If you’ve ever gotten carried away in the universe that is YouTube, you may have come across some videos of a Jewish a cappella group called The Maccabeats.
Click on the group’s channel, and you’ll spend the next hour watching their covers of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups,” Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” and an ingenious Passover spin on various songs from Les Misérables.
The group, which was formed by the student vocal group at Yeshiva University in 2007, graced the bima at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County in Bethesda on Nov. 10, where they spent an hour performing for over 900 fans, both young and old.
Children and their parents filled most of the audience at the a cappella concert, clapping their hands and singing along to many of The Maccabeats’ hits, including their breakout song “Candlelight,” a 2010 cover of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz, and their original Chanukah song, “Shine.” The concert was also attended by Ron Dermer, Israel’s new ambassador to the United States.
Dressed in black tie/white shirt attire, the group thoroughly engaged the audience with their fusion of contemporary music with Hebrew lyrics and Jewish themes.
Julian Horowitz, the MC for the group, provided smooth transitions from one song to the next, while cracking jokes, providing stories about the group’s travels and teaching beat boxing to a lucky audience member.
The group, which has toured around the world and was honored by President Barack Obama, performed at Beth El of Montgomery County two years ago, but was more than happy to be back. The performance was the fourth in Maryland in seven days, Horowitz said.
While their music was the main focus, The Maccabeats also brought to the audience’s attention their support of Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, a public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry that aids in transplants for people with life-threatening illnesses.
The group encouraged attendees to have their cheeks swabbed to see if they were compatible as donors, an option that was provided after the concert.
While the concert was a fun treat, Hazzan Matt Klein and youth director Adam Zeren said that bringing contemporary acts like The Maccabeats to Beth El was a way to bring together and engage the Jewish community through music.
“I think there is a fairly large population of families in the Jewish community that really want to get into Jewish music,” Zeren said.
He added that many young Jews think Jewish music is old-fashioned and the opposite of hip, and mainly think of “Hava Nagila.” When the Maccabeats first broke out with “Candlelight,” Zeren said people’s views on Jewish music began to change. Turning prayers into a cappella songs and adding Jewish content to popular songs was a huge hit within the community.
“It was more mainstream and popular, and they really got into that,” he said. “They’ve enjoyed the modernity of the sound.”
Congregation Beth El has hosted Jewish musical acts, including Josh Nelson, Mama Doni and Hadag Nahash. In the future, the synagogue hopes to have singer/songwriter (and viral sensation) Michelle Citrin and children’s musician Jay Rapoport.
“[Music] opens the door for [youths] to see their synagogue in a different light,” Zeren said. “Judaism is different from how [their parents] grew up with it. It shows them how exhilarating Judaism can be.”
Check out the video for “Candlelight” below.
For videos, tour dates and more information about The Maccabeats, go to www.maccabeats.com.