As most of you know, I usually shy away from some of the more obvious choices, mostly because there is so much written about them elsewhere, that writing about them here serves no real purpose. Every once in a while though, I like to make exceptions, and especially for the special days on our calendar, I just can’t seem to help myself.
When it comes to universal Chanukah songs, the song that probably tops the list is Al Hanisim. Which one, you ask? Have you ever wondered what tune the Chashmonayim used when they sang Al Hanisim? No? Just me? Well, in any case, the one that first came to your mind was the song that I was thinking of, and that’s the one we are highlighting today.
But, in order to connect to a melody of this magnitude, I felt that I needed to speak to the composer directly. I needed to thank him for giving us a song that has transcended the realm of Jewish Music and has firmly established itself as part and parcel of our annual Chanukah experience. Just as Wolfson’s “Ma Ashiv” is part of Hallel and Shenker’s “Eishes Chayil” is part of Shabbos (both previously featured here), so is this terrific tune a part of Chanukah.
There’s latkes, dreidels, sufganiyot and Dov Frimer’s Al Hanisim. Now you understand why I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to speak with the man who made it possible.
Turns out Dov Frimer, a Jerusalem attorney and law professor, is as humble and pleasant as he is marvelously musically talented. He tells me how it all started when he was a student in Yeshiva University back in 1972. YU held a Chanukah song contest that was being run by his chavrusah, Hilly Besdin. Frimer, an established guitarist and composer himself, was thus inspired to compose this, now legendary tune. When it was submitted and sung by Dov’s roommate Josh Rosenzweig and his band Bat-Kol at the chagiga, the contest was over and Al Hanisim was awarded first prize!
After moving to Eretz Yisroel in 1973, Dov took a break from music to focus on his legal studies at the behest of his father, Rabbi Nachman Frimer, z’l. When the break was over, Dov, along with Rosenzweig and five other Bar Ilan University students, started a band called Shivat Zion and played at many local events and gatherings. He also immediately submitted his gold medal melody to the 1974 Chassidic Song Festival (a yearly music contest that took place from 1969 to 1992), where it was sung by famed phenom Izhar Cohen. Finally, the composer himself recorded it for Shivat Zion’s debut record in 1975, and it is this recording that we will be featuring here. The rest, as they say, is old news.
Since then, Al Hanisim has been covered by just about everyone and has been a proud staple in our nation’s joyous festivities, come this time of year. Sure, Frimer’s magnum opus belongs to Purim as well, but the special connection that it has to Chanukah is something unique and undeniable. On a chag that was established as a time of thanksgiving and of giving praise to Hashem, this song, with its upbeat tempo and repetitive refrain, is the perfect vehicle to bring us to do just that.
This enduring melody serves the dual purpose of bringing us to our feet and of bringing us to sing the never-ending praises of Hakadosh Baruch Hu for His unceasing kindness – both in those days and in our times.
For this, I think we can all give our great thanks to Rabbi Professor Dov Frimer, our friendly attorney, for giving us this timeless gift. How timeless? Soon after the Frimers made Aliyah, they attended their first PTA meeting for their oldest daughter Yona, who was in 3rd grade at the time. The teacher expressed concern that Yona kept insisting that her Abba was the one who composed the tune for Al Hanisim – which of course was impossible, the song must be ancient! The teacher was obviously shocked to learn that Yona was very much telling the truth.
So you see what I mean? As I said before, when it comes to Chanukah, there’s latkes, dreidels, sufganiyot… and this classic song.