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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.

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Its nice that Jewish women can express there sentiments, and ot make a deal out of it yet there should still be an equality of the sexes so evry one can be heard and seen.

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I can't imagine anyone sensible complaining "No one is making videos for me!"

How can any Jew begrudge Modern Orthodox Jewish men in college making some wonderful music videos?

And how can any Jew, Orthodox or not, angrily knock modesty? The authors makes liberal Modern Orthodox Jews out to be almost the same as the anti-female, fundamentalist Taliban. That's just hateful, and unacceptable.

Some young men who care about Judaism wanted to form a vocal group, record some songs, and make some videos. Guess what? So can you! In fact, non-orthodox Jews outnumber orthodox Jews 10 to 1. No one is stopping us non-orthodox Jews from doing so.

If there is to be any anger directed at anyone, perhaps the author should look at herself, her relatives, her friends, and her synagogue, and ask why they aren't doing what the Maccabeats are doing.

Here's my radical vision for the future: Instead of attacking others, who are only slightly different from you, for doing something well, try to do something good yourself.

Communist Russia did not fall to the West by military power, but to Western pop culture and exposure to commercial consumerism. With exposure to alternative and seemingly wonderful life styles, visible outside the iron curtain, the desire grew for change.

As my father once said, "With the taste comes the appetite."

For such a video to be produced obviously means exposure and a "taste" of popular consumer culture. This means exposure to the values and lifestyles that the Orthodox may shun; where women and their participation in the arts cannot be hidden from view.

The best hope for the adoption of liberal values is for more such Orthodox exposure. I encourage such videos. Let the Sheet Curtain fall!

It's bad. When I saw this year's Aish Hanukkah video, I was annoyed that it was well put together, catchy, and even had a few Jews of colour dancing in various scenes. But it's still Aish. I'd love to see videos from progressive organizations!

How about the Ein Prat Fountainheads? Amy Klein may lump them in with the videos that have an Orthodox agenda, but a) women sing & dance (and show skin, if that's necessary factor) and b) their lyrics don't espouse conservative values or falsely espouse liberal values. Also, what's wrong with the message of, "Yay Jews!"? Perhaps their videos are not the most polished and chic, but I, for one, am looking forward to their Chanukkah video coming out.

In reply to by Keren

I actually agree with you - I liked the Ein Prat video. They even had some non-white people! I don't know anything about who Ein Prat is - I should do some more research. I think it's not black and white, good/bad, but I think the lack of progressive videos is upsetting! Why not make some good ones?

Like you I rather enjoyed the Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem video. The dancing was fun and even though it was a Jewy remix of an existing song, the song was by a group called LMFAO (Laugh Ny F*cking Ass Off) which also added a touch of irony. But this latest video is horrific in multiple ways. The lyrics are cheesy and then... Great Balls of Fire was by Jerry Lee Lewis, one of Rock n' Roll's greatest cocksmen, Twist and Shout was an exuberant statement against 50's era conservatism, Born to be Wild was about youthful revolt against governement, Staying Alive was borne out of the Gay,Cocaine and sex fueled disco era, and what's with all the guys wearing sheitels?? Then we have the Jersey Shore type club tracks... topped off with Moves Like Jagger. Oy. Look, I can handle the occasional Aish video but this is so over the top, with such cheesy lyrics, it actually angers me. And these videos, that mix vaguely sexual songs with a total absence of women, well, they're faintly homo-erotic. This is all just wrong, wrong, wrong. And also bad, bad, bad. Enough already Aish.

You don't have to be a progressive Jew to dream of something better for Hanukkah. My hair only looks indie in the morning and I abhor tattoos. I urge creative Jews of all stripes and persuasions to create Jewy videos that are, well, creative. I don't care if you're progressive or not.

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Where are the progressive Jewish viral videos?." 7 December 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/where-are-progressive-jewish-viral-videos>.

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