Last November, a 12-track, 35-minute album of original Hanukkah songs dropped, and I am here to share my truth: I have listened to it every week since then. Hanukkah+, released on November 22, 2019, is the brainchild of music supervisor Randall Poster, inspired by the band Yo La Tengo’s annual Hanukkah concerts. (Yo La Tengo has been performing annual eight-night Hanukkah concerts for nearly two decades, though sadly not this year for obvious reasons.)
Randall Poster, a Grammy winner and longtime collaborator of Wes Anderson, first recruited his friend Jack Black for the project, who sent a cover of the classic Hanukkah tune “Oh Hanukkah” and a cover of another Jewish classic, the Passover song “Chad Gadya.” (Fun fact: Black has called “Chad Gadya” the “original heavy metal song.”) Poster himself has a long fondness of Hanukkah. “It was always the fun Jewish holiday,” he explained to Billboard. “I had a sense of it being a musical holiday, though there aren’t that many to choose from.”
“For me as a Jew, it was important to focus on more of the spiritual component, and I think we’ve captured that. I’m waiting for my rabbi to hear it,” he continued. Yes, Randall Poster, you have fully captured the spiritual vibes of Hanukkah. From the joy of Jack Black singing the songs I grew up with to Haim covering Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will” to the touching love song by Buzzy Lee (AKA Sasha Spielberg), “Give You Everything,” the album somehow captures every possible Hanukkah feeling all at once.
I mean, have you ever imagined people jamming out to “one night’s worth of oil burned for eight nights straight!” I didn’t, and yet. Just watch:
Given all this, I completely understand why I got into this album when it first came out. Even for the most curmudgeonly among us, it can be hard to resist the pull of the holiday season — to feel joy from the silly commercialized kitsch like snowflake-printed socks and a holiday-pattered Starbucks cups. It’s actually quite easy to get sucked into the magic of holiday specials (even if there’s just one token nod to Hanukkah).
Perhaps that’s why, in searching for comfort and nostalgia amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic and the U.S. election, I turned to this album of Hanukkah music to get me through not just eight days, but an entire year. It’s largely the same reason I haven’t been able to stop wearing tie-dye sweatsuits, or why so many others have found comfort in making the Jewish food of their youth: When everything around us is unstable, when we have no idea when this moment of crisis will end, we turn back to what brought us joy in childhood.
Now, Hanukkah was never the most exciting holiday growing up. The festival of lights was never really a big deal in my family, unlike the High Holidays which always felt special. As a December birthday (hello, fellow Sagittarians! Sagittarii? Sagittariuses? I have no idea), the hype around my birthday always overshadowed any excitement towards Hanukkah (though I do fondly look back on the combo Hanukkah-birthday present). Honestly, I have clearer memories of going to the Bronx Zoo lights every year than how we actually celebrated Hanukkah.
But I can tell you what I do remember about Hanukkah: I remember planning out with my sister which color candles should go in the menorah each night, arguing over who got to light them. I remember my dad leading us in the shehecheyanu prayer on all eight nights — even though you’re only supposed to say it on the first one — and my siblings and I groaning every time, trying to correct him and eventually just giving in. I remember the little moments of being with my family, ordinary days made just a tad more special as the candles burned down.
To be honest, Hanukkah still isn’t a big deal to me. When I studied abroad in college, feeling alone and sad in London, I lit the menorah by myself every night. (Hanukkah: A great solo holiday!) The year after I graduated, realizing too late it was the first night of Hanukkah and not having my own menorah, I popped into Bed, Bath & Beyond after work and bought the $19 menorah I still use. (It’s pretty cute, not gonna lie. And, Bed, Bath & Beyond has surprisingly great Judaica.)
Yet, ignoring my lack of feelings towards Hanukkah, I feel strongly about being Jewish during the general holiday season. I love the fact my family used to wake up early to go skiing on Christmas Day, because we knew the slopes would be emptier and the chairlift lines would be shorter. I love how every year, without fail, my friend send a series of ridiculous snapchats about fighting the “War on Christmas.” I love giving and getting books for Hanukkah. I am a fan of Secret Santa.
And apparently, I am more a fan of Hanukkah music than I ever realized before. The thing about Hanukkah+ is that it isn’t just an album of fantastically done Hanukkah songs — it captures the feeling of the holiday season in a way I’m sure many Christmas songs do for many others, but not for me. (Though I will listen to every cover of “Winter Song” and Phoebe Bridgers’ If We Make It Through December has been on repeat of late.)
Listening to “Sanctuary” by Craig Wedren, in particular, feels like I am being wrapped up in a warm, fuzzy blanket. Even in the heat of summer, during the pandemic, that’s exactly how I needed to feel.
December is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year because of that warm, cozy feeling. And in a year that felt like one never-ending March, I needed the comfort of December all year — and Hanukkah+ gave that to me.