You probably never thought you’d see the day when “J-pop” would become internationally known, but that’s what happened when an Orthodox Jewish choral-pop band became an overnight internet sensation. Miami Boys Choir’s arrangement of Yerushalayim (from Miami Moshiach, 2007) took TikTok by a storm these past few weeks. The one-minute video clip of a live performance features four Miami soloists: Yoshi Bender, Akiva Abromowitz, David Herskowitz, and Binyomin Abramowitz. The video has over 7.5 million views, has been “dueted” thousands of times, and tagged with language that has been used for other music subgenres. Perhaps most importantly, it has also sparked a cross-app conversation about celebrating and sharing Jewish joy to fight antisemitism.
The Miami Boys Choir has been around since the 70s, but MBC alum, David Herskowitz, joined somewhere around 2008. Always musically inclined, he became a Miami Boy when he was a preteen and remained until he was about fifteen. He recounts being about five or six years old when he attended one of their concerts, and his father — who had known choir leader Yerachmiel Begun when they were younger — took David backstage to meet him. After that meeting, he told his father that he was going to do this one day.
While David is no longer formally involved with MBC, his younger self’s popularity on TikTok has pulled him back into the fray. He happened to download the app a few months ago, around the time that Begun had started up the MBC TikTok account. David was impressed that the band showed up immediately on his For You Page (FYP), which is a compilation of posts that the algorithm thinks that you’d enjoy even by creators you don’t follow. The account had been posting older videos as well as new ones – including clips from David’s performance history. “I never thought I’d see that DVD again,” he jokes, although he had shown his wife the video before their recent wedding — around the same time David encountered the MBC TikTok, in fact.
Performing with MBC had been a childhood dream and an experience David looks upon fondly, and now, his adult life has begun, as he starts the next phase of his life with his wife Yakira, and a career in digital marketing.
However, the MBC TikTok had been relatively quiet. David says that this hadn’t been the first video he’d featured in, and that the clip of Yerushalayim was on the app for about a week before it gained its incredible popularity.
Then, over the course of the next two weeks, the video’s traction on TikTok grew and grew. “The cool thing about TikTok,” David explains, “is the FYP. Unlike Instagram where you need to follow someone in order to see their content, TikTok presents content where you don’t necessarily need to be following someone.” This element really enabled the reach of this video to grow, initially with a “modest” 100K views. And the more people that watched it and liked it, the more it took off. Once it reached 1M hits, David’s wife Yakira said, “if you don’t do something with this engagement with this audience that wants to hear from you, you’re leaving an opportunity on the table.”
David hadn’t wanted to do anything about it — this felt very different from posting photographs of family and events on Instagram. Ultimately, he told Yakira that he would only do this if it was clever and if they did it right. The two of them, along with one of Yakira’s friends, devised content that had flavor and showcased David’s personality, as well as made use of TikTok’s extensive tagging system. You can watch his videos here.
One of the most pleasantly surprising elements of this popularity boom is the relative lack of negative comments on the videos. David exclaims his own amazement over the fact that the reactions and comments to the MBC videos and its duets are overwhelmingly positive.
Traditional media outlets rarely showcase Orthodox Jews with pride and joy and perhaps seeing the authentic positivity of these young singers moved many viewers. Will a MBC TikTok dance be next or perhaps one of their tunes being sampled in a popular secular song like this or this?
Time will tell. While the music industry is replete with boy bands across cultures, there’s something entertaining, amazing, and even endearing about watching young boys onstage giving it their all with no pretenses of fitting a certain image for salability.
Of course, there is the additional element that Yerushalayim is such a bop.