In ancient Egypt the Israelites toiled over the pyramids, raised their voice to God to lament their plight, begged for mercy and entrusted their fate to Moses to deliver them from slavery. For more than 2,000 years we have told their tale every year at the Passover seder. But today's slaves to entertainment and Youtube can avail themselves of the tale while moving to the tunes of Les Miserables, Cee Lo Green, The Ramones and Queen, among other pop, rock and Broadway prophets.
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Future archaeologists will find that the phenomenon of the Passover music video goes to back to 1998 when DreamWorks’ animated Exodus story “The Prince of Egypt” arrived in theaters and spawned the hit “When you believe” by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston (z”l). But this was B.Y.T. (Before YouTube), when “viral” referred to replicating germs in living organisms, so the impact was minimal.
When technology caught up with the Jews’ inner diva (YouTube officially launched in 2005 and was already part of our collective cultural DNA about a year later), the holiday music video became part of our sacred traditions.
Passover may not seem a likely candidate for the MTV treatment, yet the last few years has brought a slew of videos, alternatively clever and breathtakingly obnoxious, that continue to win our hearts and “likes” and retell the Passover story, as commanded. More or less.
So here goes, in no particular order, YouTube’s top ten plagues, er, Passover music videos (according to Culture Fop):
1. “Who let the Jews out?” – We can credit/blame 2007’s overplayed song of the year, Baha Men’s “Who let the dogs out?” as the proverbial burning bush. More than 700,000 people have since viewed this re-imagined animated romp featuring a caravan of convertibles racing through a parted Red Sea with a crew of gangsta Israelites with license plates reading “Holy Land or Bust.”
2. “I’m going to a seder,” The Shlomones – Yes, even punk rock pioneers The Ramones were susceptible to the trend when their 1978 hit “I wanna be sedated” got the Passover music video treatment in 2011. Over 100,000 viewers have enjoyed the re-written lyrics which include the following: “Give me lots of matzah balls, I’m wanna get me some / Give me lots of Manischewitz, I’m gonna drink a ton / Hurry, hurry hurry, I got matzah on my brain."
3. “Passover Rhapsody – A Jewish Rock Opera,” Aish – Last year, Aish HaTorah, the Jewish orthodox organization produced a puppet version of the Passover tale, set to the tune of Queen’s classic rock anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody”; over 400,000 viewers have tuned in since. Like many of the carefully selected source tunes for Passover music videos, the original lyrics intrinsically serve the story. Consider the refrain: “We will not let you go / Let us go!”
4. “Dayenu – Coming Home,” The Ein Prat Fountainheads – The Israeli music group scored a hit with their 2011 contribution to the Passover pop pantheon, which sampled from Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You,” with the lyrics, “I been building these pyramids for hundreds of years and I’m, like, forget you.” Over 700,000 viewers were singing along.
5. “P-A-S-S-O-V-E-R,” Six13 – In 2011, this ensemble of fun and frumpy religious boys channeled their inner Usher and sampled the R&B star’s “DJ got us fallin’ in love,” mixed with pop princess Ke$ha’s “We R who we R” and a third of a million people rocked out to the result.
(Orthodox troupes like Six13 and Maccabeats – see below – seem to make up a surprisingly large proportion of Passover pop, suggesting that, contrary to conventional belief, young religious Jews like to have fun too and aren’t as isolated from pop culture as the seculars seem to believe.)
6. “Pesach Shop,” Six13 – This year, the group is back with a new riff of a chart-topping hit, this time Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ rollicking ode to second-hand shopping “Thrift Shop.” Nothing like a bevy of young modern Orthodox boys rifling through clothing racks singing, “I got hagadahs, lookin’ for my chametz, munchin’ on some matzah” to really understand why this night is different from any other night.
7. “Moses Rap,” Bible Raps Project – If Passover is about retelling the Exodus story to each generation in its own language, this video certainly managed to tap into the rhythms of its time. Since 2008, 50,000 viewers have experienced the 10 plagues through flowing rhymes like, “Blood in the river, gonna shiver, gonna freak out” and “Moses at the Red Sea, like, who’s gonna follow me? / Pharaoh’s in the tide / Gonna ride / To our destiny.”
8. “Seder Plate,” The Macaroons – For Passover 2012, The Macaroons produced this cute animated pop-rock tribute to that hardworking symbol to hold all symbols: the seder plate, ever the star of the Passover table.
9. “Jewish Passover Music Video,” Jewsicgroup – Perhaps one of the more peculiar videos to show up on the list, this 2011 effort with a terribly nondescript title features an unlikely cast of 12- 14-year-old religious boys doing a cover of the 2010 World Cup anthem by K’naan. It’s also the most surprisingly political of the bunch, with lyrics that overtly call for the return of Gilad Shalit (it was made before his release) and Jonathan Pollard.
10. “Les Miserables,” The Maccabeats – Sure to be the hit of Passover 2013, the perennial favorites The Maccabeats, an a cappella group from Yeshiva University, are back with their rendition of the musical of the year – Les Miserables – hot off it’s big-screen theatrical release. Posted just a week ago, viewership is at 300,000 and counting. What’s remarkable about this music video, unique in the Passover music video tradition, is that hardly any of the words are rewritten. It’s simply the Broadway tunes set to a theatrical reenactment of the Passover story – and it works. Which perhaps finally explains the age-old Jewish affinity for this particular musical.
Exodus to the Dead Sea
Okay, so you just wasted another hour on the Internet. Now it’s time for an exodus from the computer and an escape from the chains of mindless online content that enslaves us daily.
Head out of our town to the shores of the Dead, not Red, Sea for the 17th annual Ahava Dead Sea Festival at Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, March 27-30.
During the day, wander the desert on nature hikes and local excursions to explore the majesty of the land that the Israelites waited 40 years to behold. By night, celebrate your freedom with some of Israel’s top musicians. Among them: Aviv Geffen, Barry Sacharov, Yehudit Ravitz, Moshe Ben Ari, Avraham Tal, Balkan Beat Box and Metropolin. And join Miriam dancing with her timbrels.
More information at http://www.dead-sea.org.il/.