How One Lower East Sider Forever Changed Chanukah with ‘I Have a Little Dreidel’

Posted on: December 29th, 2016 at 5:11 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

Photo: Times of Israel

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.

Recent Stories

Mayor Adams Vetoes Bill to Fine Non-Artists Residents in Upzoned SoHo and NoHo

The SoHo/NoHo Rezoning saga took a new turn last Friday when Mayor Eric Adams vetoed the controversial bill (Intro 2443A). The last-minute legislation, introduced by former Councilmember Chin, would levy fines against residents occupying JLWQA units without official “artist certification.” The odd JLWQA acronym isn’t the call sign of some defunct NYC radio station; it […]

Gaia Cafe Planning February Return with New Essex Street Locale

Gaia Italian Cafe, a locals favorite, is gearing up for a return. An early pandemic victim, Gaia shuttered its sub-level operations in the summer of 2020 after nearly a decade on East Houston. Then word came through last July that namesake chef-owner Gaia Bagnasacco signed a lease for the ground floor of 119 Essex Street, […]

‘Be My Baby’ and a Strange 1965 Visit to Parisi Bakery (Ronnie Spector RIP)

Ronnie Spector, the chanteuse who fronted the Ronettes in the 1960s with her signature vocal yearning, died yesterday. She was 78. She passed after “a brief battle with cancer,” according to a statement from her family. In tribute to her life and music, we’re re-publishing the following piece from a few years ago highlighting the […]

The Decimated State of East River Park

It’s full throttle with East River Park demolition. Nothing now stands in the way of the $1.45 billion coastal resiliency project. Tree stumps dot the park from East Houston to Corlears Hook, onetime green space which now resembles the blackened wasteland of a post-apocalyptic novel. In all, some 990 trees are being sawed into submission. […]

How to Help Essex Card Shop Rebuild After Devastating Fire on Avenue A

Monday afternoon, a two-alarm fire ripped through 47 Avenue A, destroying the long-running Essex Card Shop. While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, Saba Aslam, daughter of the shop owner, launched a GoFundMe campaign to help rebuild the business. “Every single corner of this store is burned, damaged, and destroyed,” the appeal proclaims. […]