One of the songs on our holiday concert, Revelry, is a setting of Al HaNisim to an old melody in an a capella setting for mixed choir by Elliot Z. Levine, which has been revoiced for men’s chorus by Vince Peterson.
Elliot Z. Levine, a former member of the Western Wind, a vocal sextet devoted to the special beauty and variety of a cappella music, has appeared as a baritone soloist with groups such as Musica Sacra, the Rome Opera, the Ensemble for Early music, and the Mannes Camerata. Mr. Levine is also a composer, conductor, educator, and coach.
In his setting of Al HaNisim, Levine’s clever use of combative rhythms makes the chorus its own accompaniment.
The text of Al HaNisim comes from the traditional Chanukah liturgy. Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish holiday beginning on the 25th of Kislev and commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after its defilement by Antiochus of Syria. The holiday lasts eight days because after the Temple was rededicated and the menorah lit, it miraculously burned for eight days even though there was only enough sacred oil for one day's lighting of the menorah.
Here is the text of Al HaNisim:
For the miracles and for the deliverance
And for the mighty acts,
And for the acts of salvation that
You performed for our ancestors in those days,
At this time of year;
In the days of Matthias the son of Yochanan, the High Priest,
When the Greek Empire sought to force
Your people Israel to abandon your Torah
And to deviate from Your chosen laws and practices,
You in your mercy stood with them in their hour of distress.
Al hanisim v'al hapurkan
V'al hagvurot v'al hat'shuot
Bayamim haheim baz'manhazeh
Bimei Matityahu ben Yochanan kohen gadol chash monai uvanav
K'she amdah malchut Yavan al am' cha Yisraeil, al amcha Yisraeil
L'hashkicham toratecha, ul' ha'aviram meichu keir'tsonecha
B'rachame cha harabim
Amad'talahem b'et tazratam
A different version of Al HaNisim is used during Purim. On both Chanukah and Purim, the prayer is recited to thank God for the miracles with which the holiday is associated.
Purim is a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who was planning to kill all the Jews. Purim, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Mardi-Gras is a carnival-like holiday where people often wear either their best Sabbath clothing or dress up as characters from the Purim story such as King Xerxes, Vashti, Queen Esther, Mordecai and Haman.