NPRs Chanukah stories wend their way from radio to print

At National Public Radio, they call it a “driveway moment.” That’s when a story is so compelling, listeners remain in their cars, parked in the driveway, spellbound until the end.

For 14 years, Jewish NPR fans have considered the annual holiday special “Hanukkah Lights” a golden “driveway moment” opportunity.

Whether personal memoir, fairy tale or modern fiction, the stories read on “Hanukkah Lights” brings out the best in contemporary Jewish writers.

Now, 16 stories from the show have been collected and released in a fully-illustrated holiday gift book called “Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season.” Writers like Anne Roiphe, Peter S. Beagle, Harlan Ellison, Kinky Friedman and Elie Weisel contributed. NPR icon Susan Stamberg, along with “Hanukkah Lights” co-host Murray Horowitz, both wrote introductory essays as well.

Though most Chanukah books are geared towards children, this one targets adults, says David Brown, an editor with Melcher Media, the book’s publisher.

“These are all great writers. I was happy with how solid and varied the stories were,” Brown says from his New York office.

Some are about family, some are reinterpretations of the Chanukah story, like science fiction writer Harlan Ellison’s time traveler’s tale. Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer describes a childhood encounter with her Ladino-speaking grandmother, while Myra Goldberg recalls being one of the only Jewish kids in her elementary school and being asked to sing Chanukah songs for the holiday pageant.

Given that the stories premiered as spoken-word pieces read aloud on the radio, it was a no-brainer to include a bonus CD of writers reading their work. The voices of Ariel Dorfman, Daniel Mark Epstein, Kinky Friedman and Leslea Newman are featured. Leave it to the mercurial Friedman to inject OPEC and the Electric Matzoball disco in his short story.

A lifelong NPR fan, San Mateo native Brown loved working on the project. Brown grew up going to Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City (his parents Al and Diane Brown are still members). He remembers fondly the temple’s annual Chanukah parties, though he says for his family, the holiday was more a homebound affair.

“Most of the eight nights it was the four of us,” he recalls. “My sister and I would fight over who got to light the candles.”

Brown went on to earn a degree in English from U.C. Berkeley and relocate to New York in 1993. His career as an editor includes stints at the New Yorker, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Metropolis Magazine and others. He also wrote “Inventing Modern America,” a 2001 book that profiled 35 American inventors.

His “Hanukkah Lights” assignment took a year to complete but, as he says, “My job was pretty simple: Make the selection, bring in the illustrator and make a good-looking book.”

With a total of more than 40 stories written for the NPR series over the years, Brown thinks a follow-up volume of “Hanukkah Lights” is a distinct possibility.

Says Brown: “There isn’t much like it on the market.”

“Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season” (128 pages, Melcher Media, $19.95).

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.