Hannukah spirit, part 2 Dec 17, 2012
In 2006, I wrote a blog post about a song called Mattathias, which my father taught to me and my brothers when we were children. Yesterday, I received a very nice email from a woman named Sara, who is the Executive Director of a synagogue. She had this to say:
Hi Nat,The statement on your blog from 2006, that the first line of the song "he struck the traitor to the earth" cannot be found by googling, is now incorrect, as I found your blog! Which is, by the way, now the only reference I could find -- other than a family video on YouTube...I went through most of Hanukkah this year trying to remember the song. Everyone I knew (and I'm the Executive Director of a synagogue) thought I was nuts, until our community-wide Hanukkah party on Friday night. The only other person who knew the song is our song-leader -- it took a professional to recognize it! And on Shabbat morning, she brought in a book whose cover I recognized immediately, called "The Songs We Sing" by Harry Coopersmith, published in 1950 by the United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education. This fits with my childhood in Brooklyn, where I attended the East Midwood Jewish Center Day School. East Midwood was (still is, I think) a large Conservative shul with Hebrew school and day school. (The song is titled "Mattathais," thus my subject line.)So, thank you for posting the song on your blog six years ago. The only difference in lyrics from those published in the book are in the last section: "To die, and yet today they live; Far down the centuries' flowing sea...That beacon sword! Hear that strong cry..." And unless your father sang it prior to 1950, I imagine that he learned at the Fairmount Temple, but that it didn't originate there.All the best and belated Chag Sameach.
Thanks very much, Sara!
So, new information: the song dates back to at least 1950, and probably earlier, given that it was published in a song collection by then. Apparently my father's lyrics correction may actually be incorrect, despite (in my opinion) making more sense. I guess "flowing sea" does make more sense than "flaming sea," though. Who knows, the imagery in the song is a bit odd to begin with.
And here's the family video she mentioned: