Local musician celebrating Hanukkah with song

A woman conducts from a stage
Sarina Partridge is a song leader in the Jewish community.
Courtesy Sarina Partridge

The first night of Hanukkah is Thursday, and a local musician is celebrating with song.

Sarina Partridge is a musician, song-leader and educator in Minneapolis. And throughout Hanukkah she is hosting several sing-alongs for the Jewish community to take part in.

She joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about her music and how it plays a role in Jewish tradition.

Partridge is hosting a Hanukkah sing-along Dec. 7 in St. Louis Park and a Yiddish song circle on Dec. 9 in St. Paul.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Hey, the first night of Hanukkah is tomorrow, and a local musician is celebrating with song. Sarina Partridge is a musician, song leader, and educator in Minneapolis. And throughout Hanukkah, she's hosting several sing-alongs for the Jewish community to take part in, and Sarina is on the line. Hey. Welcome, Sarina. How are you?

SARINA PARTRIDGE: I'm doing really well. Thanks so much for having me.

CATHY WURZER: And I'm going to wish you a Happy Hanukkah early now. So a day early, but I'm going to be the first maybe to wish you a Happy Hanukkah.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Hey, I'll take it. Happy Hanukkah Eve Day.

CATHY WURZER: OK, there you go. Hey, let me ask you about what connects you to Jewish songs and songwriting. What's your background?

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Yeah, well, I am Jewish. And for me, a big part of Judaism is about connecting with the wheel of the year and letting the themes of the holidays draw me in to connect and reflect on the seasonal moment. And song helps me do that. So I sing traditional music, and I also write a lot of music that I love to teach to community groups to connect to the wild without and within, to connect to tradition and also connect to new ways that we can really be fully alive on this planet.

CATHY WURZER: Tell folks what role song plays in Jewish tradition and Jewish holidays.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Yeah, well, I feel like song is a way to really embody what's happening in any holiday. So in my experience, growing up Jewish, we sang all the time. And I learned all of these songs and prayers that I knew as tunes even before I understood what they meant. So I think singing gives us a chance to be a part of something bigger together and really touch into what is sacred in a way that lets us feel big joy and big grief. And the individual voice is needed, but we're part of the whole. And I love that about singing together.

CATHY WURZER: I love that you're having these singalongs, by the way. There's an event tomorrow night at the Westwood Hills Nature Center in St. Louis Park. It's the Hanukkah edition of Songs to Re-root and Remember. Tell us about the event.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Yeah, so this is part of a series that I've been leading, hosted by the JCC, the Minnesota JCC. And this Hanukkah edition will be us singing on themes of Hanukkah. So it'll be original songs that I've written for community singing groups on themes of light in the darkness, celebrating our togetherness, and connecting with the winter. Because in Minnesota, that's what's happening right now.

So I've thought a lot about what does it mean to have a Jewish connection with place and with land, and how can we sort of sing ourselves back to a healthier relationship to place? And I do think that as an Ashkenazi Jewish person of Eastern European descent, thus my family, my ancestors fled home to places that we can't return to. And it makes sense to me that we have an interesting and, sometimes, not very whole relationship to place because of that.

And I think singing can be a way that we reconnect with place, singing songs about the natural world and our place in it. And I do think that that has a role in healing some of these broken bridges of relationship to place. And if those bridges are broken, it becomes easier to perpetuate cycles of harm and extraction or feel entitled to land or push people off of land, because you feel like that's the only way you can be safe to justify violence and colonialism.

And I'm not saying that singing together fixes all of those things immediately, but I do think that singing to re-root into community and singing to remember our deepest connections with each other and with place does subtly shift how we relate to place and to each other and helps us heal some of those broken, things that, as a people in diaspora, we've kind of lost along the way.

CATHY WURZER: Let's play some music. What do you think about that? You were talking about light, so we're going to play one of the songs you'll be teaching.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Love it.

(SINGING) I will keep this warmth in my heart. Keep the fire burning bright. We are the light. We are the light. We are the light. I will keep this--

CATHY WURZER: So pretty. Wow.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Aw, thanks.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah. And this, of course, playing off of the Festival of Lights-- we all know Hanukkah. That's what it's called, right? So light plays a big role in this holiday.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Indeed.

CATHY WURZER: Tell me about writing this song. Tell me about creating this song.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Yeah, well, I wrote this around this time of year last year, just thinking about all of the traditions in the world of celebrating light in the darkest time of the year. And the theme feels like we need to remember as human beings that we carry that light inside us, even when it's really dark and cold, even when we feel really disconnected or isolated and overwhelmed by what's happening in the world, that we are the light. And I think we light candles, whether it's for solstice or Hanukkah or Christmas, to remind ourselves that we are the light.

CATHY WURZER: Your music is modern. You're also going to be teaching Yiddish music, I understand. Saturday, you'll be holding a Yiddish song circle at Mount Zion.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Yes.

CATHY WURZER: Yiddish music, obviously, is quite old, right? And you have some master Yiddish singers with you at this event?

SARINA PARTRIDGE: No, but I have learned from Yiddish singers. So this has been a journey I've been on for the last few years of trying to study Yiddish, the language, and Yiddish music and teach Yiddish folk songs. And that feels really fun and important to me because that's a language that my great-grandparents, that was their first language. But by the time it got to my generation, my parents weren't speaking Yiddish with me. It's a language that they gave up in the process of assimilating into whiteness.

And now I get to try to reclaim that language and that music. And Yiddish language and Yiddish music is so expressive. It's so joyous. So I'll be teaching some Yiddish songs that are for Hanukkah specifically, and also Yiddish songs that are just for partying and celebrating, which is basically the theme of Hanukkah, is like, let's party and eat fried foods, which is a holiday I can really get behind.

CATHY WURZER: I love that.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: But you don't need to be able to speak Yiddish or be Jewish to come to that. We'll learn some Yiddish folk songs. And then Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, which is hosting, will roll it into a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony and some celebrating and eating treats together.

CATHY WURZER: I think, Sarina, what we need to do is to go out on a Yiddish song, one that you're going to be teaching. Is that all right?

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Absolutely. It's the only way.

CATHY WURZER: OK, so I'm going to wish you again Happy Hanukkah. Thanks so much for being with us.

SARINA PARTRIDGE: Happy almost Hanukkah. Hope you eat a lot of latkes. [LAUGHS]

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. And to you, too. Sarina Partridge is a musician, song leader, and educator in Minneapolis. She'll be leading multiple singalongs for Hanukkah in the Twin Cities. We're going to have a link to those on our website, mprnews.org.

WOMAN: [SINGING IN YIDDISH]

CATHY WURZER: 12:48 here on Minnesota Now.

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