A Hanukkah Story For Dads

The wrong words for the song, the right words for their family.

File Under: Holidays

A long time ago, someone I got to know while working in the Jewish community told me a story about his dead father. And while it was his story, and not mine, the fact that I still remember him telling it to me all these years later means that it’s my story now too. And it’s a Hanukkah story. So in that respect, it’s a story for all of us. It’s a story about not knowing the words. It’s a story about a silly mistake becoming a sacred memory. It’s a story about a dad, long passed, visiting his son in the form of a melody turned into a memory turned into a tradition.

The details are pretty simple. Every year at Hanukkah his family would gather around the Hanukkah menorah to sing the traditional blessings and a few favorite Hanukkah songs. At the top of the list of favorite songs was “Rock of Ages”, in Hebrew, “Maoz Tzur.” Anyone that’s familiar with Maoz Tzur knows that the Hebrew is pretty tricky. Tricky enough that you can sing it your entire life and still not be 100% on the words. So it’s not surprising that my friend’s dad sang the words wrong. And it’s not surprising that it became a family tradition for my friend and his entire family to sing along with their dad. The wrong words for the song, the right words for their family. Out of a completely understandable, maybe even intentional foible, a family tradition is born. A tradition that outlives the father, and, though I can’t say for certain, continues with the son who surely by now has his own family.

To be totally honest I can’t remember my friend’s name. We were friends for a time and life took us in separate directions. I certainly can’t remember his father’s name if I ever knew it at all. But I can remember the feeling of him sharing this story with me. So much so that his story is a part of my story.

So let’s make the most of Hanukkah. Let’s feel free to sing off key, even if we don’t know the words. Let’s be open to the possibility that the love and light we shine this holiday will be a source of blessing for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come.

Rabbi Micah Lapidus

Rabbi Micah Lapidus, Ed.D. is the school rabbi of The Davis Academy, Atlanta's Reform Jewish day school. He's married to Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus and father of two kids. He's a blogger and musician with four albums of widely-available original Jewish music (inspired by The Grateful Dead and They Might Be Giants) and the creator of Hello, Goodbye, & Peace.