In our modern, internet based world a new phenomenon has developed with the viral Jewish YouTube video. Somehow these clips take hold, and before you know it you’re getting links to it via e-mail, through Facebook and on Twitter. We watch as the number of views ticks up as people across the Jewish world find themselves directed to this piece of must-see entertainment. If it’s a music video and it’s around the time of a festival, then there’s a good chance it’s another offering from those a cappella singers from Yeshiva University: The Maccabeats.
In the winter of 2010 I received a link to The Maccabeats video Candlelight, a very catchy Chanukah song set to the tune of Taio Cruz’s Dynamite (my musical knowledge meant I had thought it was a brand new tune). The words were clever, these boys could certainly sing, and the video provided additional comedy elements to supplement the song.
I of course shared this song with my Jewish networks, but it was when visiting my in-laws in New York that winter, when I really took notice. The television was on as people ate their breakfast, and suddenly I heard the Maccabeats’ song. They were singing and being interviewed live on national US television, as they talked about their Chanukah song which was sweeping the nation. With all of the Christmas songs out there, the Maccabeats had succeeded where Adam Sandler had been before, with a song for all the Jewish kids out there.
Since then the Maccabeats have gone from strength to strength with songs for Purim and Rosh Hashannah. This was followed by a new Chanukah song, called “Miracle”, this time with a video, which even featured a celebrity, Mayim Bialik (for younger readers Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory and for older readers Blossom in Blossom, or the young Bette Middler in Beaches) taking part in the passing of the candle and the lighting of the chanukiah. Alongside their videos they have travelled across America and performed around the world, singing in London and for Presidents Shimon Peres and Barak Obama.
Then last month they came to my synagogue in Port Washington for a Sunday night concert. There was a buzz around the synagogue for weeks in advance. And on the night over 600 people turned up to be entertained by seven boys from Yeshiva University.
It might sound corny but they came across like nice Jewish boys. They shared anecdotes about their music and rise to “fame” between renditions of their YouTube hits, Jewish music and other popular songs. Throughout the audience was engaged, with people singing along and children dancing in the aisles. One of the most striking features of the night was the way in which it brought together people of all ages, in a way which few Jewish events are able. And the entire audience joined together as they demanded a final encore with a rendition of Candlelight, the song which first made them famous.
As an added bonus, the Maccabeats have partnered with Gift of Life, an American Jewish charity which screens people to find matches for those people in need of a bone marrow transplant. At the end of the night you could buy t-shirts and CDs, get autographs from the band and even take a cheek swab so that you could be added to the bone marrow donors registry.
The night was a reminder of the power of Jewish music to bring the community together in a way which almost nothing else can. Here were a group of Orthodox boys from Yeshiva Univeristy singing at a Reform synagogue to a crowd spanning the entire spectrum of the Jewish community. Perhaps this is one part of the miracle, which they were singing about in their latest Chanukah song. And if you’ve never heard of them I suggest you spend some time on YouTube, you won’t regret it.