“Mac­cabeats” pro­vides way to ring in Hanukkah

Jewish com­mu­nity gets to see pop­u­lar group on Christ­mas.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Jesse Paul

Movie the­aters, Chi­nese food and now a cap­pella.

Hun­dreds gath­ered Sun­day at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton High School to watch a per­for­mance by the pop­u­lar Jewish singing group The Mac­cabeats, kick­ing off Hanukkah in the Den­ver area and pro­vid­ing the city’s Jewish com­mu­nity a fun, al­ter­na­tive op­tion to their un­writ­ten Christ­mas Day tra­di­tions.

“Ev­ery­thing is closed on Christ­mas,” said Dana Stein, a long­time fan of the group who was at their con­cert while vis­it­ing fam­ily from New York. “It’s the jack­pot.”

The Mac­cabeats are a yarmulke-clad a cap­pella en­sem­ble named af­ter the Mac­cabees, the an­cient Jewish war­riors who fought the Greek army and who are cen­tral to the story of Hanukkah. The group was founded at Yeshiva Uni­ver­sity in New York City sev­eral years back and have since taken their act on the road — in­ter­na­tion­ally — and onto the in­ter­net, where their YouTube videos have won vi­ral sta­tus.

Rabbi Raphael Le­ban, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of The Jewish Ex­pe­ri­ence in Den­ver, said the idea be­hind Sun­day’s con­cert was to give Colorado Jews a new way to gather and ap­pre­ci­ate Hanukkah. There are many events cen­tered around Christ­mas, he said, but a dearth of novel ways to en­joy what’s known as the Fes­ti­val of Lights.

“We re­ally wanted to give the Jewish com­mu­nity some­thing fun and ex­cit­ing,” he said. “The com­mu­nity in Den­ver has about 50,000 Jews in it. There’s a tremen­dous lack of in­volve­ment. The Jews need some­thing to con­nect them to Ju­daism.”

The Mac­cabeats’ reper­toire did just that, mix­ing tra­di­tional He­brew songs with mod­ern pop hits,

such as Leonard Co­hen’s “Hal­lelu­jah” and Taio Cruz’s “Dy­na­mite.”

“Hanukkah is one of the most un­der-un­der­stood hol­i­days,” said Rabbi Ahron Wasser­man, who heads up The Jewish Ex­pe­ri­ence. “We re­ally miss the whole point.”

Wasser­man said the hol­i­day, which re­mem­bers how a ves­sel of oil for a tem­ple that was sup­posed to last one day ended up burn­ing for eight, should be rec­og­nized for Ju­daism’s sur­vival. The hol­i­day be­gan Satur­day night and runs eights days.

It’s a theme The Mac­cabeats cap­ture through their mu­sic.

“It hap­pens that Hanukkah is our bread and but­ter,” said Noey Ja­cob­son, one of the group’s found­ing mem­bers. The Mac­cabeats in­clude a beat boxer that goes by the moniker “The Orthobox.”

For those who came to watch the per­for­mance, many of whom had chil­dren in tow, they were hop­ing to feel that sense of com­mu­nity and cel­e­brate the hol­i­day to­gether. It can be rare to find such an ex­cit­ing way to cel­e­brate Hanukkah.

“You’ve (nor­mally) got Chi­nese food or the movies,” said Avi Stein, who was sit­ting next to his wife, Dana. “This gives you an­other op­por­tu­nity.”

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