The Buzz

History of Favorite Chanukah Music

by Cantor Alison Levine

Thanks to Adam Sandler, the Maccabeats and The Leeveees, we are blessed with a plethora of Chanukahsongs.  Whether silly, or sentimental, many are based on non-liturgical sources.  That is because besides the Chanukahcandle lighting and the Al HaNisimliturgy that we add to the Amidah (T’fila), there is no other Chanukah liturgy.  So where do all our beloved Chanukah songs come from?  Some come from Yiddish or Sephardic or folk traditions, while others are based on medieval poetry or were inspired by special foods and symbols of the Festival of Lights.  Here are the backgrounds of two favorites, Maoz Tzur and I Have A Little Dreidel.

Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) (Mordechai: text, Music: folk): Maoz Tzur is the quintessential Chanukah melody.  It is often sung immediately after the Chanukah candles have been lit and blessed.  The text is based on a Jewish liturgical poem known as a piyut.  The name is a reference to the Hasmonean stronghold of Beth-Zur.  It refers to the place where the Maccabees fought the battle of Beth Zur (House of Stone), a fortress citadel, and beat the Greek general Lysias.  This battle was momentous and paved the way for the recapture of Jerusalem and the temple. Maoz Tzur was written in the 13th century and contains six stanzas.  We generally only sing the first and last stanzas because they are the ones that relate directly to the holiday.  Written in the present tense, the first for rebuilding the temple and the last for the defeat of our enemies.  The final stanza also has an acrostic of Chazak or be strong.  The other stanzas address additional challenges that Jews have faced throughout the years.  The piyut celebrates our deliverance from four ancient enemies, Pharoah, Nebuchadnezzar, Haman, and Antiochus.  They represent the exodus from Egypt, Babylonian captivity, the miracle of Purim, and finally the Hasmonean victory of Chanukah

I Have a Little Dreidel  (by Samuel Goldfarb and Samuel S. Grossman): The music was penned by Samuel E. Goldfarb along with the lyrics written by Samuel S. Grossman in 1896.  Goldfarb also wrote Areshet S’fateinu, Bayom Hahu, Magein Avot Bidvaro, and his brother Israel Goldfarb wrote Shalom Aleichem.  These brothers lived in New York City and were composing holiday and liturgical songs in the 1910’s and ‘20’s.  The Goldfarb brothers grew up on the Lower East Side of New York in a family of 11 children (!) that emigrated from Galicia, Poland.  Samuel was born in 1891 and learned how to play and read music from Israel, who was 12 years older.  In 1914, Samuel entered into an arranged marriage with Bella Horowitz, from a family that owned Horowitz-Margareten, maker of matzoh and Passover products.

During the ‘20’s, Goldfarb wrote I Have A Little Dreidel.  It was recorded on an album in 1927.  His son Gordon said “Generally speaking, in America, Yiddish music influenced the popular music of Broadway and Hollywood.  With these kinds of songs, it was the opposite – it was an American tone being brought into a Jewish context.  The dreidel song took some time to catch on and did not do so until the early 1950’s when Chanukah was becoming more commercial and parallel to Christmas.  There was no single hit recording of the tune. Its popularity was like a folk song and seems to have spread organically.  The English version is about a dreidel.  In the Yiddish version of the song, the singer is the dreidel.  The dreidelis also made of blay (lead) which is historically accurate.  That version was written and composed by Mikhl Gelbart, pseudonym Ben Aron.  Now there are many, many parody versions withdreidels made with anything and everything.  There is even a version by the popular rock group The Barenaked Ladies!

Whichever Chanukahmusic you prefer, I wish you all a happy Chanukah and a holiday season filled with light!

Continuing on the Path to Becoming a Mensch

by Diane E. Berg, RJE

My September article told you how we can help our children become honorable menschen – good human beings – who not only see the world through Jewish eyes but also act to repair it with a Jewish heart. This year, we continue our focus on several specific Jewish values and virtues. Students will learn a Jewish virtue or value and then demonstrate that knowledge by doing the related action.

Talmud Torah (Torahlearning): In October, soferet (Torah scribe) Jill Kaplan explained how a Torah is written. The students learned about the materials used since ancient days. Each was able to hold Jill’s feather pen and see the letters in a Torah. Jill showed the students different sections written with different spacing including where the Ten Commandments were and the crossing of the Red Sea. The message we hope our students recognize is that learning does not end once the scroll is rolled to the end.

Future “valuable” experiences include:

  • Tzaar baalei chayim (being kind to animals):Students will learn about our ethical imperative in the treatment of animals. They will examine stories, laws and Biblical sources explaining why we must treat our animals with care and kindness. We will be bringing in all sorts of domestic and exotic animals and holding them!
  • Mazon (hunger): Religious School alum Michael Keschner will speak about his special cause, “Veggies for Vets”. The students will learn about mazon, the Jewish response to hunger, through Biblical sources.  Michael will speak about the many military veterans on Long Island and students will have the opportunity to help Michael by bringing in vegetables which will be distributed to local veterans.
  • Pidyon shevuyim (freeing the captives): Our Israeli teenage emissary on staff, Aviv Zaro, will speak about the incredible story of the Ethiopian Jews whose history and culture date back to Biblical times! Aviv’s parents were part of Operation Moses and Operation Solomon in making Aliyah to Israel. In addition to holding an Ethiopian Jewish experience for our students including Ethiopian food, music, culture, language and more, we will teach the Jewish commitment to pidyon shevuyim.
  • Simcha (happiness): We demonstrate the virtue of simcha by celebrating holidays with joy. Congregant Joe Kassner, a brilliant costumer for many local theater companies, will teach our students how to make fantastic Purim masks. They can then wear their masks to celebrate Purim in March!
  • Bal tash’hit (not destroying): We will look at the Biblical origins of how we are expected to treat the earth.  By fully understanding the Jewish perspective on ecology students will get a chance to adopt ways to fulfill the value of Bal tash’hit.

By learning about, practicing and making these values, virtues and deeds rote our children will indeed enrich their lives, be an example for others and make the world a happier and better place to live. I promise.

So Many Things To Do… So Little Time.

by Lisa Tricomi, Partnership Liaison

Does this sound familiar?  Many of us have kids, work or have other commitments that get in the way of temple life. We are so busy in our day to day lives that we can easily miss fantastic programs and events at Temple Beth El, but the good news is that there is always something going on!  So, if you have not had the time or opportunity, it is my hope is that in the coming year, you make it a priority to attend something at TBE.

In October, we had a fantastic Sukkot Celebration and Square Dance. More than 120 congregants and extended family enjoyed dancing, food, and fun in the Sukkah! It was so well received that we are thinking of doing it again next year. Also, many families enjoyed the Simchat TorahFamily Fun Day sponsored by Crestwood Camp, Sisterhood and Brotherhood. Kids enjoyed Gaga, bouncy houses, carnival games and pancakes courtesy of Brotherhood.

Going forward, there is a fantastic Continuing Education program every week and monthly is “Judaism 101: Celebrating as Interfaith” led by Florence Roffman. This is a wonderful program to attend if you are interfaith, new or “newish” to Judaism or just want to learn more about the holidays and traditions.

Mark your calendars for January 25th and enjoy an evening of wine tasting led by our own congregant and sommelier, David Mullen.  Interested in jewelry making? Our new Gift Member, Liz Winokur, will run a two-part class in January (the 9th and 16th) to make a beautiful beaded bracelet (space limited to 12).  Also, May 22nd-25th is the Second Annual Travel Shabbat Club trip and this year we are going to Boston for two nights! Reserve your spot as space is limited! Please contact me for more information about anything at temple and if you have a special talent and want to showcase it, please let me know at tbepartners@tbeli.org!

Sisterhood Happenings

by Louise Spangle, Sisterhood President

Sisterhood of Temple Beth El would like to extend our warmest invitation to women partners and Gift Members to come to our activities.  Gift Members have a one-year complimentary membership in Sisterhood.  Even if you are not yet a member of Sisterhood, we’d be delighted to meet you so you can see what we’re all about, have fun and make new friends.  After you see what a welcoming group we are, we’d love for you to join us in supporting Sisterhood and Women of Reform Judaism by becoming a paid member of Sisterhood.

Sisterhood provides social, emotional and spiritual support to the women of Temple Beth El, as well as service and financial assistance to the entire temple community. We plan activities to meet the many interests and needs of women at the temple. Some of our members prefer daytime programs during the week and other women want an evening or weekend activity. We also have one-time classes and special events.  If you haven’t participated before, we encourage you to come to one of our activities and try us out! Some of our upcoming activities:

Monthly Luncheons (once a month on a Monday afternoon at 12:00 p.m.)

  • January 13th: Annual Soup Luncheon
  • February 24th: Speaker Diane Berg, RJE presents “Who Are the Black Jews of Ethiopia?”

Evening Book Club (once a month on a Monday night at 7:00 p.m.)

  • January 6th: Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo
  • February 24th: Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis

Morning Book Club (once a month on a Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.)

  • Tuesday, December 17th: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
  • Tuesday, January 21st:The Other Einstein by Marie Benedi

Mah Jongg (every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.)

  • Beginners and all skill levels welcome.

Knitzvah (first Thursday of each month at 12:00 p.m.)

  • Love to knit, crochet or quilt, or want to learn?Comejoin our Knitzvah group!
  • Projects are donated to worthy organizations and we love welcoming new faces.

Sisterhood wants to start a second daytime book group to meet the overwhelming demand. Call Louise if you are interested at (631) 421-5123.  To find out more about our activities and programs, email sisterhood@tbeli.org.

The Roof Over Our Heads

by Howard Schneider, VP of Operations

The roof of a Sukkah should be open to the sky so that you can see the stars.  Not so with the roof of a synagogue, which needs to keep out the elements.  While not quite a sieve, the various roofs and on our synagogue have been in need of some serious rehabilitation. Thanks to the donations of both time and money by a number of generous temple partners we are now well on our way to meeting that second requirement.

Over several months, Andrew Levenbaum, P. E., a long time temple member, donated considerable time to undertake and spearhead the arduous job of assessing our temple roofs and understructure, designing an action plan, and putting the work out to bid so we could find a qualified contractor to complete the work at a reasonable cost.  After two rounds of bids, this task was completed in mid-October.

The roof project was broken up into four phases, with the work prioritized based on the condition of each area: Phase 1 – the Religious School and Atrium roofs; Phase 2 – the Library and HVAC roof areas; Phase 3 – the Sanctuary and Social Hall roofs; and Phase 4 – the Great Room and Kitchen roofs.

Due to substantial donations from the 40+ temple partners who participated in our recent Major Gift Initiative campaign, we had $133,000 earmarked for this project – enough to complete Phases 1 and 2 this fall, but found we were $10,000 short of being able to complete Phase 3, the replacement of our Sanctuary and Social Hall roofs. 

With a deadline of just ten days – like a blast from the Shofar – the call went out, and 24 temple households/groups responded.  With donations ranging from $25 to $1,000, we received the needed additional funds.  We are deeply appreciative of the donors who heeded our calls.

By the time you read this article, the roof over our heads will mostly be replaced, with Phases 1, 2, and 3 completed.  We still need to complete Phase 4 once the necessary funding is acquired.  If you would like to join us in sponsoring this endeavor, please contact me at vpops@tbeli.org or Stephen Levy at stephenmlevy@gmail.com.

With gratitude to (in alphabetical order):

Amaya and Jody Bleiman, Brotherhood,Chai Club, Andrew and Carol Calev, Carol and Rabbi Jeff Clopper, Lynne and Daniel Eig, Lisa and Rob Fishman, Eileen and Jeffrey Gerson, Surelle and Mike Heiberger, Steve Kaish & Julie Mermelstein, Stephanie and Jenny Kellerman, Marjorie and Stephen Levy, Joan and Bob Lifson, Sandy and Burt Masnick, Sara Pokross, Debbie and Charles Rich, Florence and Steve Roffman, Bernie Schaeffer & Nanci Weber, Jack Schatten, Linda and Alan Schatten, Howard Schneider & Miriam Rosen, Erin and Rich Schoor, Sue and Rob Seiler, Sisterhood, Louise Spangle

Keeping Up with the Brotherhood

by Ian Weitz, Brotherhood President

The month started off with the planned trip to the Cloisters on November 10th, co-sponsored by Sisterhood and the Chai Club (attended by around 40 temple members) for a look-see at the exhibit on Medieval Jewish Artifacts, which as reported, “…were breathtaking examples of craftsmanship which upend expectations about what medieval art looks and feels like”.  The planned special tour did not come off (apologies for that); however, the self-guided tour seems to have worked out fine. The view alone from the Cloisters overlooking the Hudson River and the G.W. Bridge made the trip well worth it on a fine fall day that added to that view.  And since every Brotherhood sponsored event is accompanied by food, much of the group met at Naomi’s Kosher Pizza in Flushing for a lunch of Israeli – Middle Eastern food which included some of the “best” Falafel in New York.  And so, a good time and a fine lunch was had by all.

The Brotherhood monthly meeting, “Lox with Friends” was held the following Sunday, November 17th.  The meeting, as always, included bagels and not with just a shmear, there was lox and whitefish salad, onions and tomatoes, and rugalach replacing the usual Munchkins.  The showing exceeded expectations, and with apologies to the guys showing up late, we are “up-ing” the bagel order for the next meeting – without a dues increase! Business was discussed followed by the Brotherhood’s typical enjoyable and therapeutic schmoozing.

ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out – having lunches together), organized by the Brotherhood, continues to meet at Temple Beth El. Still in the planning stage for the future is the “paid-up-dinner” and/or some tavern stops on an occasional Wednesday evening to which all are invited. Watch for the announcements.

As you know, Brotherhood is also about service.  This month, members again helped out with Project HOPE. The good guys included: Rob Seiler, Howard Schneider, Bob Zucker, Mike Sawyer, Mark Goldman, Mike Widawsky, Dave Mullen and perhaps a few others to whom we make an apology for not listing.  

And not to worry: if you didn’t get around to it or were not able to support the temple roof fund, your Brotherhood made a contribution. The motto here is no yarmulkeshould get rained upon while in temple.

Brotherhood finished off the month with a representative attending the bi-monthly meeting of MRJ (Men of Reform Judaism) where Brotherhood members from different Reform temples get together to discuss issues and lend support.

Our next meeting in December will focus around planning for the participation of Brotherhood in the temple Chanukah bash and the running of the BrotherhoodDreidel Table.  Be there or miss out on “Lox with Friends” and socializing with a nice group of guys and the therapeutic support to longevity that that goes along with religious practice, fine fellowship and service. 

To hang with the brothers, be part of something good and help out around the temple, or to contribute by joining as a member, kindly get on the Brotherhood email list. Please email our corresponding secretary, Mike Widawsky, at michaelwidawsky@yahoo.com. Come with a suggestion.  We’ll try to make it happen.

Chai There!

by Debi Fallenberg, Chai Club Co-President

We Chai Clubbers were quite active this fall.  The High Holy Days were observed by all and those unable to attend in person were able to stream our worship at home!  We enjoyed sharing Simchat Torah celebrations with our neighbors at Huntington Jewish Center.  Sukkot was a very festive treat featuring a lively square dance and barbecue truck followed by traditional observance in our beautiful sukkah.  Early November found us at the Heckscher Museum enjoying a special docent tour led by our own Molla Gary of Mort Kunstler’s work.  Many of us joined with the Brotherhood-sponsored outing to the Cloisters to view the 14thcentury Jewish-French Colmar Treasures.

Mark your calendar for the Chai Club Latke Party on Friday, December 20th – always a lively and tasty event! You also won’t want to miss our upcoming temple-wide Chanukah Bash on Friday, December 27th and remember to bring your chanukiyah for the beautiful candle lighting ceremony!  The Chai Club will be sponsoring a gourmet ‘Oil Tasting Experience’ table before the festival observance.


Some of our Chai Clubbers will become B’nei Mitzvah on January 11th.  Please join us as we share their accomplishment followed by a celebratory luncheon.  And, save the dates for May 22nd-24th when Temple Beth El travels to Boston for a Shabbat weekend. 

It was a pleasure meeting many of you at the recent New Member Dinner.  Please check our Chai Lites publication for upcoming meetings and events.