It's December, and that means that the airwaves are full of holiday music -- well, Christmas music. But when was the last time you heard a Hanukkah song on the radio or at the mall? Now, a new compilation from the archivists at the Idelsohn society, Twas The Night Before Hanukkah: The Musical Battle Between Christmas And The Festival Of Lights, explores both the musical history of Hanukkah in the U.S., as well as the influence of Jewish songwriters and singers on America's Christmas songbook.
"This battle is everywhere" says music preservationist and Idelsohn society member Josh Kun, who first intended to create a musical history of Hanukkah. But when he started digging deeper, he says, "We started realizing, wait a minute, the most Jewish of holiday music just may be all of the Christmas songs written and performed by Jews."
The battle has also been the process of assimilation, and over Jewish identity."These songs are the soundtrack to the internal battle that so many American Jews have been having since the late 19th century when both of these songbooks began to take shape," Kun explains.
This is the main concern of a 1967 song included in the collection by Ray Brenner and Barry E. Blitzer, "The Problem": "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells / If Santa Claus is true / His joy is fun for everyone / But what's a Jew to do?"
We hear how Jewish-American songwriters worked to make Hanukkah a more prominent holiday -- and Christmas a more secular one.