Temple Israel’s artist in residence Jacob Spike Kraus was inspired by American holiday music when creating his Chanukah album, “Light Up the Night.”
Photos courtesy of Temple Israel/Jacob Spike Kraus
Jacob Spike Kraus has taken a cue from famous Jewish songwriters and added his own twist.
Kraus, artist in residence at Temple Israel, picked up on the melodic stylings of Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé and Jerry Herman, among many others known for their enduring Christmas songs, before swerving away to lyrics communicating messages of Chanukah.
Where “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” and “We Need a Little Christmas” are the seasonal projects of Berlin, Tormé and Herman respectively, Kraus has come up with “Light Up the Night,” “Lights in the Window” and “Chanukah Is Here.”
Those three Kraus songs have been recorded with him singing, accompanied by a studio band, and are available digitally. They are joined on a mini-album format with a Hebrew song, “Al Hanissim,” which mixes traditional religious text set to Kraus’ music.
“I’ve been inspired to take the same musical style Americans hold close when the weather gets cold and infuse original melodies with lyrics that express Jewish cultural themes, including miracles and perseverance,” says Kraus, brought to Temple Israel with the goal of reimagining the partnership between artists and synagogues.
“This is true American holiday music in the style sung by Michael Bublé, Carole King and Frank Sinatra. Essentially, I wrote Chanukah songs masquerading as classic holiday songs that could hold their own on radio stations that play seasonal hits.”
“Light Up the Night,” the album title, was inspired by a teaching that explains the true miracle of Chanukah isn’t that the oil lasted eight days; it’s that the Jewish people took a leap of faith and lit the menorah. The meaning of the holiday is defined as believing enough to take chances.
“Lights in the Window” lyrically mixes the secular wintery themes of the music with more cultural Chanukah references. “Chanukah Is Here,” written with Kraus’ father, Rabbi Jonathan Kraus, explores reasons candles are lit and why the ritual establishes people in their Jewish lineage.
“Al Hanissim” musicalizes traditional text that thanks God for the miracles performed in times of trouble and, overall, communicates feelings of safety and comfort.
“Temple Israel is the organization that is releasing the recordings,” says Kraus, who worked with a professional studio in Nashville, where band members were chosen by two producers. “We created something special that could be replicable for communities that want to partner with artists like myself in the future.”
Kraus, who holds a music performance degree, has built a career appearing for synagogues and camps and has been a member of the diverse Jewish a cappella group Six13. His earlier music, with two albums and singles recorded, has been called pop folk, pop soul and pop R&B.
“For this project, I wanted to write adult, mature holiday music that could be played along with songs like ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ (written by Ralph Blane with Hugh Martin) and wouldn’t feel out of place,” says Kraus, who was invited to perform his new songs before members at the Union for Reform Judaism meeting in Chicago.
“I feel very strongly about the evolution of Jewish music to expand boundaries and find ways to connect culturally and communally to Judaism. As part of this, we are releasing one music video for each song every Sunday in December.”