Home December 2017 Hamilton & the Hebrew Hammer

Hamilton & the Hebrew Hammer

Portrait of Alexander HamiltonThis Summer, we were blessed to take our tribe to Israel. We explored as much of the country as a one-month visit would allow, cramming into our rented Chevy Orlando every day for an epic trek across the Holy Land.

As can be expected of a vehicle in Israel, the Orlando seats a family of five uncomfortably and has the agility of a can opener. But it did have an excellent Bluetooth setup, allowing us to blast the kids’ album of choice over and over (and over and over) again: the soundtrack to the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

Listening to such American history-laced lyrics while in Israel at first felt a little silly. (To make the experience somewhat more authentic, we found Hebrew translations of a few “Hamilton” songs performed by a very earnest YouTuber). But over many (many) repetitions, we realized the story of the “founding father without a father” was a perfect soundtrack to our Israeli adventure.

Masada. Jerusalem. The Blue Line. The Green Line. Our history, ancient and not-so-ancient, is one continuous story of freedom and ideology mixed with a dash of hot-headedness and zealotry. Alexander Hamilton would have fit in perfectly in the Haganah.

As we rolled through a country that has known strife and resilience, the analogy between the American revolution and Israel grew more obvious. The story of Hamilton, as told in the musical, is one of a survivor who used ingenuity to catapult himself out calamity and into greatness. Not unlike Moses. Not unlike Moshe Dayan. And, I realize as Hanukkah approaches, not unlike Judah Maccabee.

Among our holidays and heroes, the story of Hanukkah and Judah Maccabee is perhaps the most analogous to “Hamilton.” Both Maccabee and Hamilton employed guerilla warfare to upend global superpowers; they both shared an unbending faith in the righteousness of their causes, and the ideals they defended in their day still persist in ours.

Had rap music (or English or gun powder) been invented, the Hebrew Hammer could easily have spit the line: “A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists. Give me a position show me where the ammunition is.” (And by the way, you haven’t heard that line performed properly until you’ve heard it performed by a 4-year-old in a car seat.)

In many ways the story of Hanukkah, of a miraculous victory in the face of unbelievable odds, is very much an America Revolutionary story. And, listening to Hamilton in Israel, the American story felt incredibly Jewish. It’s not difficult to imagine Maccabee’s men, gathering their courage on the eve of their revolt against the Seleucid army, breaking out into a refrain of “The Story of Tonight.”

I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight. And when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.

And every year we do. We spin the dreidel, fry the latkes and tell the story of the Great Miracle that Happened There over and over (and over and over) again. The soundtrack of our people has always been played on infinite loop. Sometimes in the form of explicit rap lyrics from the speakers of a Chevy Orlando.

During our trip, “Hamilton” was our “Maoz T’zur,” our “Rock of Ages” (or, I guess, Rap of Ages).

We don’t go in for big Hanukkah presents, but this year we’re surprising our oldest with a pretty sweet gift for the Festival of Lights: Tickets to “Hamilton” I hope it will remind him of our trip.

I know I can’t hear the soundtrack without thinking of Israel.

Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles. 

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