Concert Lights It Up

Matisyahu, Maccabeats and Moshav Band Rock Crowd of 1,100 at YU Chanukah Concert

Halfway through his performance in Lamport Auditorium at Yeshiva University’s annual Chanukah Concert on December 2, Jewish reggae sensation Matisyahu stopped and looked out at the crowd of more than 1,100 college students, music fans and families swaying together, arms linked, eyes closed.

“I think we’re ready,” he said. “I think we can light now.”

Beneath a glittering dreidel-disco ball, Matisyahu called up a special needs member of the audience and handed him a candle. A menorah appeared from nowhere. The entire auditorium listened in rapt silence as the boy recited the blessings for the second night of Chanukah, accompanied by a sweet melody on electric guitar.

Along with the Moshav Band and YU’s own Maccabeats, whose recent YouTube video “Candlelight” has garnered more than 2 million hits, Matisyahu played to a packed and excited house. From the a capella group’s opening number to Matisyahu’s last encore, the audience got on their feet and stayed there, dancing in the aisles, waving their hands in the air and shouting along the words to classics like the Moshav Band’s “Come Back” and the reggae star’s “One Day” and “Jerusalem.”

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The concert, organized by the undergraduate student councils, was sold out days in advance and drew music lovers of all ages and communities. Waiting in a line that wound around the block, students from colleges across the tri-state area, jam-band and reggae enthusiasts and families shared their excitement about the night’s acts.

“These performers appeal to the old and young,” said Reva Judas, who brought her twin 18-year-old daughters and 13-year-old son. “We all love the music. This is their Chanukah present.” She wasn’t the only parent to offer that gift. Chaim Abbitan heard about the concert from his wife, a Stern alumna, and decided it would be the perfect treat for 11-year-old daughter, Deena. “We like ‘One Day’,” Deena said, adding: “The Maccabeats have good voices and their music video is really cool.”

The Maccabeats kicked off the night to a standing ovation and chants of “Go Go Beats!” from the crowd. They broke down each component of their single “Candlelight,” which has propelled them on to appearances on “The Today Show,” CBS, NBC and numerous print articles, bringing all the riffs together for a spirited performance of the single heard round the world. The aura of school pride in the auditorium was palpable.

“I think it’s great that the video shows YU students can be cool, fun and creative,” said Noah Jacobson, a member of the Maccabeats. “We get comments on the YouTube page from Germany to South Africa to France and Denmark saying, ‘I’m so proud to be Jewish.’ I think what we all find the most amazing and meaningful thing is knowing that we’ve bolstered a sense of Jewish pride for thousands of people.”

The atmosphere of unity and togetherness only intensified as the Moshav Band took the stage with their new Chanukah tune, “Light Me Up.” “This song is about bringing light into a dark world,” said Yehuda Solomon, the band’s frontman. “We need that message of Chanukah, of spreading light and hope, when there is so much darkness around us.” The group’s frenetic energy and soulful vibe included raucous saxophone solos and interludes on an African drum, culminating in the anthemic “Come Back,” whose chorus, “I can hear my homeland calling me,” had everyone in the audience singing along, reflecting on their own experience of Israel.

“It was a dream,” said Solomon of the concert. “It’s the kind of thing you live for, as a musician. We were celebrating Chanukah with so many of our brothers and sisters, and sharing that message of being proud of who we are, spreading that little bit of light, that bit of hope.”

In the audience were members of Kids of Courage, the charity to which the Chanukah Concert’s proceeds will go. Kids of Courage is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and young adults with life-threatening diseases.

“We wanted people to know about this organization, to see how hard they work, how devoted they are and how important it is to bring smiles to these kids’ faces,” said Yoni Kushner, president of the Student Organization of Yeshiva College and one of the night’s organizers. He was amazed by the size and reach of the concert’s appeal. “It tells you a lot about YU that so many people from so many backgrounds came to this event,” he said. “It was a beautiful, meaningful night.”

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