A latke love: The Maccabeats come to Dr. Phillips

The Maccabeats, a Jewish a cappella group, will bring laughs and inspiration to West Orange for the first time.

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  • | 12:52 p.m. April 5, 2016
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I flip my latkes in the air sometimes, sayin’ ayy ohh spin the dreidel.

Just wanna celebrate for all eight nights, singin’ ayy oh, light the candles.

It was nearing the Sabbath one day in 2010 when the Maccabeats, a Jewish a cappella group that started at Yeshiva University, posted “Candlelight,” a parody cover of Taio Cruz’s song “Dynamite.” The singers put away their computers and phones to observe the Sabbath. 

When they logged back on a day later, what they found surprised them.

“We checked our computers on Saturday night, and we were just totally shocked that our video had 2,000 views, which to us was a crazy number,” said Julian Horowitz, the group’s musical director. “We could never have imagined that.”

By the following Friday, the video had reached one million views and received coverage from many major networks. 

The group began producing more albums and videos and began touring extensively. 

This weekend, it will bring its unique show to West Orange for a performance at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 10, at Dr. Phillips High School. The concert is sponsored by the Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation. Although many of the group’s performances take place in South Florida, this will be the Maccabeats’ first performance in the Orlando area. 

“We’re really excited to be joining a new community for a concert,” Horowitz said. “I mean, I shouldn’t say we’ve never been to Orlando before. I’m sure we’ve all been to Disney World as individuals, but we’ve never been to Orlando as a group.” 

The Maccabeats, comprising 14 core members, usually travels in groups of seven or eight to shows, allowing the group to feature seven-part harmonies. They will bring a concert friendly for all ages, backgrounds and religions, featuring songs from their albums: contemporary pop, contemporary Jewish and Israeli pieces, parodies and maybe a cover of a Disney song or two — after all, it is Orlando. 

But for the Maccabeats, it’s not all about the jokes. They hope to give an empowering message to their audiences. 

“Be proud of your religion,” he said. “Learn about your Jewish heritage. But also just generally to be proud of who you are.”

Horowitz said an email the group received defines their identity and purpose. A boy wrote to the group, saying he was the only Jewish kid in his school, and until he saw the Maccabeats’ “Candlelight” video, he was embarrassed to admit he was Jewish.

“After he saw our video, he realized he could be proud of his heritage and still be part of his society while also proclaiming his identity,” Horowitz said. 

The group ascribes strongly to the concept of Torah u-Madda — the merging of traditional Jewish and secular wisdom. It fits perfectly into the music style, which allows the singers to weave elements of pop culture and life into Jewish traditions in a way that relates to all people. 

“Even if we are singing about something very specific, that doesn’t preclude everybody from wanting to learn about and participate in those specific rituals, customs and holidays,” he said. “People are drawn to something they view as authentic, something they view as committed. That’s something that can inspire.” 

The group jokes that “with great a cappella comes great responsibility,” so it feels its work should not only entertain but also inspire and create confidence in those who listen. 

But they also just enjoy singing for the sake of singing.

“We enjoy singing immensely,” he said. “We enjoy it to the point where we frequently fly in and out of cities in the same day just to make these trips happen. We’re going to be flying in and out of Orlando in the same day.”

Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected]