Where are the progressive Jewish viral videos?
Last week, Amy Klein bemoaned the arrival of religious Hanukkah viral videos in the Forward. Klein credits the beloved Maccabeats' "Candlelight" video with spawning a genre of Jewish holiday videos she calls "schlock rock" because, instead of providing parody or satire a la Weird Al Yankovic, the lyrics are simple substitutions of secular words for Jewish words and have no deeper meaning than, "Yay Jews!"
Less than a week later, Aish Hatorah released their 2011 Hanukkah video. In the words of Jewcy Editor Jason Diamond, the video "includes bits of nearly every song you’ve ever sang drunk at karaoke." I will admit that I liked their first video, the Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem because who doesn't want to watch excellent breakdancing? But this video is so cheesy and stupid it makes me want to vomit.
But even more troubling than the "schlock-factor," Amy Klein notes, is the underlying religious agenda behind videos like this:
These, and other videos of their ilk, espouse an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle — or at least cater to those who do, the very same people who don’t want to see public advertisements featuring immodest women, won’t tolerate pictures of Hillary Clinton in their newspapers and won’t even ride the bus sitting next to a woman.
Consider the “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem,” which opens with a non-religious hippie type of guy asking a yeshiva student why he should celebrate the Jewish New Year. “I mean, it’s just going to be a bunch of guys praying, right? What’s the fun in that?” he says. His religious friend answers him in the form of a group break-dance in Jerusalem’s Old City — with fabulous choreography, I must say — trying to make the High Holy Days seem fun, talking about the rabbi’s speech, the cantor singing and the appeal for dough. “Our prayers rock/ We’re the Jews and we question,” they sing.
This is the root of the problem. These are not questioning Jews, and their songs aren’t, either. Certainly, these Jews are entitled to espouse Orthodox values — that’s the raison d’être behind videos like “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem,” produced by Aish Hatorah, an organization that courts Jews to make them religious. But most of the people viewing the videos don’t understand this bait-and-switch. Viewers think, “How nice those sweet Y.U. boys are,” not realizing that the real lifestyle they represent is officially one free from women who are not their wives (and who, by the way, must cover their hair, legs, arms and collarbones). [For evidence, check out the Maccabeats' The Book of Good Life video]
From the “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem” to The Maccabeats’ upcoming offering — whatever it will be — it’s all fun and games until you become frum. Then let’s see how “cute” their conservative values really are.
So, I wonder: Where are the progressive Hanukkah videos?
Surely there are just as many talented performers among progressive Jews than ultra-Orthodox Jews. (You'd think there would be more!) And sure, the weird attraction to uber-religious guys has been documented, but uber-progressive Jewish guys and Jewish women, with their tattoos and indie haircuts, are damn sexy too. So why aren't more of them taking up the call to create videos that present a more inclusive, diverse, and open-ended picture of Jewish life, ritual, and observance?
Viral Jewish videos don't have to be tacky or espouse only one point of view. We wouldn't have to dread them if we had some with good music, lyrics, and choreography that represented us and our ideals.
So consider this a challenge, creative and progressive Jews: Make a better Hanukkah video.