What Are the Best Hanukkah Videos of 2013?

Well it’s time for Hanukkah 2013 and we still haven’t come up with a consensus opinion on how to spell Hanukkah — is it Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, Chanukkah or Janukah? This year we’ve seem to have discovered an even bigger spelling problem as we’ve added Thanksgivukkah into the mix. Some are into this mash up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah while others are ready to be done with all the buzz. Comedian Judy Gold, with whom I appeared on the Thanksgivukkah episode of HuffPost Live yesterday, tweeted her feelings on Thanksgivukkah: “‏@JewdyGold – The term ‘Thanksgivukkah’ is getting on my nervukkahs. #annoying.” Well, I guess you can’t please everyone!Here is this year’s installment of the best Hanukkah videos. Enjoy!

Benji Lovitt’s “Thanksgivukkah Pie”

Oil – Main Line Reform Temple

Maoz Tzur by Science Students at Technion University in Israel

One Direction Parody: Jew Direction’s “Chanukkah Makes You Jewtiful”

The 1st Hanukkah Thanksgiving by the Shepard Hill Elementary Players on Jimmy Kimmel Live

The Thanksgivukkah Song

Thanksgivukkah: The Movie (Trailer) by Yisrael Campbell

Julie Geller’s “I Believe in Miracles” Song

Maccabeats – “Burn”

Hanukkah Song – Adele Parody by Ash Soular
Technically, this is from Hanukkah 2012 but I missed it in last year’s list

Matthew Rissien’s “The Dreidel Song: Hanukkah Rap”

Duck Dynasty’s Hanukkah Album” on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2012 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2012/12/best-hanukkah-videos-of-2012.html

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2011 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2011/12/best-hanukkah-videos-for-2011.html

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2010 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2010/12/best-hanukkah-videos-for-2010.html

Gibson Guitars Gives Dave Schneider Hanukkah Gift

Cross-posted to The Huffington Post

Stories of airlines damaging travelers’ baggage are about as common as delayed flights these days, but a particularly dreadful mishap occurred recently. Dave Schneider, the lead guitarist of a Jewish band called the Leevees (with Guster’s Adam Gardner) that produces only Hanukkah-themed songs, was traveling on a flight from Buffalo to Detroit. The Delta flight went fine without any problems, but it was after landing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport that the nightmare began.

Dave Schneider of the Leevees Got a New Guitar from Gibson

Schneider, who also is the lead singer of the Zambonis, a band that only play songs about hockey, was told by Delta Airlines that he would have to check his vintage 1963 Gibson ES-335 TD guitar rather than carrying it on the flight with him. He even offered to purchase a seat on the plane for the guitar, but Delta refused. Upon landing in Detroit Schneider shot video footage from his cellphone of the baggage handlers moving his guitar off the plane, but there was no damage then. It was only later that he was informed that his cherished guitar was crushed between a service elevator and a loading dock at the gate in Detroit. Delta authorities quickly offered Schneider $1,000 for his vintage guitar, which was likely worth close to $10,000. Of course he declined Delta’s offer as inadequate. Even to repair the classic guitar would have cost more than Delta’s measly offering.

This isn’t the first time an airline has damaged a musician’s vintage guitar. A few years ago United Airlines broke Dave Carroll’s Taylor Guitar. Carroll famously wrote a song attacking United Airlines, which became a YouTube hit, and then subsequently penned a book about the power of social media and customer service. Schneider didn’t write any songs about Delta, but he did fill out the claim forms for damaged property after declining that $1,000 check from Delta. He never received a response. His two emails to Delta chief executive Richard Anderson were never answered. Schneider, under the pseudonym Dave Leevee, used that vintage guitar to play such Jewish holiday classics as “Latke Clan,” “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” and “Goyim Friends.” Without the guitar, Schneider lost his mojo.

The crushed Gibson guitar belonging to Dave Schneider of the Leevees and Zambonis

And that’s when Gibson, the global musical and lifestyle-oriented company based in Nashville stepped forward to present the musician who sings about Hanukkah with a belated Hanukkah present. Schneider picked up his replacement guitar in New York last week from Gibson CEO and technology visionary Henry Juszkiewicz. “At Gibson we’re committed to music and those who love and appreciate their instruments,” Juszkiewicz said. “For musicians like Dave, instruments are practically members of their family. It was only right to replace his guitar.”

Schneider will be able to continue playing guitar and singing about Hanukkah and hockey thanks to Gibson’s generous gift. Where Delta left Schneider kvetching, Gibson left him kvelling. As far as air travel goes, it’s questionable if Dave Schneider will ever fly Delta again. If he does, you can bet he’ll likely send his guitar ahead of time on a different airline.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Early Hanukkah in 2013: Jewish Calendar Fun

Whenever I’m asked if the Jewish holidays are coming early or late this year, I promptly answer that they’ll be coming on time. And that’s partially true. Rosh Hashanah will always arrive on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei just as Hanukkah will always begin on the 25th of Kislev. But the Jewish holidays will be coming early this year and already people are realizing that the first night of Hanukkah 2013 takes place on Wednesday, November 27, 2013, which will actually be the night before Thanksgiving. And that’s unusual.

The Jewish Calendar

The Jewish calendar situation this year is unique. In fact, it has not occurred since 1899 and will only occur once more. Ever. And that won’t be until the year 2089.

The Jewish holidays must occur in their appointed season according to the Torah. To ensure this, there is a leap year that adds an extra month (Adar II) to the Jewish calendar to adjust for the differential between the Jewish calendar’s lunar cycle and the Gregorian (secular) calendar’s 365 day solar cycle. This year, we will see the earliest that Jewish holidays can fall beginning with Purim on Feb 24, 2013 (a Jewish holiday that usually occurs in March). Later on this year, just as students are returning to school following Labor Day we will observe Rosh Hashanah starting on the evening of September 4. We’ll also celebrate the majority of the festival of Sukkot before the Fall equinox even takes place even though Sukkot is an autumnal holiday (the law states this is acceptable so long as the final day of the holiday, Hoshanah Rabbah, occurs after the Fall equinox). Of course, what most people are talking about is the idea of lighting the first candle of Hanukkah the day before we put the Thanksgiving turkeys in the oven.

I find this whole thing fascinating. Especially as this might be the only time in my life that I see the holidays falling this extremely early. I’ve always been intrigued with the Jewish calendar. My first real introduction to the intricacies of the “luach hashanah” was in 1996 when Rabbi Moshe Tutnauer was serving as an interim rabbi in Metro Detroit. In his small office at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan he had dozens of instant lessons posted to the wall. As a seasoned interim rabbi these instant lessons came in handy.

Rabbi Moshe Tutnauer

When I went to Rabbi Tutnauer’s office one day ready to learn whatever he would teach me, he suggested we study the Jewish calendar. His lesson included the four different new years in the Jewish tradition as spelled out in the mishna as well as the way the calendar was fixed so that festivals like Passover occurred only in their appointed season. He also taught me the helpful mnemonic of lo adu rosh, which reminds us that Rosh Hashanah can never fall on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. The reason the calendar is fixed that way is so that Yom Kippur can never be on a Friday, Sunday or Tuesday. (A full-day fast that close to Shabbat would be too big of a challenge and if Yom Kippur fell on a Tuesday, then Hoshanah Rabbah would be on Shabbat, and we could not beat the willow branches.) Rabbi Tutnauer’s lesson proved helpful a few years later when I found myself already versed in the logistical ins and outs of the Jewish calendar when studying Tractate Rosh Hashanah in a Talmud class in rabbinical school.

Several years ago David Letterman quipped in a Late Show monologue, “Happy Rosh Hashanah, it’s the Jewish new year and the year is 5768. I, uh, it’s funny I’m still writing 5767 on my checks.” Well, unlike Dave, most of us use the Gregorian calendar in our everyday lives, but as Jews we must be attuned to the Jewish calendar as well. It is the rhythm of our Jewish lives. Perhaps this year’s anomaly in the Jewish calendar will cause people to learn more about the lunar calendar that governs the Jewish year.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Non-Jews Doing Hanukkah

A couple years ago I wrote about non-Jews observing certain Jewish customs. I looked at such examples as Justin Bieber reciting the Shema in Hebrew before each concert as well as non-Jews maintaining kosher diets, hanging mezuzahs on their front doors, dancing the Hora at weddings and erecting sukkahs.

The new trend seems to be non-Jewish celebs adopting Hanukkah rituals. While conservative pundits in the media claim there is a war on Christmas, just the opposite seems to be true about Hanukkah. More menorahs are being displayed in the public square. Chabad Lubavitch has politicians and celebrities light super-sized menorahs. Even Gene Robinson, a gay Bishop, brought a Hanukkah gift of dreidels to Jon Stewart when he visited the Daily Show during the holiday. And a call for new Hanukkah songs has been answered by a rapper.

Heeb asks, “Has Hanukkah become the must-be-seen celebration for the hip and famous, regardless of semitic bona-fides?” What prompted that question was a simple tweeted photo from singer/actress Zooey Deschanel, who is Roman Catholic. Deschanel’s tweet said “Happy Chanukah y’all!!!” and was linked with an Instagram photo of her lighting the Hanukkah menorah. That photo has received close to 100,000 likes on Instagram.

During the Hanukkah holiday this year, we also saw one NBA team pay tribute to their Jewish fans. The Houston Rockets posted a video of their players singing the Dreidel song. Some of the players really got into the spirit. The video includes former New York Knicks surprise star Jeremy Lin, but the highlight is Carlos Delfino who seems to have a lot of fun singing about the dreidel he made.


Jimmy Fallon also got into the Hanukkah holiday spirit by singing a dreidel parody to the tune of Flo Rida’s “Whistle” song. With Rashida Jones, who is Jewish, Fallon pulled a dreidel out of his pocket and began signing, “Can you spin my dreidel baby, dreidel baby, let me know. Girl I know that you’re not Jewish so I’ll start real slow. Then Rashida Jones sings, “Just put your fingertips together and you say Shalom.”

The ultimate in non-Jews doing Hanukkah this holiday season has to be the recently released Hanukkah rap by Too $hort, one of West Coast hip hop’s pioneers. While Too $hort might be best known for his hit song “The Ghetto,” his Hanukkah rap might catch on (at least in Jewish high schools). Too $hort released the Hanukkah rap song exclusively on TMZ.com and it can be listened to here. He’s not the first non-Jew to release a Hanukkah song of course. The Barenaked Ladies have sung several Hanukkah songs and rock band Incubus put out a nice Hanukkah song back in 2007.
So while many Jewish parents complain that not enough emphasis is placed on Hanukkah during the winter holiday season, many non-Jewish celebs have catapult the Jewish holiday into the mainstream. Maybe rapper Too $hort wouldn’t be Jewish parents first choice to sing about Hanukkah, but the thought is there. Hanukkah will never be as popular as Christmas, but the Jewish holiday about the miracle of light and an unforeseen victory over the tyrant Greco-Roman army is getting its due in pop culture.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2012

Hanukkah, Hanukah or Chanukkah… no matter how you spell it there’s one thing you can be certain of when Hanukkah arrives and that is that there will be no shortage of fun Hanukkah videos on YouTube. Since posting my list of the top Hanukkah videos the past couple years I now receive dozens of videos to include in my list. I’m sure I’m leaving out some great ones, but these are what I consider to be the best Hanukkah videos of 2012.

Oh, and special thanks to the indie band “fun.” for releasing the song “Some Nights” this year. As you can see from several of the videos below, it was an obvious song to parody y.for Hanukkah. And yes, the band’s guitarist/vocalist Jack Antonoff is Jewish and attended Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, New Jersey (he also dated Scarlett Johansson in high school). Enjoy!

Stand Four – 8 Nights

Pella Productions – 8 Nights Of Hanukkah A Capella Mashup

Maccabeats – Shine

Matisyahu Sings “Happy Hanukkah” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

The Best Dreidel Songs (Including a Version by Jimmy Fallon and Rashida Jones)

Shirat Machar (Marom) – Eight Nights the Miracle of Light

Technion – Rube Goldberg Machine Lights Menorah

Aish – Racing Home: A Hanukkah Surprise

Michelle Citrin – Hanukkah Lovin’

Bubala Please – Making Latkes (Warning: Strong Language)

(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To DREIDEL)

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Hanukkah Spelling Confusion

I was excited when I saw that J.J. Goldberg, editor-at-large of The Forward, wrote an article referencing my recent “Jewish Techs” blog post about the Hanukkah (חנוכה) spelling confusion on The Jewish Week‘s website (“How Do You Spell Hanukkah?”). And then I started reading the first paragraph of Goldberg’s piece. Say what?

Goldberg asserts that I start off with “an incorrect premise” and then look for an answer “in the wrong place” as I lead my readers on “a bit of a goose chase.” Fortunately, he concludes his opening paragraph by maintaining that I eventually get to the right place. So, I wondered… What was Goldberg’s beef with my blog post?

At the end of Goldberg’s treatment of how Hanukkah got to be spelled with so many variations, my head was spinning faster than a battery-operated dreidel. Goldberg didn’t like that I began by asserting that there are different acceptable spellings of Hanukkah, but then demonstrated through the rules of Hebrew-to-English transliteration that there are, in fact, more than one possible spelling. He then gave a terse lesson in Hebrew grammar followed by a lesson in Arabic grammar (why he prefers a K or Q for the former Libyan leader’s name over a G).

Goldberg also took exception with the fact that I showed which transliteration spellings of Hanukkah were most popular through Google search results. What Goldberg might not have understood is that most people who are confused about which spelling of Hanukkah to use aren’t concerned with learning about Hebrew consonant letters that take a dagesh. They don’t want a lesson in Arabic gutturals either. They just want to know which is the most common spelling. And for that, Google is very helpful. So, I don’t think I was doing a disservice to the many people wanting to know which English spelling of December’s Jewish holiday is the most prevalent. Wikipedia chooses the Hanukkah spelling as well. Other encyclopedias like Encyclopedia Judaica have its own rules for transliteration.

No matter which spelling of Hanukkah you choose to use, the holiday’s over. At least until next December… when this conversation begins anew.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Keep the Han in Hanukkah

Just like some Conservative Christians want to ensure that people keep the “Christ” in Christmas, I think it’s important to keep the Han in Hanukkah (Han Solo and the Han Dynasty that is):

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

December Dilemma and Decorative Hanukkah Lights

Each winter the “December Dilemma” becomes a hot topic. This month, it seems like it’s hotter than ever with every rabbi, Jewish educator, social worker, intermarried parent, grandparent of interfaith grandchildren, and children of intermarried parents writing about the subject. Perhaps the topic isn’t any more popular this year than in years past, but just about anyone who wants to publish their opinion on the subject can now do so thanks to the openness of the Web.

Jordana Horn took the harsh stance that families should not celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. Writing on the Kveller blog, Horn opens with the warning that “There is a good chance that this post will make you hate me. I don’t want to be hated but feel I should put this out there. Please do comment and do not take this post as insulting you: it is simply my viewpoint. The fact that I feel the need to put a warning on a blog post is, in and of itself, terrifying.” I don’t believe Jordana received any death threats after telling families they can’t have it both ways and celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah together, but there were many comments that emanated from hurt feelings. Kveller even posted an opposing viewpoint in response to Jordana’s opinion from a woman whose “agnostic family celebrates both Jewish and Christian holidays, despite the fact that such cross-practice is technically anathema to both religions.”

One interesting article written about the December Dilemma is by Paul Golin of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the co-author of How to Raise Jewish Children Even When You’re Not Jewish Yourself. Golin argues that people should stop telling intermarried couples what to do and what not to do during the winter holiday season.

Now is the time of year when my wife and I renew our annual, uncomfortable conversation about why we will never have a Christmas tree in our home, despite her having grown up with one. I’m fairly crummy at explaining my reasoning, but we eventually remind ourselves that all marriages require give-and-take, and this is one time where she’s giving and I’m taking.

However, I’ve never felt more like getting a Christmas tree than this past week, thanks to the trend in Jewish media of non-intermarried Jews telling intermarried Jews not to have Christmas trees. Articles like these make me want to put up a Christmas tree just to symbolize my defiance of self-appointed assimilation police.

After reading these opinions I raised the question on my Facebook page: “Should intermarried families celebrate Christmas?” The respondents were mostly Jews by Choice who explained that while they don’t have a Christmas tree or observe Christmas at their home, they do visit Christian relatives on Christmas and take part in the holiday’s customs out of respect for family. One woman wrote, “We do both, and teach respect for all holidays around this time of year. Hanukkah is religious for us, christmas cultural and respectful of the grandparents who are christian. So far, no problems although lots of discussions.”

One question I often receive during this time of year has to do with affixing Hanukkah themed lights on the house. This question was raised by New Jersey Jewish News columnist Johanna Ginsburg in her 2003 article “To light or not to light.” Many people get upset when they see “holiday lights” on a Jewish home. These holiday lights usually take the form of blue and white (somehow the official colors of Judaism) lights that could easily be mistaken for Christmas lights. In Ginsburg’s article the example was decorating the exterior of the house with LED lights in the shape of dreidels. In my opinion, hanging Hanukkah light displays outside ones home should not be cause for the alarm.

The commandment of Hanukkah, as dictated in the Talmud, is Pirsume Nisa (to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah). We do this by lighting the chanukkiah and placing it in the window facing the street for all to see. In fact, this public religious display is a sine qua non for the proper performance of this mitzvah. Putting our Hanukkah candles in the window (or decorating our home with flashing lights in the form of dreidels or otherwise) is certainly a way to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah.

We should also be grateful that we live in a country and at a time when we are able to freely publicize the miracle of Hanukkah. I really don’t see the problem if some families choose to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah by decorating their homes with lights for a couple weeks in the winter (they should of course remember to put their lit Hanukkah candles in the window too). And if families that have non-Jewish relatives choose to join them on Christmas as they’re celebrating their holiday as a show of respect, then that seems acceptable as well. We live in a time when most Jewish families in America include some non-Jews as well. It would be wonderful if the “December Dilemma” stopped being such a dilemma. It would certainly make the holidays a less stressful time for everyone involved.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Gilad Shalit on Hanukkah (Photo)

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights and also a time when we acknowledge God’s miracles. This year we witnessed the miraculous return of Gilad Shalit to Israel and then back home to his family.

This truly is a remarkable photo in which we can thank God for the lights of Hanukkah as well as for the safe return of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Best Hanukkah Videos for 2011

Tonight begins the Festival of Lights – Hanukkah 2011. As Hanukkah parody videos have become more popular on YouTube it’s getting more difficult to find the best ones. One thing is certain however, if the video has “Best Hanukkah Video” in its title… it’s probably not. Here are the best Hanukkah videos of the year (according to me). Enjoy and Chanukkah Sameach!

The Shlomones – Rocky Hora Chanukah Song

Cantor Eyal Bitton – Rock Me Maccabeus (Falco Cover)

Aish – Chanukkah Rock of Ages

Fountainheads – Light Up the Night

Maccabeats – Miracle (Matisyahu Cover)

Pella Productions – Holiday Party (Tonight, Tonight)

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – Can I Interest You in Hanukkah

Six13 – Hanukkah Rights

Jew-Z – Hanukkah Groove

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller