“Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do,” Mr. Hatch said in an interview before heading to the Senate floor to debate an abortion amendment. “Mormons believe the Jewish people are the chosen people, just like the Old Testament says.”
In short, he loves the Jews. And based on an early sampling of listeners, the feeling could be mutual.
"Jeff, it's Orrin," I heard over the phone. "What do you think of the song?" It was, indeed, Hatch. The second miracle of the night.
"Senator Hatch," I said. "It's Christmas Eve."
"Yes, it is!" Hatch replied. "What about the song?"
"Senator," I said, "I love the song."
And I do. It's a delightful thing to have Orrin Hatch write a song for Hanukkah. Of course I appreciate the absurdist quality to this project, but I also deeply appreciate Hatch's earnestness. His lyrics are not postmodern or cynical, which is a blessing, because I for one have tired of the Adam Sandlerization of Judaism in America. Yes, we are, as a people, funny (at least when compared to other people, such as Croatians) but our neuroses, well-earned though they may be, have caused us to lacerate our own traditions, which are in fact (to borrow from Barack Obama) awesome. The story of Hanukkah is a good case in point--maybe the perfect one.
I also appreciate the song because Hatch's collaborator, Madeline Stone, has written music that, to borrow this time from Felix Unger, is happy and peppy and bursting with love. And I love the fact that the song's producer, Peter Bliss, hired a delightful singer named Rasheeda Azar, who was not only a back-up vocalist for Paula Abdul (Jew) and Janet Jackson (not a Jew) but is a Syrian-American from Terre Haute, Indiana. Rasheeda's participation closes a circle of sorts, since the Syrian King Antiochus was, of course, the antagonist in the story of the Maccabean revolt.
And so it was a very American day in a recording studio on West 54th Street in Manhattan when we gathered to hear Rasheeda sing. In one small room were Bliss; Madeline Stone, a Jewish songwriter who writes contemporary Christian music in Nashville; a crew of downtown Jews from Tablet Magazine; Hatch's chief of staff, Jace Johnson, who didn't seem to know exactly what he was doing there, but was very nice about the whole episode; and Hatch himself, who sang background vocals and even showed us the mezuzah he wears under his shirt. Hatch, like many Mormons, is something of a philo-Semite, and though he is under no illusions about Jewish political leanings in America--he told me that though he likes Barbra Streisand very much, he's fairly sure she doesn't like him--he possesses a heartfelt desire to reach out to Jews.
Hatch said he hoped his song would be understood not only as a gift to the Jewish people but that it would help bring secular Jews to a better understanding of their own holiday. "I know a lot of Jewish people that don't know what Hanukkah means," he said. Jewish people, he said, should "take a look at it and realize the miracle that's being commemorated here. It's more than a miracle; it's the solidification of the Jewish people."
"As Hanukkah approached this year, I sent a note to various remixers, asking if they’d be interested in selecting a holiday staple, or a song from another festive Jewish event, and taking a stab at remixing it. The response was swift, strong, and positive—as was the supportive response from the musicians and bands who had recorded the originals from which the remixers would subsequently work. Permission having been granted by the originating musicians (or their respective record labels), the remixers dove in deep, enacting their alterations with everything from laptops to modular synthesizers."
OK, people. Raise your hands if you remember when Onyx recorded a very NSFW Hanukkah rap for an HBO series called Hardcore TV in the early 1990s. Raise your hands if you remember Onyx? Raise your hands if you just don't care. Now you're getting it...
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