Two sparkling new music videos from the string band Nefesh Mountain bring this little known inclination vividly to life.
The fabled folksinger wrote the lyrics—and in one case, the melody—on which the videos are based after moving to Coney Island in 1942. There he became fascinated by the works and cultural milieu of his mother-in-law, the Yiddish poet, Aliza Greenblatt. As a member of a reviled and marginalized group himself—the Dust Bowl Okies—Guthrie identified strongly with the hardships and resilience of the Jews.
Long submerged in Guthrie’s voluminous archives, “The Hanukkah Dance,” for which he wrote both words and melody, and “Hanukkah’s Flame,” written as a poem, were discovered by his daughter and official archivist, Nora Guthrie.
Nefesh Mountain—whose sound is an alluring amalgam of Jewish culture and Eastern Kentucky bluegrass—recorded and shot the videos against a stained glass window in the chapel at Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The site is the childhood synagogue of Eric Lindberg, who co-founded Nefesh Mountain with his wife, Doni Zasloff. Lindberg also wrote the music to “Hanukkah’s Flame.” Rounding out the band are Alan Grubner on violin and Tim Kiah on bass.
“As lovers of true American music we were so excited to share this wonderful catalogue of Jewish material from one of the greatest songwriters of all time.” Zasloff says. “His messages of hope, equality and compassion inspire and ring true today more than ever”
Lindberg describes “The Hanukkah Dance” as “a joyous old-time romp, sung from the perspective of a parent to a child or loved one. We had fun playing with the basic structure of this sweet and sentimental song, adding new chords and grooves to complement the original version.”
Of “Hanukkah’s Flame,” Zasloff says, “Woody Guthrie’s beautiful message seems so relevant for us all today—that light from the menorah is a source of love, hope and warmth that pours out from the windows of our homes into the outside world. He and we bid you a Happy Hanukkah.”