Wow! A lot can happen in a week in a half. Start off with one well-made Youtube video and with several millions of hits later, you can end up on national television, such as the CBS Early Show:
Now that The Maccabeats have become world reknown (kudos to them for braving the freezing weather, not just for CBS but for CNN as well), I kind of miss their usual dorm performances at candle-lighting. Granted, I'm not in the dorms anymore (thanks ASoG J) but there was always something special added to the already incredible feeling of lighting in the dorms when they made their appearance and sang a medley of Chanukah songs.
For those readers who didn't go to YU in the past few years, here are two of these performances:
From two years ago:
I am really floored with the national and international reaction to "Candlelight." Aside from all the general media attention because the song and video are clever, cute, hip, etc, etc, it has been wonderful to see the reaction from the viewers. So many Jews, otherwise unaffiliated or uninvolved with Chanukah, are reconnecting to the holiday. The video isn't just a gimmick, it is, as Immanuel Shalev (Maccabeats Associate Director) commented this NY Times article, an amazing example of pirsumei nisa.
I don't think there is a better example in the history of the observance of Chanukah has there been such an overt example of publicizing the miracle of Chanukah. This is how the world media, the internet, Youtube, etc can be used to spread a positive image for Judaism and create an immense kiddush HaShem.
Previous popular Chanukah songs/videos, such as the Adam Sandler variety, which merely are out there to be pop culture savvy and basically make no mention of the momentous, divine victory over our enemies or the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash remainign lit for 8 days. Yes, those productions are cute, even if they often toe or cross the lines of innappropriateness (South Park anyone? What about Sandler's drug reference at the end of an otherwise innocuous perfomance?), The Maccabeats have created a pure and fun, video that spreads the message of what Chanukah is really about. They do it in a way that is palatable to the masses, which is ever-so-important with the vast numbers of our brethren so assimilated into the general society and alienated - whether intentionally or merely as a by-product of being considered under the label of Tinok Shenishba.
Unknown to many, there is another "Dynamite" Chanukah video out there starring three young brothers (which was coincidentally posted 2 weeks before The Maccabeats). It's another in a series of "cutesy" redubs of popular hip hop/rap songs that have partially rewritten lyrics which toss in a few Jewish terms here and there. While I can't lay any blame on them (they are just kids after all - though the aunt that appears is a bit much), seeing this video makes me almost cry because of how far they are from traditional Torah observance.
Pop culture is their identity. Their videos are not like The Maccabeats or Shlock Rock who have taken a secular niggun and elevated it with meaningful words. It's just shtick, plain and simple, taking the rap/gangster/whatever persona and adding bits of Jewish culture to it, but the ikkar and the tafel are quite clear. Whereas The Maccabeats sing of a "great return to Torah learning" and depict two young men learning b'chevrusa, the "B-Boyz" sing "For generations to come, I'm going to dance and hold a Torah" while mimicking rap star poses.
Um, "hold a Torah?" Why not, uphold the Torah. I'm not arguing that the lyrics could have been better, I simply bemoan the fact that these young boys identify with everything else out there but Judaism as their core identity. It's sad. Really sad. Each of these kids is definitely a Tinok Shenishba. I hope they can take to heart the message of "Candlelight" and Judaism becomes more meaningful in their lives. Perhaps then it will be more than "okay" to be Jewish.
I've never been prouder of having attended YU than I am right now (including the recent Saturday Night Live Dreidelpalooza reference). Forget all those terrible stories of chillel HaShem that have been in the news for the last few years. This is the kind of media attention YU and Jews as a whole needs: meaningful, positive, and total Kiddush HaShem.
Thank you Maccabeats and Uri Westrich for making this Chanukah so much more meaningful for so many people!