I’m told it’s because I never went to public school and fully appreciated diversity (read: the stubbornness of Jews in insisting that the holiday season include some mention of Chanukah), but I have to admit I went wild when I saw a group of 5th grade students from Staten Island singing Maoz Tzur, Light the Candles, and, my favorite, Mi Yimalel.
PS22 is known for its 5th grade choir, PS22 Chorus, which has been around since 2000. After the teacher, Gregg Breinberg, started a blog in 2006 they became an Internet phenomenon and began performing outside the school, alongside singers like Carrie Underwood and Gym Class Heroes, meeting Oprah, and so far this year, performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of course, every year the choir is made up of new members as students move on to later grades.
And apparently, the group has a tradition of singing Chanukah songs alongside their Christmas ones. On their YouTube channel, PS22 Chorus has a playlist of their top 22 (get it?) Holiday Faves, four of which are Chanukah songs. For a school where the students are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic, a tribute of 18% Jewish songs is quite generous.
The best part, of course, aside from the sheer number of Chanukah songs (if pressed, I’d be able to come up with maybe three Chanukah songs, tops), is watching little boys and girls singing words they’ve never heard before in a display of true solidarity. Most of the children at PS22 are raised in English speaking or Spanish speaking homes, and yet they enunciate the Hebrew words of Maoz Tzur like they wrote them. While wearing Santa hats. How’s that for religious unity?
As one commenter wrote, “Almost makes me want to be Jewish!” Of course, I already am. But still. It’s really impressive, and even more than that, really cute.