West Orange—U of P (University of Pennsylvania) is hardly a place you’d think would be home to a very popular Jewish a cappella group. Yet the Shabbatones, as they call themselves, are the pride of the U of P’s Hillel, young men and women who travel across the world, using the purity of their voices to bring joy to their audiences.
The Shabbatones arrived in West Orange last week on the last leg of their East Coast tour and performed to an SRO crowd at JCC Metrowest. Seats were filled with seniors from the Margulies Center, and people from four different JCCs in the area. The bouncy crowd was entertained with a variety of Hebrew and American pop songs—and for those nostalgic for a bit of chazanut, a few liturgical pieces filled the bill.
When the Shabbatones were born, they were a campus-based U of P Hillel music group specializing in American, Israeli, and Jewish music. Now, in their bar mitzvah year (they are 13 years old), they’ve taken the show on the road. Their recent whirlwind tour included a performance at the White House. Those 13 years were filled with performances for a variety of audiences at Penn and interesting venues. During university semesters, the group performs at synagogues, schools, and Jewish community centers across the Northeast. During semester breaks, the group tours America—they’ve been to California, South Florida, Houston, and New Orleans. They’ve even done a gig in London. Highlights have included singing the national anthem at an NHL game in Los Angeles and a performance to open for Committed, winners of NBC’s The Sing Off.
The Shabbatones’ members and alumni include undergraduate and graduate students who are majoring in a wide variety of subjects like engineering, psychology, English, and economics. All of their arrangements are composed, directed, and performed by students. They come from a variety of Jewish backgrounds and are unified by a love for Jewish music and a commitment to being the voice of one of the largest and most vibrant Hillels in the nation.
By Sarah Beckoff