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NJ Maccabeats Are All About That Neis

It’s that special time of the year when the Maccabeats release their new song! For the fourth year running, the Yeshiva University all-male a cappella group, the Maccabeats, have built upon the success of their original breakout Chanukah hit, “Candlelight,” by releasing this year’s hotly awaited track, “All About that Neis.” Listen to it here. The song is a parody of this past summer’s bubblegum pop hit “All About That Bass,” by Meghan Trainor. “Our song’s chorus carries a double meaning. “All About That Neis, No Oil,” reflects the miracle of insufficient oil lasting for eight nights, but it also speaks to the core of the holiday–how it’s about the story and message of the neis (miracle) much more than it’s about eating oily foods,” the group said on its website.

In honor of the Maccabeats’ favorite holiday, the JLNJ spoke to three New Jersey-grown Maccabeats, to find out who they are, where they’re from, and what on earth they do when they’re not singing Chanukah songs.

Joshua Jay is a baritone from Paramus and Meir Shapiro, a vocal percussionist–the beat boxer, who occasionally sings baritone or lead vocals, is from Passaic. Jay went to Paramus public schools for elementary school, followed by the Frisch School, and then studied pre-med at YU before starting medical school at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Shapiro went to YBH in Passaic and Mesivta of North Jersey in Newark, before attending YU and majoring in music with a minor in architecture. Shapiro is in grad school at NJIT in his final year of a masters’ program in architecture.

Ari Lewis, a tenor, married a Teaneck native, the former Shira Sragow, and now lives in Fair Lawn with his wife and their young daughter. A YU alum, he works as marketing director of the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood.

As an undergraduate, Shapiro also co-founded and ran the YU Chesed Club, which organized fundraisers and drives. Jay, through his work with the Maccabeats, has been able to find an outlet for a particularly unique talent. “I do a pretty good elephant impression which, believe it or not, we’re able to work into a concert every once in a while,” he said.

Shapiro and his wife, Jordana, live on the Lower East Side. Jay lives in the Bronx close to Einstein. Both agreed that balancing school with being a Maccabeat is quite difficult, but both the challenge rewarding. “The Maccabeats practice once a week. It can be difficult to make it every week with all of my school obligations, but I do my best,” said Jay. “I usually manage to perform with the group at least once a month. The group performs quite a bit more than that, but balancing school and performing usually means that I can’t make it to every concert,” he said.

Shapiro added that he loves spending weekends with Jewish communities around the country and around the world, and seeing how much communities have in common with one another. “I always enjoy meeting new people and seeing new things wherever we go. Hearing people all over the world singing our music is really inspiring,” he said. As a student of architecture, he has had a chance to sing in many cities and countries that he would never have visited otherwise. “I’ve gotten exposure to architecture, cities, and buildings around the world that I would have only otherwise read about,” Shapiro said.

Jay added that being in the Maccabeats has really been the experience of a lifetime. “To me, the most exciting aspect of it all is how many people we can reach with our music. When we get messages from fans saying that we helped them connect to Judaism for the first time or just that we brightened their day, there’s no better feeling than that,” Jay said.

“I have so much fun with the group, we are basically a family,” said Lewis. “We have been through so much together. It gets hard to be away from my family, but I made deal with myself that I wouldn’t stop if I was still having fun. My wife is very understanding and supportive of me, I couldn’t do this without her,” he said.

So they can shep naches from their musical sons’ achievements, Shapiro’s parents are Ellen and David Shapiro, who lived in Passaic for 27 years until they made Aliyah two years ago to Bet Shemesh. Jay’s parents, Ellen and Alan Jay, live in Paramus and daven at Congregation Beth Tefillah. Lewis’ machatamin are Murray and Linda Sragow of Teaneck.

To listen to “All About That Neis,” visit the Maccabeats on the web, here: http://www.maccabeats.com/all-about-that-neis-hanukkah-2014/.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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