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Around the Jewish World: Popular Latin Dance Music Prominent at Jewish Events

Want to put on a successful Jewish event? It’s easy. Just put on “The Macarena.”

“I think we’ve done it at every recent reception for weddings and bar mitzvahs,” says Rabbi Steven Silver of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, Calif.

“The Macarena” — from the flamenco duo Los Del Rio — first came out in Spain in 1993.

Then, last year, the group took the unusual step of re- releasing the song in a bilingual version. It caught on like wildfire and became a major hit.

That version, “The Bayside Boys Mix,” stayed on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart for a whopping 60 weeks, dominating the No. 1 spot for 14 weeks. Finally, in February, the song fell off the chart.

No matter. Religious leaders are still witnessing the Macarena craze from Los Angeles to New York. It’s even big in Israel.

Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, Calif., learned how to do the dance at his Hebrew school.

“The truth of the matter is it’s really fun,” says Vogel. “There’s nothing the matter with having fun at synagogue.

“I think adults enjoy it as much as the kids,” he adds. “I’ve seen them in their 70s doing the Macarena. It’s quite a sight.”

Youngsters go agog over it as well.

“One Saturday morning recently, says Cantor Henry Rosenblum of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Ill., “I was singing Adon Olam at the end of the service. It’s an upbeat tune, and while I’m singing it, these little kids sitting in the front row were doing the hand motions to the Macarena.”

In Nashville, Tenn., the tune has Jews moving their hands and feet, too.

“I was just at a bar mitzvah Saturday night, and they danced the Macarena,” says Rabbi Ronald Roth of Tennessee’s West End Synagogue.

“Why not? They also did country music line dances,” says Roth. “People are using popular cultural phenomena as their celebration. So what?”

Chicago’s Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue does not take the trend as lightly.

“It seems like at every bar or bat mitzvah or wedding simcha they will have a set of Jewish music. People seem to be hesitant to get up, and they dance somewhat half-heartedly. But then the Macarena comes on, everybody seems to get up with joy and fervor.”

Siegel hopes that “someday soon we would not have to rely on the Macarena to express our joy at a simcha.”

Some in the Orthodox community, meanwhile, also appear to be embracing the popular Latin dance tune.

“One of the reasons that the Macarena may be creeping into Orthodox Jewish life is that it’s one of the few modern general cultural dances that don’t require you to dance with anyone in particular,” says Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles.

“This way, you have the men and the women separate from each other,” adds Kanefsky, who admits sneaking the Macarena into his shul’s Simchat Torah celebration.

So, whatever possesses Jewish people to get into the Macarena act?

“I suppose that anything that catches the fancy of the public will be taken on by the Jewish people as well,” says David Lincoln of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York.

Rabbi Jordan Offseyer, senior rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, suggests that “whatever the trend is, Jews need to be even further into it.

“I think it’s kind of a vestige of Jewish discomfort with ourselves. Whatever is in, we have to be au courant and lead the pack. If you think of all the avant-garde movements, there’s always a disproportionate number of Jews involved with it.”

But the Macarena will run its course and something else will come along in its place, predicts Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif.

“When we were kids, we did `The Monkey’ and `The Mashed Potato,'” Feinstein recalls. “Every generation has its dances.”

In fact, the Macarena’s popularity has already started to decline, according to religious leaders across the country.

“The Macarena is passe,” claims Rabbi Richard Thaler of Sutton Place Synagogue in New York.

Rabbi Scott Sperling of Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle agrees.

“The `Y.M.C.A.’ tune from the 1970s is coming back bigger than ever,” says Sperling. “At the Youth Maccabi Games here there were 300 to 400 kids dancing to the strains of The Village People. It was hilarious.”

For his part, Rabbi Daniel Fink of Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, Idaho, is not distressed by the Macarena trend.

“If they’re dancing, I don’t much care what dance they’re doing provided they’re not dancing naked on top of cakes.”

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