The countdown is on— less than four weeks until Chanukah.
Ever since ever, my parents, at Chanukah, have rolled out an ancient mimeographed booklet that they use for the blessings, songs, and readings. The booklet, called How to Celebrate Hanukah at Home, was published by United Synagogue and compiled by Rabbi Albert I. Gordon in 1947. Along with the paper candles and other unique-to-the-family traditions, the book is an integral part of my Chanukah identity.
In the middle of this old, old manuscript, is the following song. No one else I have ever met knows this song or the melody, but we belt it out proudly each Chanukah. It is, unquestionably, one of the highlights of Chanukah every year.
(To the melody “Der Rebbe hot gevizen vunder”)
O Listen to an epic song
It is a lovely story
Of how a lady Maccabbee
Won everlasting glory
Profaned our holy temple
For bad and bold he quenched the light
Of our menorah Lempel
He told the Jews they’d have to eat
Profane non-Kosher dishes
And if they did not, they would die
A victim of his rishuss
No Kosher meat- no Kosher fowl
It really was quite awful
‘Til Mrs. Maccabbeus peeled
And ground up some kartoffel
She mixed them well with olive oil
And baked it in a platter
And so despite Antiochus
The Jews kept getting fatter
And now each Chanukah we eat
This fill of latke treasure
And thank the Lady Maccabbee
For giving us this pleasure
Only a few understand the words kartoffel, lempel, or rishuss. And I openly wonder if there are extant recordings of the song “Der Rebbe hot gevizen vunder” that gave this song its tune, as google returns no results for the song title.
If you know anything about this song, let me know by posting a comment below. In the meantime, I’ll continue to sing it with my kids and pass it down to them as a perennial Chanukah gift that will keep on giving.