Hanukkah Entertainment That Educates?

in collaboration with guest blogger Rick Recht The ultimate form of ‘cool’ in the Jewish world is when your non-Jewish friends also think it, whatever IT is, is cool. Well, cool just happened – twice. [If you’ve seen the videos, feel free to skip below them to the bottom of this post. Unless, of course, you can’t help yourself but watch them again.] On December 4, the CNN.com top headline picture was a snapshot from a viral video by the Maccabeats, male a capella group from Yeshiva University. The video Candlelight, a parody of teen heart-throb, Taio Cruz’s top 10 hit, Dynamite, and Mike Tompkin’s a cappella version of it. The Hanukkah version has racked up more than 2 million views on YouTube, earning the Maccabeats appearances on The Today Show, The Early Show, CNN.com and The Washington Post, among others. Candlelight includes lyrics about the Hanukkah story and traditions such as latkes and dreidel spinning. The video humorously depicts the Maccabeats reenacting aspects of the ancient Hanukkah story in makeshift gladiator costumes occasionally flash-forwarding to present day Yeshiva college buddies flipping latkes, studying Torah, and singing on camera, Brady Bunch-style. Simultaneously, another new Hanukkah video, by reggae rapper, super star, Matisyahu, attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. Matisyahu’s song, Miracle, is a contemporary interpretation of Hanukkah, where in a dream sequence Matisyahu meets Antiochus, the King of the Greeks, and the father of Judah Maccabee (the hero of the Hanukkah story), also named (get this!) Matisyahu. At Shabbat services last week, I mentioned the viral videos and then many laughed and nodded in recognition of the achievement by OUR Maccabeats and Matisyahu. We’ve got communal pride because this caliber of media rarely emanates from the Jewish world, and when it does, Jews take notice. These videos have the perfect combination of ingredients — including high-quality talent and cinematography, great humor, a clear connection with popular culture, and a powerful story line that is authentic Jewish history. These guys took it to the next level by unashamedly expressing their Jewish pride by using fun costumes, humor, and symbolism to tell the Hanukkah story. We’re not just talking about playing dreidel, we’re talking about the pressure to assimilate, and the temptation of … well, "chocolate stuff". (Don’t know what I mean? Watch "Miracle"!) While they are surely educational, the approach isn’t shoving historical facts down your throat. I asked my 23 year old office manager, Seth, why he thought the videos were cool and he didn’t skip a beat in responding, “First off, they’re hilarious. They are a great example of the talent that comes from our Jewish community. Now that these videos are viral, not only within the Jewish community but everywhere, it gives us pride to be Jewish because Jews AND non-Jews are watching and loving these videos. Hanukkah has lost a lot of its religious meaning and understanding for many of us (young people) and these videos give us a different way to look at the holiday and put a modern spin on it. They highlight the Jewish people and bring attention, in a very good way, to our Jewish community.” For Seth and many other young Jews, these videos exceed their apparent entertainment value and become more meaningful because they have a clear educational purpose. They don’t just hover around the contemporary iconic Hanukkah symbols such as dreidles and Hanukkah menorahs. They tell the REAL historical story of Hanukkah. They serve as relevant and meaningful sources of Jewish education for this holiday that has lost much of its meaning having become a contemporary American Hallmark holiday. They employ the ultimate tools for reaching and impacting young lives – music and video – and then stream the content on YouTube, the most powerful platform for video sharing. It’s also a powerful place for expression, identity building, and discusComment on Maccabeats Videosion. A few comments on the videos are posted here – they are fascinating to browse to gain insight into youthScreen shot 2010-12-06 at 10.55.39 PM (and not-so-youth) culture today of both Jews and non-Jews. Timing is everything, and the chance of being exposed to anything by or about Jews is dramatically increased during the Hanukkah season. It is no coincidence that these 2 videos hit their rocket-like trajectory on the 3rd and 4th days of Hanukkah. Familiarity breeds popularity. In the case of the Maccabeats, their song Candlelight was a parody of one of the most popular songs in the country. Almost every kid in the country had already memorized Dynamite by Taio Cruz and only had to learn the new Hanukkah lyrics in the Maccabeats’ parody. Screen shot 2010-12-06 at 10.58.49 PMScreen shot 2010-12-06 at 10.57.43 PMSo let us rejoice for the blessing of these two incredible viral videos that have infused our Jewish lives with such excitement and pride during this holiday season. And let us contemplate a time when individuals in our Jewish community can achieve national recognition in between holidays, using the power of music, video, and genuine high-quality talent to not only entertain, but educate both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences about our Jewish rituals, values, and history. Rick Recht is the top touring artist in Jewish music, the Executive Director of Jewish Rock Radio, Executive Director of Songleader Boot Camp, and the JNF National Music Spokesman.

Our Recommendations, and Yours

Part of our goal in this blog is to turn you on to great stuff, and we’ve just set up an aStore through Amazon.com to provide even more recommendations. The aStore allows you to set up your own store with your recommended products that Amazon sells. Any organization can do this, and through your affiliate relationship, get a percentage of each sale. The real value, however, is that you can turn on your constituents to the products you think they’d most enjoy or benefit from. This is a great way to plant the seed that parents and grandparents buy Jewish-themed gifts for Hanukkah. Instead of thinking that this is a great way to raise a few bucks, market it as a service you are providing to your community. And consider the affiliate referral fees just a bonus.

Check out our aStore here. And you can learn more about setting up your own (really, a 30 min undertaking to get going) here.

We also want to hear what you’ve been reading or using that you’d like to share with others through our aStore. This can be about anything: Jewish, nonprofit, technology, media, etc. I’ve even set up a kid related category as a resource for Hanukkah gift ideas. Leave a comment below with your suggestion, and we’ll add it to the store! I’ve also added a link to our store on the left side of this blog, so you can find it easily in the future.

When I speak at conferences or professional development events, I always try to leave something in my wake. After a shot in the arm of social media, usually the people in the room are hungry for more. I always mention books, web sites, blogs, and other recommendations, and provide a handout with lists of this info. After nearly every event, I get emails from participants saying “I love that blog!” and “I read that Managing Transitions book — thank you, it was so helpful!”. I hope our store can provide this ongoing resource for you. When you finish your next book, come browse!