Live

Watch CBSN Live

Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, Pens Hanukkah Song

This year's Hanukkah party has an unexpected guest, and he's even brought a song.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a Mormon, has given the world "Eight Days of Hanukkah," a cheerful pop ballad celebrating the Festival of Lights. The song appears on Tablet, a Web site on Jewish "news, ideas, and culture."

"Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do," Mr. Hatch said in an interview with the New York Times. "Mormons believe the Jewish people are the chosen people, just like the Old Testament says."

While his voting record is generally considered to be solidly pro-Israel, Hatch's long songwriting repertoire is mostly Christian and patriotic. "Hanukkah" marks his first attempt at songwriting aimed at a Jewish audience.

The song was inspired by a meeting nine years ago between Hatch and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, who was reporting for the New York Times Magazine at the time. "We talked about politics for a few minutes," Goldberg writes in Tablet. "He then said 'Have you heard my love songs?'"

After Hatch introduced Goldberg to his songs, Goldberg asked him about writing a Hanukkah song. The senator took him up on the idea after being reminded last December.

This was not Goldberg's first attempt to generate new ideas in holiday songs. As a Jerusalem Post columnist, he ran a Hanukkah song contest a few years earlier - but found the entries uninspiring.

"The songs I liked best… actually wrestled with the complicated themes of Hanukkah- religious freedom, political extremism, the existence, or non-existence of an interventionist God," Goldberg writes in Tablet.

Goldberg also faulted his community for the "Adam Sandlerization of Judaism." He also said Jews were spending "so much time writing Christmas music."

Hatch responded to Goldberg's call with the following:

"Hanukkah oh Hanukkah
The festival of light
In Jerusalem,
The oil burned bright."

"A small band of people
Led the way
Thru the darkest night
They Prayed
Seeking religious freedom
Did more than survive"

Hatch's co-author is Madleine Stone, a Jewish woman from New York who writes Christmas songs. The vocalist is Rasheeda Azar, a Syrian-American from Indiana. For Hatch, meeting people of opposite faiths and political views is not unusual. He tells the New York Times about his love of Barbra Streisand, a prominent Democratic fundraiser. When Democratic stalwart Ted Kennedy died in August, Hatch cut a tribute to him with "Headed Home."

"I have the song, and it's fabulous," said Jennifer Laszlo-Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, a Washington-based nonprofit.

She added, in reference to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas": "If the most popular Christmas song was written by a Jew, why can't a Hanukkah song be written by a Mormon?"

Hannukah celebrates the events of year 167 BC, when Jewish rebels led by Judah the Maccabee defeated the Syrian-Greek Antiochus IV, briefly regaining their independence. Part of the miracle the holiday celebrates is that a one-day supply of oil in the Holy Temple lasted 8 days. This year, the holiday begins on Friday night.

"No Judah would have meant no Mormon Senator in a studio with an Arab singer and a bunch of New York Jewish background vocalists," writes Goldberg in Tablet. "To my mind, this counts as a minor American miracle."