Reflections On The Maccabeats And The Power Of New Media


From zoot suits to flagpole sitting, the university campus has always been a source of fads and fun that spread beyond the campus. As young people focus on their education they also look to affirm their youth and push the envelope of tomorrow.

During the last 10 days or so Yeshiva University’s men’s a cappella group, the Maccabeats, and their Chanukah-themed video, “Candlelight,” have found themselves at the center of what one television reporter called a “spontaneous YouTube sensation.” Millions have heard and seen this catchy creation online. The result has been dozens of feature stories in print, including in this newspaper; dozens of stories broadcast on local radio and TV; and even a live performance on national television.

 A cappella is a long tradition at universities. It reflects a love of music, shared fun, and the ability to create and concoct harmonies. Add to that a catchy, popular song like “Dynamite,” a star willing to be spoofed, and an eight-day holiday that offers ample time for momentum to build, and a group of young men can suddenly discover that they have captured lightning in a bottle.

As a communicator myself I marvel at the power of the new media to capture a moment. The reality of social media is that it helps good things (and bad ones) to spread quickly. The Maccabeats have gotten this fantastic response because the video is great, but I think this phenomenon is about something more.

William Butler Yeats wrote that education is not filling a bucket but lighting a candle. Candlelight reaffirms that we can joyously assert a life that is both joyous and illuminating, and that our collective story can still, in the darkness of winter solstice, bring light to civilization.

As a Jew, I’m proud of our story inspiring others and our vitality moving forward.

At Yeshiva University we speak of education as ennobling and enabling.

The 14 men who comprise the Maccabeats fashioned their harmonies out of a desire to tell their sacred story. People are looking for pride, and in this group they see young men who are cool and wholesome, who take life seriously but don’t take themselves seriously, who convey fun but also pride in their values, in their story and in their comfort as Jews and Americans.

I couldn’t be prouder of the window on YU and our community reflected in these young people.

The outpouring of pride and celebration of wholesomeness tells us that there is a resonance to our values that we should take pleasure in and responsibility for.

Richard Joel is president of Yeshiva University.