday so one of the stories the CD tells is how it was sort of built up and imagined to be much bigger than it actually is and these records are a big part of that.” 

Hanukkah Dance

“One of many that Woody wrote, in part in collaboration with his mother in-law the Yiddish poet. He was very active in Brooklyn being influence by the Jewish folk scene. It is a good reminder of the folk scene in both preserving and changing the sounds of American Jewish identity.”

The second disc is a compilation of Christmas songs by Jewish composers and singers.

The Christmas Song

“It’s almost a parody of the secularization of Christmas, you know chestnuts, Jack Frost, Yule tide, all this stuff that has nothing to do with Jesus and this is what you see in all these pop songs… this is what they do, these songs “de-Christ” Christmas all the way back to ‘White Christmas’ which is kind of the Godfather of Christmas songs written by Jews.”

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

“This is a very famous Jewish cantor who became even more famous as an opera singer, doing this song, on a compilation of Christmas songs put out by the Good Year tire company as a promotional sale, like a quarter of the singers on their are Jewish. Good Year did about 10 of these compilations, and that just goes to show the relationship between the Holiday as a secular event but also a consumer event.”

El Dia De La Navidad

“Larry Harlow, one of the giants of New York salsa music, was someone who was central to the shaping of the New York salsa sound. This is from a Latin rock opera that he spear headed that is kind of a salsa version of the ‘Who’s Tommy.’ This is about the Tommy figure that is being ridiculed on Christmas day. And Larry Harlow is a Jew from Brooklyn. This is not officially a Jewish Christmas song but this is as close as he got to doing a Jewish Christmas tune."