This week there has been an interesting online conversation via blogs, tweets, and facebook, responding and reacting to Senator Orrin Hatch's Chanukah song. He wrote the song, and doesn't feature much in the singing of it, and it was posted at Tablet Magazine, here. It's an interesting situation - a US Senator, who is of the Mormon faith, writing a Chanukah song. A story that makes it to the New York Times, and NPR's 'All Things Considered'. So much more interesting than 'Jewish musician writes a new song for Chanukah'.
I'll be honest; I'm not a great fan. The Jewish faith emphasizes deed over word. As I listen to the words of Hatch's Chanukah song, I am struck that the primary message, other than 'let's celebrate', is about Religious Freedom. But as a Reform Jew, I am troubled that it was this Senator who co-sponsored the recent amendment that failed to get the votes in the Senate health debate that would have restricted, through financial impediment, the freedoms of women to make choices about their bodies, based on their personal ethics and their individual faiths. On another issue where the Union for Reform Judaism has taken a strong stand, Senator Hatch is on record as having a faith-based reasoning for holding back equal civil rights to gays and lesbians. I believe in freedom of religion, fully understanding that some individuals and communities will hold views that I strongly disagree with. I do, however, take issue with State or Federal laws that impose the belief system of one faith, or one element within one faith, on the rest of society. Belief that life begins at conception is not a universally held scientific/secular belief, and it is not a universally held religious belief. Belief that there is something lesser, or not God-given about the love and humanity of GLBT people is likewise something that only some people of some faith communities hold to be so.
I'm sorry if I'm taking all the fun out of the interesting headline but, as a person of faith, while knowing that we are all flawed and often fail to meet our own standards, it is important to me that words and deeds go together. And, even more important, when I hear NPR reporting that there are no good Chanukah songs being written by Jewish musicians these days as part of their promotion of Senator Hatch's efforts, I have to offer a little something to set the record straight. I'll be the first to admit that there's a lot of bad Jewish music out there; but there's also a lot of great stuff - too much to do justice to all the great songs and great artists you can find on the Jewish music scene today. Below are links to just two of the more recent quality contributions to Chanukah: Michelle Citrin (a great song and fabulous youtube video that came out last year) and Beth Schafer, with a new Chanukah song, Night by Night, on a really great new album, Raise it Up, just released last month. Below that are some links to some other sites, artists and albums and labels to get started.
Check them out. And let me know what you think.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz
Julie Silver's Chanukah album, 'It's Chanukah Time'
Debbie Friedman's Chanukah album, Light These Lights
JDub records - innovative and contemporary Jewish artists
oysongs.com - itunes for Jewish music
The Leevees - with a fun Chanukah album and a couple of great youtubes.
The Macaroons, a new kids band, with a fun song, 'Hurry up and light the candles'