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Home > Holidays > My Father's Maoz Tzur's Guide to Chanukah
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Personal Perspective

My Father's Maoz Tzur

Richmond Jewish News
December 18, 2000

RICHMOND, Va.—They say that Chanukah is a children's holiday. And certainly every Jewish child looks forward to lighting the menorah, singing the traditional songs, eating latkes and getting Chanukah gelt (not necessarily in that order.)

As adults we know better. We know that Chanukah has a wellspring of spiritual nuance and significance that can only be truly appreciated by mature, intellectual minds.

But ask any adult about their memories of Chanukah and you'll find that deep down, the images we carry of this wintery eight-day holiday are inevitably linked to our childhood.

Take mine, for example. I'm of that nebulous age where I sometimes can't remember my parents' phone number, but ask me the words for Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) the way my father sings it on Chanukah, and I have total recall.

Now my father, he should live and be well, doesn't sing Maoz Tzur the way you and I know it. He sings the original, uncut version, which is much longer than the one taught in today's Hebrew schools and sums up nearly 5000 years of Jewish history.

My father learned this splendid melody from his father who learned it from his father who learned it from the Bluzhiver Rav, a chassidic leader in Galicia. So we know for sure that it has come down to our family authentically and accurately from Eastern Europe, circa 1850.

My father taught the melody to his children, and it became as beloved to us as it is to him. The highlight of our Chanukah at home growing up in Brooklyn was gathering around the menorah as my father recited the blessings and then joining in as he masterfully sang his Maoz Tzur. My six brothers and one sister are all blessed with good singing voices and the resulting chorus was beautiful indeed.

As the eldest in the family, I was the first to get married and move away from home. That first Chanukah in Detroit, Michigan, I was homesick for my father's Maoz Tzur. My mother, God bless her, came up with an idea. She said she would call me on the phone when my father was ready to light the Menorah and I would listen in as he and my siblings sang.

And so a tradition was born. Every Chanukah, usually on the fifth night, I would call home, put on the speakerphone, and my family and I would listen in as my father, and whichever siblings were there, would sing Maoz Tzur.

As the years went by and there were, thank God, grandchildren and great grandchildren spending Chanukah with zaydie and bubbie, they too would join in the singing and the chorus continues.

During the last several years, my father's health has sadly declined, and this year, when I make that phone call on the fifth night, some things will be the same and some things will have changed.

It will take my father a little longer to walk slowly to the tall silver Menorah. A son or grandson will guide his hand as he lights the wick in the oil cylinder and gently prod him as he haltingly recites the blessings.

And then, when the flames have been kindled and are illuminating the room, they will say Ta, lets sing Maoz Tzur.

My father will look momentarily perplexed, and then he will furrow his brow in concentration and go back to a time that we know little about. Everyone will watch as he draws out the memory that is imprinted on his subsconcience and in a low, faltering voice, he will begin to sing.

"Maoz tzur yeshuosi lecha naaeh lshabeach"...They will let him sing alone for a few moments and then his children and grandchildren and great children will add their voices, softly at first, but growing ever louder. And when the final crescendo dies out and the last melody has been sung, there will be tears in my fathers eyes...and he will smile.

Fay Kranz Greene is editor-in-chief of the Richmond Jewish News.

© Richmond Jewish News, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission

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