July 17, 2024
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Ahavas Achim Celebrates Chanukah With the Maccabeats

Continuing an annual tradition, Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park hosted the Maccabeats as their scholars-in-residence in celebration of Shabbat Chanukah for the fourth time on December 27-28. New this year, was the addition of a community-wide Maccabeats concert after Shabbat that also featured comedian Eli Lebowicz.

Following a rousing menorah lighting and Kabbalat Shabbat, the Maccabeats sang to the sold-out crowd who met for a musical dinner. Surprisingly approachable, the Maccabeats invited community members to introduce themselves and endeared themselves as they sang birthday wishes to a young girl and surprised a recently engaged couple with a mash-up of “Od Yeshama/Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”

A dessert and musical Oneg Shabbat for the community followed, with the Maccabeats singing and hosting a question/answer session where attendees learned about the many continents and famous places where they have performed. They noted that while it was timely to perform all their Chanukah songs on Chanukah, it is Chanukah year-round for them. Their most requested songs are their Chanukah tunes: Latka Recipe, Candles on the Sill, Light Up the Nights, All About that Neis and their signature song—Candlelight. They shared their experiences from their founding in 2007 while students at Yeshiva University to becoming recording artists who have performed at the White House, the Knesset in Israel, on television shows and all over the world.

On Shabbat day, the Maccabeats treated the congregation to a very special Shacharit and Mussaf and returned for a musical seuda shelishit and Havdala.

After Shabbat, Ahavas Achim Fundraising Chair Rob Haarburger welcomed the crowd to the concert and comedy show. Comedian Eli Lebowicz opened the show to an appreciative crowd. Billed as a “kosher comedian,” Lebowicz entertained the audience with humor that greatly amused the observant Jewish crowd. The hilarious description of explaining the significance of a lulav and etrog to airport TSA agents while traveling on Sukkot had the audience roaring with laughter. The humorous description of requesting the many days off from work needed to celebrate the multitude of holidays in the fall, followed by a request to leave early on winter Fridays resonated with the audience who identified with the challenges and generated more applause and laughter.

The standing-room-only crowd included people of all ages from the Highland Park/Edison area, as well as East Brunswick, North Brunswick, Metuchen and environs. Teens, tweens, tots, singles, college students, parents, young couples, parents and senior citizens were excited and eagerly anticipating the show. Avishag Klatzkin brought her family from East Brunswick for the concert, as it seemed like a great way to spend a Saturday night during Chanukah. Michael Greenberg, host of the Sunday Morning “Kol Yehudim” radio show on WJPR came to support and become better acquainted with musicians that are featured on his program. Janet and Fred Rivenson came from Edison to celebrate Chanukah with great music and wonderful friends.

With the crowd on an entertainment high, the Maccabeats took to the stage and began over an hour of music, encouraging the crowd to sing along and engaging them with additional stories and anecdotes about life as a member of the Maccabeats. For example, their Chanukah song Latke Recipe was inspired by an actual latke recipe from one of the members’ grandmothers. A chef at the White House was said to have used the recipe, but the Maccabeats were not sure that was true as the recipe was changed slightly to best fit the music. The group also described their transition from full-time students/part time Maccabeats to full time spouses/parents/careers and still being part of the Maccabeats. They noted how they are popular in countries without large Jewish communities, like China. They also described a time when a snowstorm hampered some of the group’s arrival for a Friday night Shabbos davening and how some of the members walked 11 miles in the snow to get to the location.

The Maccabeats described the history of their group and described how they make their music, without using musical instruments. At one point they asked for a volunteer to come to the stage and try their “foolproof” beat-box method. The young volunteer led the audience as they said three simple syllables that emulated percussion for the song. Her brave efforts earned her a Maccabeats music CD as a gift.

Saving the best for last, or befitting a Maccabeats Chanukah concert, “Candlelight” closed out the show with the audience singing aloud, dancing in their seats, and looking forward to joining together again next year for the fifth annual Shabbat Chanukah Maccabeats celebration.

By Deborah Melman

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