Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers? Maybe it’s all those Jewish boys-turned-rappers showing up on YouTube, dressed in matching attire, grinning incessantly, singing Pesach lyrics to the tune of hip, popular songs.
Blame the Maccabeats, the celebrated a cappella group from Yeshiva University, who rocked the online world with their “Candlelight” Chanukah video last November, scoring more than five million hits. While the YU singers decided not to produce a Passover video this year, Jewish parodies by other groups have been popping up on YouTube almost every day, and spreading — like a plague?
Even if the new videos never reach The Promised Land of YouTube stardom, they’re already delivering fun. And provoking fury, too.
Kol Ish, for example, has been cast by some bloggers as the wicked sons of the season for its new video, “Just Had Chametz.” The a cappella group, which was formed at the University of Maryland Hillel, set its lyrics to the music of Lonely Island’s “I Just Had Sex.” The parody features the grinning young men of Kol Ish dancing on the sands of Miami Beach, and enthusiastically devouring pita chips “prematurely on Passover.”
The video also includes a scene with a singer reading this newspaper on the toilet (think: too much matzah). But it closes with a disclaimer that Kol Ish doesn’t promote breaking the laws of Passover, just the laughing at the effects of chametz withdrawal.
“We are all just a bunch of good Jewish boys with a sense of what motivates Jews in America,” says Kol Ish’s Michael Gevaryahu. “I think our willingness to push the boundaries a little, tongue-in-cheek, will distinguish us from other groups.”
In what is perceived as a more “tasteful” video, and the most widely circulated at press time, an Israeli group called the Fountainheads sing poignantly of “Dayenu: Coming Home,” (a mash-up of P. Diddy’s “Coming Home” and Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”) as a blue ribbon that represents the Red Sea twists across a breathtaking backdrop of desert hills.
The coed group, whose Purim video coincidentally showcased the same music as the Maccabeats’ Purim piece (the Fountainheads uploaded theirs first), has a distinct geographic advantage over other groups. Composed of Israeli students and graduates of the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership, the group filmed the video just beyond the school’s Beit Midrash amid the beauty of the Judean desert.
“The biggest challenge we had was that the camels kept trying to eat our matzahs during the filming,” says Matan Lax, graduate of Ein Prat and producer of the video, which recaps the story of Passover.
The National Jewish Outreach Program has also swung into the parody spirit with its popular, “Best Seder in the USA,” set to the music of “Party in the USA.” And another well-known Jewish a cappella group, Six13, released its own “P-A-S-S-O-V-E-R” video on Monday morning. Mike Boxer, general manager for Six13, anticipated a viral sensation. “We’re hip to the trend, to the world of marketing and PR,” says Boxer.
In the past, Six13, which is composed of young professional men across the Jewish movements, has mentored the Maccabeats. But since the Maccabeats “got big, the tables are turned,” says Boxer. “They ask us to open for them” at concerts.
“The Maccabeats capitalized on a perfect storm of factors,” says Daniel Henkin, who is the musical director of Tizmoret, the Jewish a capella group at Queens College. Besides catchy lyrics and a well-conceived video, there was “the appropriateness of a group named ‘the Maccabeats’ singing a song about Chanukah,” says Henkin.
In the past four months, the Maccabeats have achieved such fame that Immanuel Shalev, the group’s associate director, reports that he’s often recognized on the streets, and has been tweeted about while out on a date.
He apologizes to the many disappointed fans. “We couldn’t come out with both a Pesach and a Purim video. Everyone’s in school, and we’re working on three other projects at the same time.” Also, he notes the Maccabeat’s aim to help “secular Jews connect back to the essence of the story of the holiday.” And Passover? “People kind of get it — the freedom thing.”