“Maccabeats” provides way to ring in Hanukkah
Jewish community gets to see popular group on Christmas.
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.”