Kid Rock played Detroit and Marilyn Manson rocked Atlantic City, but arguably the hottest U.S. music tour this month is that of the Ein Prat Fountainheads - coming soon to a synagogue near you! This, of course, is particularly (and arguably only ) true if you happen to be a fan of cheerful, cheesy and yet infuriatingly catchy songs about the major Jewish holidays.
The story of the Ein Prat Fountainheads - the harmonizing English-language Israeli music troupe that has hundreds of thousands of fans belting out the chorus to their Rosh Hashanah song "Dip Your Apple" (sung to the tune of Shakira's "Waka Waka" ) in the shower - begins in December 2010, right before Hanukkah, as good a time as any for miracles.
"Just for fun, we put together a holiday video-clip parody for ourselves and the other alumni," says Shani Lachmish, 25, who, like the rest of the Fountainheads, is a graduate of Ein Prat, a leadership academy that offers programs for young Jews - men and women, secular and religious, Israeli and foreign - who come together to study Bible, Talmud and Western philosophy.
"We sent it out to friends - and they sent it out to other friends, and more and more people began putting it up on Facebook and YouTube," says Lachmish, a half-British, half-Israeli student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a double major in Jewish thought and drama. She also moonlights as one of the Fountainheads' lead singers.
That little Hanukkah holiday video that could - a remake of the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" - took the holiday season by storm. It garnered some 210,000 YouTube hits (and counting ) and begged comparison between the Fountainheads and Yeshiva University's a cappella sensation, the all-male Maccabeats, who appear at Hillel events on various U.S. campuses.
True, the Maccabeats' Hanukkah remix that year, "Candlelight" - an ode to latkes based on Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" - attracted a whopping six million hits, making it quite clear that they were, and remain, the undisputed kings of the so-called JewTube scene. But the Fountainheads' "I Gotta Feeling Hanukkah" was an impressive beginning for the upstarts from the Judean Desert.
"We realized we had an audience," says Yoav Hoze, 22, the Fountainheads' half-Yemenite, half-American lead singer-heartthrob. "We don't even know how, but it just exploded." Hoze is serving in the Israel Defense Forces, which gives him special dispensation to travel to Jerusalem for rehearsals, and for performances and tours.
By Purim 2011, the group had a core nucleus of nine, a rigorous rehearsal schedule, more than 100 other Ein Prat students and graduates lining up to dance and sing backup for them, and another viral video sensation - "Raise your Mask," a reimagining of Pink's "Raise your Glass."
The Maccabeats, incidentally - could it be pure coincidence, we ask - came out with their own Purim hit a week later, based on the very same Pink tune. The battle was on.
The Fountainheads' next effort, "Dayenu, Coming Home," put out, yes, on Passover and featuring such choice lyrics as "Yeah, you're just chametz, but I am Shmura Matza" - sung to a mashup of Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" and P. Diddy's "Coming Home" - played to 630,000 YouTube viewers and brought the troupe immediate touring offers from the Jewish Federation and increased street cred.
But it was their Shakira-inspired Rosh Hashanah video - complete with a mock battle between "Stars Wars" icons Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the desert being halted by a cute kid offering up holiday honey - that really struck Internet gold, picking up close to two million views and becoming Israel's top online video clip of 2011.
"A new year rising, a new beginning. Lift your head up, turn yourself round, the world is spinning," croons Hoze in the video. "Any wrong can be made right. Just forgive, you need not fight. Shana Tova Umetuka (A sweet and happy new year ). It's Rosh Hashanah," chimes in the chorus, "Shana-na-na-na."
'Making people smile'
"It's not like we don't realize that Israel is a complicated place, with problems between Orthodox and secular, as well as between Jews and Arabs, etc.," says Ahava Katzin, 22, an aspiring opera singer and the secular daughter of a rabbi, who, like the others in the troupe, veers away from discussions about tensions between the different Jewish denominations in Israeli society. Nor will they be drawn into debate on Palestinian-Israeli politics. For example, they won't discuss the controversial location of Ein Prat, situated at Kfar Adumim in the West Bank.
"You can always find something controversial and gray and ugly and problematic [to write] if you want," Katzin says. "But that is not what we want to get into. Our idea is just to create a fun, positive, bright image, embracing Jewish identity, that people can connect to and feel good about, and leave complications aside for the moment. What our music is about is connecting to Judaism and the holidays, and making people smile."
There is seemingly no cynicism, or, for that matter, much irony among these youngsters. Sure, their videos might be parodies of well-known pop songs, their lyrics cringe-worthy and their look so wholesome as to be almost unbelievable - but it is all for real.
"What do you mean, 'Are we making fun of something?'" says Lachmish, confused by the suggestion.
"We are living in a cynical age but we don't want to be that way," adds Katzin. "And we are finding that many people can relate to that and to our music."
Indeed. Since their Rosh Hashanah smash hit, the Fountainheads' fan base has grown, and they have turned to original compositions, putting out a second Passover video, "Yes We Canaan: Breakin' Free," and a second Hanukkah song, a hip-hop/gospel tribute to religious freedom: "Light Up the Night."
Concerts in Israel - as well as in Canada and France - have been packed, and they have been enjoying an American tour this week: The Fountainheads jetted off to the East Coast, where they performed in such venues as Temple Israel in Northern Westchester; Pine Brooks Jewish Center in Montville, New Jersey, and the East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn, New York. On Sunday they're at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Philadelphia, projecting a sanitized image of a beautiful, upbeat, optimistic land called Israel, and making the crowds go crazy.
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