Jewish holiday videos take the Internet stage

Young innovators, such as The Maccabeats, use new media like YouTube to explain and celebrate Judaism.

Pessah Facebook page 311 (photo credit: Facebook)
Pessah Facebook page 311
(photo credit: Facebook)
NEW YORK – If you’re a Jew, you know other Jews. And if you know other Jews and have an e-mail address, not to mention a Facebook page, chances are very good that you’ve been part of the newest Jewish phenomenon: the forwarding of viral Jewish holiday video links.
Videos – with greatly varying production values – dealing with Jewish holidays (usually in a humorous way), have been around for a few years. But ever since Yeshiva University’s a cappella group The Maccabeats’ “Candlelight” video parody of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” got over 5 million hits on YouTube, the field has exploded – with self-appointed parodists, songsters and court jesters getting in touch with their inner-kosher hams.
The Maccabeats’ Immanuel Shalev told The Jerusalem Post that after the group’s sophomore Internet foray with “Purim Song” (a takeoff on Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”), there will be no Pessah video from the group this year.
“We figured we’d rather do a song for Purim, which needed a song a bit more than Pessah. We’re actually back in the studio working on our next project,” Shalev said.
There’s no shortage of Pessah parodies circulating on the Internet, though, in the Maccabeats’ absence.
“I’m building these pyramids for thousands of years, and I’m like/Forget you!” sing The Fountainheads in their Dayenuinspired parody of Cee-Lo’s profanity- laden hit. The group Six13’s “P-A-S-S-O-V-E-R” is a Maccabeatsesque version of Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love.”
And then, of course, there’s “Best Seder in the USA,” to the tune of Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA.”
When asked how he felt to have inspired so much Internet creativity, Shalev said he thinks holidayspecific viral videos – musical or otherwise – are great.
“YouTube not only gives us an amazing opportunity to express our faith in a fun and creative way, but to connect Jews from all around the world,” Shalev said.
With over a million hits on YouTube, Aish HaTorah’s “Google Exodus” is an aspirant to the Maccabeats’ throne as holiday frontrunner, telling the story of the Exodus via Internet tropes (i.e.Moses orders 50,000,000 frogs from, sends G-mails to Pharaoh requesting that his people be let go, etc.).
“The recent wave of viral Jewish YouTube videos has energized the Jewish community – young and old – about our holidays,” Rabbi Jason Miller, president of Access Computer Technology and director of Kosher Michigan, a kosher certification agency, said.
“They have also spread our customs and rituals far and wide throughout cyberspace. This demonstrates how the world’s borders have disappeared,” Miller added.
“Without discriminating between denominations or faiths, the messages of Hanukka and Passover are being distributed free of charge to a mass audience in a few minutes of exciting video that you can dance to. This is a great thing.”
In fact, nay-sayers are few and far between – or at least they’re hard to find on the Internet. Perhaps understandably. Jewish Theological Seminary Prof. Jack Wertheimer says he’s a personal fan of the YouTube clips, and doesn’t fault them for “dumbing down” Yiddishkeit.
“I like the fact that Jews are using the new media to explain and celebrate Judaism,” Wertheimer said.
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“It’s important, especially for Jewish children, to have role models who are playful and energetic about their Jewishness.”
“I assume the popularity of these videos stems in part from the fact that young people are engaging in culturally creative ways with their Judaism. With all the anxiety about the commitments of younger Jews, here are vivid reminders of just how engaged some younger Jews are,” Wertheimer noted, citing the Maccabeats’ video as a particular example.
“The fact that Orthodox Jews are hip, reaching out to Jews of all sorts, and joyful, probably adds to the appeal of these groups” he added. “The more interesting question to me is, where are the counterparts to these video clips in Conservative, Reform and nondenominational circles?” Rabbi David Wolpe, of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, thinks such videos are “clever entertainments and might well inspire, rather than discourage, more sophisticated presentations.”
“There is no command to be joyless,” Wolpe wrote in an e-mail to the Post, adding: “C’mon, Jordana, you like them too, right?”