JOSHUA BRONFMAN continues on Singing Jewish Music:
Here’s the thing: Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday. In the scheme of things, Rosh Hasanna, Yom Kippor and Passover are much more important. Hanukkah has become conflated with Christmas for a number of reasons. In particular, they fall around the same time of year, gift giving is a part of both traditions, and Jews have adopted Hanukkah as a somewhat public display of their faith (think menorahs in the window). But Hanukkah is not a biblical holiday, as the previous holidays I mentioned are, and there are no restrictions on work, going to school or other such things. It is a relatively minor holiday that has become most people’s primary point of reference for Judaism.
When we employ tokenism, and include one or two Hanukkah tunes on every “Winter Holiday” program, we are emphasizing the wrong aspects of Judaism (plus many of those pieces one might include are garbage from a musical standpoint, especially the huge numbers of pieces that have been written specifically to give Winter Holiday programs a new Hanukah piece each year…you know, that brand new Hanukkah piece in your new music reading packet? Sorry, but they are often not that good). So, not only are we denying the importance of Christian music at the holiday program, we also do a disservice to Judaism by educating students and the audience on the less important parts of the faith and it’s musical tradition. For many people, the only Jewish song they know is “Dreydl, Dreydl,” which means that music educators have failed to teach about Judaism and Jewish music.