Time to Face the Music

Put down the dreidl, stop eating the latkes, and take a break from giving gifts. It’s time for a much more profound and significant Chanukah tradition:

Chanukah music on Sirius XM. This year you can find it on Channel 77.

I have no idea who runs that channel over there and decides what music to play. I suspect it’s the same person who tells every supermarket manager to display matzah, gefilte fish, and Kedem grape juice on the aisle end cap for every Jewish holiday. They just throw some Jewish stuff on and figure they’ve got it covered.

Yet, I can’t look away. I find myself tuning in just to see what disaster awaits me. Last night I turned the radio on in the middle of a song. It was slow and somewhat subdued, and I was trying to figure out what they were playing. I soon picked out some Hebrew words: …eilech b’gei tzalmavet….

That translates to “…though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…”


They think that Jews all over North America, their cars and minivans full of kids, will have their enjoyment of Chanukah enhanced by listening to the words of the 23rd Psalm.

Then there are the many tired parodies–putting silly Jewish-themed words on Christmas carols. (Ha ha, isn’t that really clever? See, it’s like Christmas, but we made it about Chanukah.) But at least those songs have words. If I hear one more chorus of ay ay ay or yada dada dai, I might punch my radio. Today’s winner? A song entitled La-la-latkes. Hearing that over and over again made me want to drive off the ro-ro-road.

Interspersed among all this musical brilliance are the miscellaneous Jewish songs that they use to fill programming time. Anything from Fiddler or Yentl will do.

But why do I keep listening? Because every now and then, maybe once or twice an hour, they play a really good song. Some quality piece of music written by a contemporary artist which actually reflects some of the holiday’s themes. And because the Jewish musical world is pretty small, I often get to look at the radio display and say, “Hey, I know them!”

I always wonder what the non-Jewish world thinks about this music and our celebration of Chanukah. But trust me, we’re the only ones who would willingly subject ourselves to this station.

Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

4 comments on “Time to Face the Music

  1. Mark Arnold

    Well said, Matt


  2. Sheldon M Levin

    I pride myself on knowing what’s happening in American Jewish music. I can’t believe how many of these artists and recordings I’ve never heard before. I agree that it would be better to play Hanukkah (not all kinds of Jewish) music and better quality would really be appreciated.


    • Cantor Matt Axelrod

      In some cases, the term “artist” is overstating things a bit. Also, since Sirius has one or two Christian music stations on its lineup, why not give up the pretense that all of these songs are for Chanukah, and just play general Jewish music throughout the year on one channel?


  3. Pingback: Rebalancing our Religious Portfolio – Cantor Matt Axelrod

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