From the Maccabeats' version of "Miracle" by Matisyahu. (Screenshot/YouTube)
From the Maccabeats' version of "Miracle" by Matisyahu. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Maccabeats’ Hanukkah shows in Palo Alto will include prayers for Israel

When the Maccabeats return to the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto for two performances on Dec. 3, Hanukkah may be the main focus, but prayers for peace and the State of Israel will also be on the program.

“Watching the events of the last few weeks, sometimes you’re left speechless,” Julian Horowitz, the music director and co-founder of the renowned all-male a cappella group, said in a recent phone interview. “Obviously, the horrors of 10/7 are unspeakable.”

The upcoming Palo Alto concerts “will still be mostly a pre-Hanukkah celebration, even if tempered slightly by the current situation,” he said. (Hanukkah begins on the evening of Dec. 7.)

Over the years, the Maccabeats’ videos have netted more than 20 million views on YouTube. One of their hits marries the liturgical Lecha Dodi to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Recently, they recorded Mi Shebeirach, the Jewish prayer for healing, to the haunting melody of “El Eretz Tzvi,” which memorializes the 1976 Entebbe hostage rescue mission.

They also have several Hanukkah songs. “Candlelight” is a send-up of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” that is infused with Jewish pride and subtle Torah messages. “Latke Recipe” is a parody of “Shut Up And Dance” by Walk the Moon. And “I Have a Little Dreidel” is sung in genres from big band to bluegrass.

“Our secret sauce is we borrow ideas from contemporary music and saturate it with Hanukkah and Jewish ideas,” Horowitz said. “Some people call it unoriginal, which at a certain level it is. But we bring the music to where people are, [and] we appeal to a wide audience.”

The group was started in 2007 by Modern Orthodox undergrads at Yeshiva University, but the seeds were planted years earlier in Brooklyn, where the co-founders sang at Yeshivah of Flatbush.

“Most of the Maccabeats don’t have a formal music background,” said Horowitz, a bass who studied piano, choral arranging and music theory in high school. “We like to say the Maccabeats were founded at the Shabbat table and in shuls.”

Observing Shabbat and kashrut laws while traveling can sometimes be tricky, particularly on international tours. But for their North American gigs, they’ve got it down to a science. Performances are almost always on Sundays, enabling the singers to observe Shabbat at home with their families. They fly to concert venues on Sunday mornings, and since their only instruments are their voices, packing is a breeze. They sometimes make special arrangements to daven before performances, including in the White House East Room during the Obama administration.

After the concerts they take red-eye flights home so they can be at work on Monday morning. The Maccabeats also have day jobs, from law to medicine to teaching. Horowitz himself is involved in finance and real estate but running the Maccabeats is his “main thing.”

The group has been conducting remote rehearsals long before the pandemic. In fact, videos from before 2020 show the Maccabeats singers in “Brady Bunch”–type boxes. “We like to joke that our typical music video format was Zoom before it was cool,” Horowitz said.

The Maccabeats

4 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Oshman Family JCC, Schultz Cultural Hall, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $35, $20 for kids and students.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].