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Five Popular Jewish Songs for Chanukah

The Jewish holiday of Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks in 165 B.C., after which they succeeded in reclaiming and rededicating the Temple of Jerusalem. During the eight-day celebration, which begins on the 25th day of Kislev, Jews light a menorah each night and eat festive foods like latkes and jelly-filled donuts. Jewish songs that celebrate Chanukah often include some combination of these themes, making them some of the most popular Jewish songs about Chanukah available today. Here are five to get you started on your search.

Ma'oz Tsur

Ma'oz Tzur, or Rock of Ages, composed by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, is one of five well-known traditional songs that celebrate Chanukah. Its lyrics tell a story in poetic form about an emperor who is out hunting and wanders into a forest where he meets a Hasidic Rebbe who teaches him about true happiness and joy. It's important to note that Ma'oz Tzur has been covered by many artists over time including Ritchie Havens, Josh Groban, and Regina Spektor. One version recorded by Erran Baron Cohen charted at #36 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 2006 after being used as part of a viral marketing campaign for his younger brother Sasha's movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Takeaway: Even if you're not celebrating Chanukah, consider finding ways to inject more holiness into your everyday life.

Dreidel, Dreidel

A dreidel is a top that players spin on their fingers to win prizes during Chanukah celebrations. The word dreidel comes from Yiddish meaning to turn. During Hanukkah, some people play dreidels during secular celebrations as well because it's fun and brings families together. They might have waffles or latkes for breakfast with maple syrup or serve potato pancakes with applesauce for dinner instead of turkey or ham. The song Dreidel Dreidel is a childrens song that captures the essence of making a clay top, and then playing the game of Dreidel.

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The lyrics are pretty simple. Dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay / And when its dry and ready / Then dreidel I shall play. Some versions include hand motions in addition to lyrics in order to help keep kids engaged. Two popular interpretations come from Bette Midler (video) and Raffi (song). The former takes on a bluesy pop feel while showing off Midler's range; while Raffi does much more singing than talking over playful bells at an upbeat tempo similar to Mary had a Little Lamb. Both versions are great fun!

Al Hanisim

'Al Hanisim' translates to 'For The Miracles' and was written by Yaakov Kohan of Yeshivat Beit HaChayim in Bnei Brak. In 2007, Rebbe Nachman from Breslov recorded a version of Al Hanisim together with his students. Over time, it has become one of most popular songs for Chanukah. The song’s message is that all our accomplishments are miracles given to us on loan by Hashem, which is the essence of the Chanukah lights.

Candlelight

Candlelight is one of my favorite songs about Hanukkah when I was growing up - even though I didn't learn all the lyrics until years later. According to tradition, Candlelight (also known as The Festival of Lights) is one of five songs traditionally sung by children during the holiday. It was composed in Israel in 1954 by Israeli poet and musician Haim Hefer. Although it’s now better known as a mainstay at Hanukkah celebrations than it is as a centerpiece of Israeli music, Candlelight is considered one of Hefer’s most famous songs. In fact, it's been covered dozens of times over since its original release. More importantly, it’s a catchy tune that tells a fun story about how Jews have celebrated Hanukkah since ancient times.

Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah

Oh Chanukah is a fun, upbeat song that brings to mind hanukkah celebrations and Jewish culture. But where did it come from? Many people are surprised to learn that 'Oh Chanukah' is actually an adapation of an 18th century Swedish Christmas song. The original song was called 'Nu tändas tusen juleljus,' which translates as 'Now a thousand Christmas candles are lit.' B ut if you're looking for popular Hanukkah songs, then look no further than 'O Chanukah'. This song has been covered by such artists as Andy Williams and Barbara Streisand, and is considered to be one of the most well-known Chanukah favorites.

You can easily find more popular Hanukkah songs online. What's your favorite?