How One Lower East Sider Forever Changed Chanukah with ‘I Have a Little Dreidel’
Each year, when gathering for the Jewish Festival of Lights, candles are lit, latkes (and chocolate gelt) eaten, and traditional songs sung. One such number never fades. And we’re not talking about Adam Sandler’s comedic Chanukah rhyme, either. Rather, “I Have a Little Dreidel,” a folk ditty that was born on the Lower East Side almost a hundred years ago.
Samuel E. Goldfarb – born in 1891 – was one of eleven children that fled Galicia, only to settle in a packed neighborhood tenement. Two decades later, after an arranged marriage to Bella Horowitz, he composed the famous song with Samuel S. Grossman. The first known recording was reportedly in 1927. (Horowitz’s family was partner in the renowned Horowitz-Margareten company that makes Passover products and once operated on the Lower East Side.)
His son Myron Gordon, now 96-years-old, recalled to the Times of Israel that the “Dreidel Song” was a slow burner of a track. That it “took some time to catch on,” and didn’t really stick until the early 1950s, “when Hanukkah was becoming more commercial and parallel to Christmas.”
His brother Israel, on the other hand, a noted cantor at the time, penned another iconic Jewish standby. That of the melody to the centuries-old poem “Shalom Aleichem,” penned by the Kabbalists of Safed. As the publication notes, this remarkable musical feat of two brothers would be akin to two brothers writing “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”
So, next time you sing “I Have a Little Dreidel,” know that it was born on the Lower East Side.