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Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel: The Seattle Connection to the World's Best-Known Hanukkah Song

Megan Smith
The composer of "I Have a Little Dreidel" worked at a Seattle synogogue for decades.

Tuesday evening marks the first night of Hanukkah. And if you know one piece of Hanukkah culture, it’s very likely a certain song about a little dreidel made of clay. What you may not know is how that song connects directly to Seattle.

In 1927, during the Tin Pan Alley era, New York composer Samuel Goldfarbwas busily combining traditional Jewish music with American pop and novelty.

The original 1927 recording of "I Have a Little Dreidel"

The song didn’t catch on right away. Within three years of writing it, Goldfarb got a new job in Seattle.

A generation before his son Alvin founded Goldfarb’s Jewelers, Samuel became music director for Seattle’s Temple de Hirsch Sinai, where almost 90 years later, kids still belt out his lyrics.

It was in the 1950s that the dreidel song really took off.

“It really became much more widespread and started here at the synagogue, and then kind of went viral, in a mid-20th Century way, from that point,” said Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple de Hirsch Sinai”

The popularity of the dreidel song coincided with the growing profile of Hanukkah in America, and wider mainstream recognition of Jewish traditions.

“You can imagine that particularly for Jewish kids at a time here in Seattle when there weren’t so many Jews, the idea that a song, which reflected that they were celebrating a different holiday than the rest of the community, is an exponential source of pride,” Weiner said.

Now, like a good Christmas standard, the Dreidel song has branched out to many genres, from rap to reggae and, perhaps most appropriately for Seattle, grunge.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.