Photo Credit:
The Friedman family in their Crown Heights apartment circa Chanukah 1963. Back row, l-r: Mrs. Fay Kranz-Greene, Rabbi Benzion Friedman, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe HaKohen Friedman, a”h, Rabbi Alter Eliyahu Friedman, Mrs. Ita Marcus. Front row, l-r: Rabbi Shlomo Friedman, Avrohom (Fried) Friedman, Rabbi Yosef Friedman. (Not pictured: Rabbi Manis Friedman, who took the photo, and our dear mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Friedman, who was undoubtedly in the kitchen frying latkes.)

Ask any adult about memories of Chanukah and you’ll find that deep down, the images he or she carries of this wintry eight-day holiday are inevitably linked to childhood.

My own memories of Chanukah are inextricably and forever associated with my father’s singing of Maoz Tzur. My father, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe HaKohen Friedman, of blessed memory, didn’t sing Maoz Tzur the way it is taught in today’s Hebrew schools. My father’s version was the traditional lengthy one. Both melodic and mournful, it is replete with crashing crescendos and lilting liturgy.


My father learned this melody from his father, who heard it at the Rama Synagogue in Krakow. My father taught the melody to his children and it became as beloved to us as it was to him.

Growing up, the highlight of our Chanukah (besides receiving a shiny silver dollar) was gathering around the menorah and joining in as he masterfully sang his Maoz Tzur. My six brothers and one sister, k”h, are all blessed with the ability to carry a tune and the resulting chorus was beautiful indeed.

As the eldest child in the family, I was the first to get married and move away from home. That first Chanukah on shlichus in Detroit, I was homesick for my father’s Maoz Tzur. I called my mother, she should live and be well, and she suggested I stay on the phone and listen as my father was about to light the menorah.

And so a tradition was born. Every Chanukah, usually on the fifth night, I would call “home” and our family would listen in as my father so magnificently sang Maoz Tzur, accompanied by my siblings. As the years went by and there were, baruch Hashem, grandchildren and great-grandchildren spending Chanukah with Zaidie and Bubbie, they too would join in the singing…and the chorus continued.

Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Friedman, a”h (left), with his father, Rabbi Meir Yisroel Isser HaKohen Friedman, a”h.

During the later years when my father’s health began to sadly and steadily decline, I knew that when I made that phone call on the fifth night some things would be the same but some things would be different.

My father would need some help getting to the tall silver menorah. A grandson would guide his hand to light the wick in the oil cylinder and gently prompt him as he recited the blessings. But inevitably, when the flames were kindled and illuminating the room, someone would say “Zaidie, let’s sing Maoz Tzur.”

My father would look momentarily perplexed, but then he would furrow his brow in concentration and draw out the memory that was forever imprinted on his psyche and slowly begin to sing.

They would let him sing alone for a few moments and then his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would add their voices. Softly at first, but becoming ever louder. And when the final crescendo had died down and the last lyrics had been sung, there would be tears in my father’s eyes and he would smile.

During the last year of his life we arranged a Chanukah party for my father in his nursing home. He was very frail and hardly spoke at all. But we were determined that he would celebrate Chanukah.

That year, my brothers made a professional recording of several of the zemiros we always sang around my father’s table, including Maoz Tzur. We wanted my father to hear it often, in preparation for the party. So we bought a pair of state-of the-art headphones, put them gently on my father’s head, and let him listen to Maoz Tzur as recorded by his sons.

On the morning of the party, several of us were visiting our father and we reminded him again that it was Chanukah. Suddenly, to our complete amazement, he began singing Maoz Tzur. We held our breath as he slowly but beautifully completed two stanzas of the song and then fell silent again.

That night at the party, my father did not participate in the singing. But it was okay. We had already been zocheh to our Chanukah miracle.


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Fay Kranz Greene was a Chabad shlucha in Detroit, San Diego, and Richmond (Virginia) for more than 30 years. She was the editor in chief of the Richmond Jewish News and has also written articles for many Chabad publications. She currently resides in Boca Raton, Florida with her husband, Joel Greene.