Your RDA of Irony

My Hanukkah Medley

Tonight is the beginning of Hanukkah.  Over the next eight nights, we will light an increasing number of candles, probably trying to find a decent song for the Holiday.  You will notice that this was the one miracle that Jesus didn’t attempt; either that or getting rid of the Romans would have converted us.

Jews obviously can write music.  Count the Gentiles of  Tin Pan Alley….That didn’t take long.  Yet, what can explain our inability to write “Rhapsody in Jew” for Hanukkah?  I wonder if it can be attributed to our other great creation:  guilt.  Perhaps we have a belated regret that we didn’t slightly assimilate sooner.  Are we Parthenon-plussed?

If only we could go back in time.  Imagine me on the steps of the Temple….

Here’s what Hellas has to tell us.

Achilles, Socrates, Ptolemy and Sophocles.

Can William Kristol compare to these?

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.

Why be bereft of these gifts?

Philosophy, comedy, and best of all democracy!

Let’s not dwell on sodomy.

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.


And now for my usual pedantics….

The Story of Hanukkah: Hellas, No. We Won’t Go!

In the second century BCJ (before Cousin Jesus), Syria extended far beyond the borders of the country that we know and love. It also included Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Israel and Lebanon. (Lebanon still may be part of Syria.) This very large kingdom was a fragment of Alexander’s Empire that had been divided among his generals. Seleucus grabbed it, and his ancestors continued to rule it two centuries later.

Seleucus was Greek as was the ruling caste; and these Hellenes made themselves comfortable by recreating the Greek culture in their kingdom. The same was true of the other grasping Greek and Macedonian generals. Egypt, under the Ptolemies, was Hellenized. There were Hellenized satraps in Afghanistan and India. (Even the statues of Buddha started to look remarkably like Apollo.)

A descendant of Seleucus, Antiochus the Third attempted to expand his empire into Greece. However, Rome had the same idea at the same time. Guess who won? The Romans pushed him out of Greece and then defeated him in Asia Minor (190 B.C)

His son Antiochus the Fourth inherited a smaller empire; however, he tried to make it more cohesive by imposing uniform Hellenization. But one province, with a very idiosyncratic theology, did not really appreciate the glories and gifts of Greek civilization.

Who could resist all the enticements of Western civilization? Art, theater, medicine, bathing! Had we been a little more receptive, “Pygmalion” could have been a musical 2000 years sooner.

My ancestors must have been real ingrates. In fact, those Semitic fundamentalists were so unappreciative of imposed western values that they rose in rebellion. (Do you think that history repeats itself?)

The Greeks were then obliging enough to lose the war. This was at a time when the Jews hardly ever won–obviously long before there were Nobel prizes in Economics or Emmy Awards for comedy writers.

In any case, but for Jennifer Aniston’s ancestors, we wouldn’t have Hanukkah as a psychological shield against the veritable avalanche of Christmas.


  1. John Sadowsky says:

    Nice points. I occasionally tune in to Radio Hanukkah (on XM Radio) to remind myself of just how lame the few Hanukkah songs really are. Except for that Adam Sandler thing every hour or so, and a few children’s songs, that dreidel song and too many versions of “Ocho Kandelikas”, most of what is played is Israeli pop music having nothing to do with Hannukah.
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go celebrate by beating up some Hellenists over at the Reform congregation.

  2. Cindy Starks says:

    Eugene — You always make me laugh — indeed, a very quick count of the gentiles of Tin Pan Alley. I bow to all the Jewish composers and lyricists whose tunes I love to sing, like “My Yiddish-ee Mama,” or something like that. But then you have to get into all that’s Greek to me. Show off!

    But I am above all that. I just want to wish you a wonderful Hannukkah as I launch into a verse of “Driedel, dreidal, dreidal, I made it out of clay (but can’t spell it), Dreidel, dreidal, dreidal, my dredal I will play.”

    Mazel Tov!

    Your gentile friend, Cindy

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      As a lapsed Hellene yourself, read my tribute to the Byzantine Princess Who Made a Great Historian. That Bohemund, on whom she had a crush, figures in your personal history. His family took control of Southern Italy, wresting it and your ancestors from Byzantium and Greek Orthodoxy.


  3. Pam Beddard says:

    If ever you make it to Bristol (UK city, that is, not Sarah Palin’s daughter), be sure to ask me to put on our Greatest Christmas Hits CD. It will reassure you that your perceived lack of a stand-out Hanukkah song is a blessing. Happy Holiday!

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      You may be referring to dreadful renditions of good songs. But Lord Rothschild, Nigella Lawson and I don’t even have good songs to ruin.


  4. SwanShadow says:

    Ah, Eugene… had you only been born a couple of decades earlier, you might have been Tom Lehrer before Tom Lehrer. Or perhaps Mark Russell (“Lehrer Lite,” as I like to call him). Then again, I can only vouch for your lyrical acumen, and not your singing or composing skills. It does take the entire package — or at least a Rodgers or Kern to supplement your Hammerstein.

    I hope you enjoy a festive Hanukkah, my friend. Remember that while the Gentiles get most of the publicity at this time of year, it’s the Jews who figured a way to stretch the holiday out for an entire week. 🙂

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      But Michael, why didn’t Tom Lehrer come up with a Hanukkah song! The Holiday confounds us all. Kurt Weill almost came up with “Maccabee the Knife”.

      The perfect lyricist for Hanukkah might have been Lorenz Hart. Imagine if he had stayed sober and breathing long enough to collaborate with his friend Richard Rodgers on the score of “Oklahoma.” His mordant wit would done for the score what Sam Peckinpaugh would have done for the film.

      Thanks again for your good wishes. Happy Holidays to you, my friend.


  5. Rafferty Barnes says:

    Happy Hanukkah! Back when I ran my after-school program, I taught my kids how to play the dreidel game. They really got into it. They would all root for the other players to get shin.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Thank you, Megan.

      I can’t understand any enthusiasm for the dreidl. When Bugsy Siegel created Las Vegas, he forgot to include a single dreidl table at the casinos.


  6. Peg Pruitt says:

    Not all Christmas tunes are keepers. Perhaps it would be easier to adapt some Christmas or seasonal songs to celebrate Hanukkah. Some possibilities:

    “Yenta Got Run Over by a Reindeer”

    “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemensch”

    “I’m Dreaming of a Warm Brisket”

    “Goy to the World”

    And my personal favorite: “What Rothschild Is This?”

    Have a wonderful Hanukkah, Eugene.

    Your gentle, gentile friend,


  7. k lawler says:

    i like peg pruitt songs better- 🙂 hugs kathy

  8. k lawler says:

    all my jewish relatives converted to protestant religions when they came to the usa. Mazel Tov Eugene .
    we always got gelt in our stockings and the irish side of us were raised 2002 i converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints- i love love the doctrine…it makes me happy which is all that counts in the long run and i am myself 🙂
    Happy 1st day..
    yr buddy kathy

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