The Maccabeats: A Modern Day Chanukah Miracle?

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If you’re both Jewishly and technologically connected enough to be reading these words, then the Yeshiva University Maccabeats (and the stir they caused this past Chanukah) require no introduction.

Their historic rise, however, does deserve some careful consideration. While YouTube videos go viral all the time, Orthodox Jewish a capella group videos go viral a whole lot less often. But, hey, maybe the right combination of talent and timing is enough to warrant the over 4 million hits the Maccabeat’s “Candlelight” video has received at present time.

What’s more baffling, though, is the deep way this video seems to have affected Jews and non-Jews the world over. Though I have not read all 9,000 plus comments posted on the Maccabeats’ YouTube and Facebook pages, I can tell you that of the hundreds of comments I have seen, an overwhelming number of commenters noted that they felt tremendous Jewish pride after seeing this video. Some even expressed a desire to now become more observant.

Though intermarriage rates are at all-time highs, many female commenters echoed the sentiments of one who wrote, ”can i marry one of you guys . . . my family has been wanting to marry a jew (i am jewish) but there are not many near me….. ONE OF YOU MARRY ME… please?”

Also, as I’ve noted many times on this site, Orthodox Jews are generally not well regarded by the rest of the world, yet there were many comments like, “now that’s what i call awesome Orthodox Jews” and, “Jews are the coolest religious people :D.”

But the depth of the Maccabeats effect on people goes further than just one-line comments on social networking sites. I read anecdotes online about people, who after seeing this video, decided they wanted to send their kids to Jewish day school.

My friend’s mother, who teaches at a Hebrew high school attended by mostly Jewishly apathetic teenagers, relayed the following story about how “Candlelight” affected the Chanukah assembly this year:  

Tonight was different. Just as we knew we were starting to lose some of their attention – we showed the Maccabeats song, “Candlelight.” Not only did all the students immediately sit up and focus – but practically all of them began to sing along, knowing all the words, while others yelled out “I Love This Song! or “Those Guys Are So Cute!”  At the same time a Sisterhood Board meeting ended, and as these woman, mostly young, walked past our Assembly, they heard the song and stood in the doorway, singing along. I asked one of them how she knew the song and she said that it’s been played in her local gym the last few days during her spinning class. We asked the students for questions or comments. This song actually encouraged a discussion with teens about Chanukah. Then, they asked us to play the video again and this time almost all of them stood up and danced!

Then there were the countless calls and emails the Maccabeats personally received. They described on television how Jews all around the world were contacting them, explaining that menorahs that had gone unlit for twenty years were being pulled off shelves and lit again because of this song.

This video also stirred something inside many non-Jewish viewers as comments like “I WANT TO BE JEWISH!!!!!” and “im catholic and now i want 2 convert” abounded. One television host, as he was interviewing them even declared, “You’re making this Catholic jealous. I kind of want to switch teams now!” 

What gives? Why did people respond in such a way? I completely agree with Yeshiva University’s president Richard Joel when he said, “in this group [people] see young men who are cool and wholesome, who take life seriously but don’t take themselves seriously.”

That very message is the one I’ve been trying to get across on this site since the moment I launched it. Live a meaningful life, but have fun while you do it. While that concept is appealing, if you’ve noticed – and believe me I have – JITC videos have not gone quite as viral yet.

When trying to explain to my daughter just how popular “Candlelight” was, by day two of its debut, it had already received more views than all JITC videos combined in over three years!

So how do we explain the “Candlelight” phenomenon then? I believe it was nothing short of a modern day Chanukah miracle. The miracles of Chanukah, after all, were about something small (the Jewish army and the oil in the menorah) surpassing everyone’s expectations as to what they should have accomplished.

A video going viral and inspiring people is not outside the bounds of nature, though, and therefore I consider the ”Candlelight” miracle a hidden one which came about due to all the right parts coming together at the right time (much like the miracle we see in the story of Purim). 

Why was such a miracle needed? Because we are losing Jews every single day due to assimilation, much like what happened during the times of Chanukah. Today’s assimilation cannot be fought with swords and shields, though, because it’s not caused by an oppressive regime but rather by our own apathy and disinterest.

Enter the modern day Maccabe(at)s, and suddenly being Jewish, even religious, becomes so cool that even our non-Jewish brethren wish they had the chance! A great miracle happened on YouTube, but now it’s up to us to decide how to use the inspiration that was kindled by a “Candlelight.”

Will it go on and on and on?

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. When I first heard “Candlelight” I was sitting in the car with my 12 yr. old son waiting for his school bus to arrive. We heard the DJ say, “Up next is the Channukah song everyone has been requesting…” I told my son that we were probably going to hear a song by Adam Sandler from Bedtime Stories. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Maccabeats. We are still singing the song! All I have to do is say, “I throw my latkes in the air sometimes….” and my son will start singing the rest.

    Now the reason I share this with you is that I have been reading your blog for the past couple of months. I have been exploring the Jewish faith, because I have been questioning my Christian background. Perhaps I will share more on that at a later time. For now, I would like to say that I enjoy reading your articles and watching YOUR videos, too (not just the Maccabeats ;))!! Keep’em coming.

  2. I believe I know the reason that this video created such a tremendous impression, and It’s not quite the nes gadol that you think. Well, in a way, I guess it is, but the modus operandi of the miracle was different. (From Hebrew to Latin in 2 sentences!) Have you ever listened to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz, the song that “Candlelight” got its melody and a few of its lyrics (the, “I told you once, I told you twice,” part, and the, “It goes on and on” part, as well as the “in the air sometimes,” part) from? It is a stupid, stupid song about partying just because you feel like it. The song is essentially meaningless and incredibly repetitive, but because the tune is so catchy and upbeat, it went to #2 on the charts in the US and #1 in the UK, Australia, and several other countries. Then along came Mike Tompkins, an a capella singer/musician who made this great video of Dynamite with no musical accompaniment, and himself doing all the different voices in different colored squares on the screen (it still has more views than Candlelight, but surprisingly not too many more views–Candlelight is closing in). Someone in the Maccabeats saw the Tompkins video and got the idea to do a video like that with the same melody, but creating words about Chanukah (because I think we can all agree that the little dreidel made of clay isn’t going to get 4 million hits). Here is where I think the miracle came in. Music is a gift of G!d. No question. Taio Cruz and Mike Tompkins have that gift, but maybe HaShem decided that it needed to be elevated. So the Maccabeats were inspired to take the musical treasure of the song and the style of Tompkins, and elevate them by putting words of spiritual meaning, rather than mundanity to the song and video. To me, the miracle is the inspiration that enabled the Maccabeats to take something profane/mundane and make it truly inspiring.

    One more thing about that song: If you think of most of the common Chanukah songs (all the ones I know of), they fall into one of two categories. Either they focus on the history of the holiday and/or the miracle from around 165 BCE, or they focus on modern observance–dreidels, latkes, etc. What the Maccabeats have done is to create one (super catchy) song that focuses on both. That makes it truly unique, and may be what is inspiring some of those gentiles and non-observant Jews, because we’ve never had a good song before that really showed the kesher between the fun of modern observance and the story of the holiday. Why a gentile had to come up with the music to the best Chanukah song ever, I don’t know, but a Jew wrote White Christmas and Easter Parade, so I guess fair is fair, right?

    (Self disclosure, my daughter and I watched the video and danced to it together every single day of Chanukah–sometimes more than once at her insistance! She’ll be 8 on Purim.)

  3. Thanks so much, KatraSue! I’m glad you’re enjoying the site and the videos.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Batsheva. I’m familiar with the history of how “Candleight” came about. (I think I watched every interview the Maccabeats did!)

    I’m sure spoofing a popular song had *something* to do with the success of “Candlelight,” but I honestly don’t think it was *it*! I, as well as many other (Orthodox Jews) had never even heard the original song when we heard “Candlelight” the first time and yet it still was stuck in our heads.

    Also, as a comparison, NCSY put out a Chanukah video at the same exact time on YouTube. It was an a capella group and it spoofed 3 songs that are popular right now. The NCSY video (“I Light It”)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvY337zKttA did well – very well, actually. It has over 200,000 views to date. But it doesn’t have what “Candlelight” has and it didn’t do what “Candlelight” did.

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