Photo Credit: Copyright free image via Pikiwiki
Menorah lighting in an Israeli transitional camp circa 1950-52

Hanukkah songs written before the establishment of the State of Israel generated the popular messages of the Zionist spirit and embodied the educational message of establishing a Jewish socialist society in the Land of Israel. As such, these songs often defied and even attacked the traditional message of Hanukkah.

Here are two. If you come from a religious home and have not given these lyrics the proper attention, you might be surprised…


Mi Yemalel (Who Will Utter), 1936, by Menashe Rabina

Who will utter the heroics of Israel,
Who will count them?
Indeed, in every generation a hero will rise
Redeemer of the people.

In those days in this time
There was a redeeming and saving Maccabi,
And in our time all the people of Israel
Will unite, stand up and be redeemed.

In the context of this seemingly innocent (and beautiful) song, it is the person, the hero of each generation, who redeems the nation, and not God, the ultimate redeemer. The second verse, which begins with Shema! (Hear) effectively borrows the text from the daily prayer and applies it to the secular message.

And the definitive anti-traditional Hanukkah song was, of course, this one:

Anu Nos’im Lapidim (We carry torches), 1930s, by Aharon Ze’ev

We are carrying torches
In dark nights.
The paths shine beneath our feet
And he who has a heart
Yearning for the light
Shall lift his eyes and his heart unto us
To the light, and come!

A miracle did not take place for us
A can of oil we did not find.
We went to the valley, we climbed the mountain,
We revealed the hidden wellsprings of lights.

A miracle did not take place for us
A can of oil we did not find.
We carved the rock until we bled
And there was light!

Much has been written about this rhythmic and exciting song which recalls the imagery of both communist and fascist marches with torches in the night through European cities in the 1930s. The author, Aharon Ze’ev, wrote the song for the labor movement’s Hanukkah parade, which competed with the right-leaning Maccabi parade. Ze’ev was a beloved writer who was editor of the Histadrut labor union’s children’s magazine Davar Li’Yeladim. He also served for 15 years as the IDF chief education officer.


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