Oy, Khanike.

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OK, another Khanike note, taking as a text not the story of the Maccabean revolt but that dreaded song of the season known as “Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah”. The lyric was written by Mordkhe Rivesman, and while I have, for a few years, insisted that the only way to make the song bearable is to sing it extremely fast and in the original Yiddish, I had never really looked at the differences between the original and the terrible English version.

Khanuke, oy khanuke, a yon-tev a sheyner,
a lustiker, a freylekher, nito noch azoyner.
Ale tog in dreydl shpiln mir
Frishe heyse latkes esn on a shir.

Geshvinder tsindt, kinder,
di khanuke-likhtelekh on!

Lomir ale in eynem
tsum yon-tev dem sheynem
zingen un tantsn in khur

Now, I᾿ll start by saying that translation is incredibly difficult, and translating a song lyric is even more difficult, with the scansion and the rhyme and whatnot. So when I say that the English song is terrible, I don᾿t mean to criticize it as a translation, just to say that I loathe it and it is awful. But it᾿s still interesting (to YHB) to think about what changed.

Here᾿s a kind of sense in English of the original words:

Khanike, Oh Khanike, a holiday, a beauty!
Happy, fun—there᾿s nothing quite like it.
Everybody is playing dreidl together with me.
Fresh hot latkes, I never stop eating.
Come here, children, the Khanike-candles are lit!
All together as one—
To make the holiday beautiful
Dance and sing in a circle!

So, the first thing that jumps out at me is that this song has nothing in it about days long ago. It᾿s just about singing and dancing, eating and drinking, fun and beauty. It’s a celebration of celebration. The version we sing in Hebrew School is more like an explanation.

Then it turns out that there᾿s another verse:

Yehude hot fartribn dem soyne, dem roytseakh,
Un hot in beys hamikdesh gezungen “lamnatseyakh”
Di shtot yerushalayim hot vider oyfgelebt,
Un tsu a nayem lebn hot yederer geshtrebt.

Geshvinder tsindt, kinder,
Di dininke likhtelekh on.
Zogt “al hanisim,” loybt got far di nisim,
Un kumt gikher tantsn in kon.

This verse is all about going to shul and praying. So it᾿s one verse about dancing and gambling, and one verse about praying and remembering. Jerusalem has revived again, and everyone strives for a new life. That᾿s kind of nice.

Particularly if we only actually sing the first verse.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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