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It’s as if the Warblers from Glee were enrolled in Hebrew school instead of Dalton Academy. The Maccabeats, a Yeshiva University a cappella group, scored a huge hit with last year’s “Candlelight,” a Hanukkah anthem set to Taio Cruz's "Dynamite.” This year, they’ve done it again with “Miracle.”
Monica Hesse wrote about the Maccabeats last year, after they made “Candlelight” the most popular Hanukkah song since Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song.”
"The whole message of Yeshiva University is that you can be an Orthodox Jew and participate in secular society," says Immanuel Shalev, who wrote the song's lyrics. The group had already covered Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," replacing the lyrics with Hebrew scripture. When Shalev found himself listening to Cruz singing "I throw my hands up in the air sometimes" and mentally replacing them with "I flip my latkes in the air sometimes, singing ay-oh, spin the dreidel," he knew he was onto something.
(Read the rest of Monica’s story, for the Maccabeats’ five steps to YouTube success.)
This year, the group returns with a cover from one of their favorite musicians — Orthodox reggae artist Matisyahu, who recently made headlines for shaving off his beard. “Miracle” explores the spiritual meaning of the holiday. It also cements the Maccabeats’ fame, winning them admirers both inside and outside of the Jewish community worldwide.
“I met the Maccabeats and I said, ‘I really want to hug you, because you’re the ones who are going to keep my kids Jewish,’” said Mark Kligman, a professor of Jewish musicology at Hebrew Union College in New York, to the Associated Press. Kligman says that Hanukkah songs such as Sandler’s and the Maccabeats’ are more than just catchy tunes: “It really carved out a space for people to be excited and to celebrate being Jewish,” he said.