Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin

Instrumentation: Three-part chorus with optional piano accompaniment
Duration: ca. 3:00, variable repetition
Premiere: 12/14/96
Sharaay Tefilah Chorus, Bruce Ruben, Conductor
Temple B’nai Jeshrun, New York, NY

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Program Note:
Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin is a lighthearted Chanukah round, appropriate for any 3-voice chorus. The melody is catchy, and a descant glides above the last time through. Chanukah, also called the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish festival that commemorates the victory of the Jews led by the Maccabees over the Helenistic Seleucids, who ruled in the region that is now Syria as well as Israel. They outlawed major Jewish practices and defiled the Temple, and the Maccabbes led a victorious revolt that culminated in 165 B.C.E. The word Chanukah means dedication, and it refers to the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.

One of the main Chanukah ceremonies is the lighting of the menorah, an eight-branched candle holder. This celebrates the story of finding an oil lamp in the Temple and how the lamp burned for eight days, though there was hardly enough oil for one day. The first night, one candle is lit. Then one more is added each night until all eight are lit on the final evening. Chanukah, celebrated in December (the month of Kislev in the Jewish calendar) is also celebrated with songs, games and the giving of gifts.

The title Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin refers to the names of the Hebrew letters on the dreidl, the four-sided top which is spun in Chanukah games. The letters stand for the following sentence: “Nes gadol hiyah sham,” meaning “A great miracle happened there.” This refers to the miracle of the oil in the lamp burning for eight nights. If this song is sung in Israel, the words change to Nun, Gimel, Hei, Pei, standing for “Nes gadol hyah poh,” meaning “A great miracle happened here.” Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin was recorded by the London Children’s Choir on Naxos, on a CD called Hanukkah Celebration that is part of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music.

The English meaning of the translatable text is as follows:

Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin
Spin dreidl,
Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin
Plenty of latkes*.

*Latkes are potato pancakes which are a favorite Hanuakah food and are often eaten topped with apple sauce!

Press Quote:
“…Shatin’s…round Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin…sweetly echoes the spinning of the Hanukkah dreidel.” –Austin American-Statesman

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