Julian Horwitz and Nachum Joel are pitch perfect, even when being interviewed.
The two, members of the a cappella group called the Maccabeats, are on a conference call to promote their appearance at the bergenPAC in Englewood on December 6. [See box.}
Mr. Horwitz, the group’s musical director and co-founder, explains that the Maccabeats’ roots were planted at the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn. He and his buddy Michael Greenberg were members of the school’s choir there.
The pair started the Maccabeats as freshman at Yeshiva University, Mr. Horwitz said, as a “continuation of that high school experience.” It began as a school-funded club in 2007, but as the Maccabeats moved on to Facebook, YouTube, and greater visibility, “we wanted a little more autonomy,” he said. “We actually took it independent,” though the group maintained a loose relationship with the school and received arts funding from a university discretionary fund.
The Maccabeats’ first big hit came in 2010 with “Candlelight,” a Chanukah-themed takeoff on a Taio Cruz hit, “Dynamite.” It took off like — you should excuse the expression — dynamite. It generated literally millions of YouTube hits. The group exploded from there, performing a mix of traditional songs as well as Jewish-themed parodies, many of which are available on line.
There are about 20 men in the Maccabeats pool — they perform in groups of seven — and they are all modern Orthodox, though Mr. Horwitz concedes that “we don’t know what anybody does behind closed doors.”
They select their repertoire as a group and “once we as a committee decide what we want to do, Julian executes it,” Mr. Joel explained.
“Yes, I’m the executioner,” Mr. Horwitz added, to clear up any confusion.
Mr. Joel joined the group in 2010, his senior year. “I was always shy about my voice,” he said. “I hated being put in the spotlight.” After first performing publicly as a member of his summer camp color war chorus he joined a theater troupe at Yeshiva and performed in the group’s production of “Newsies.” Then he joined the Maccabeats, whom he had seen perform around campus.
Mr. Horwitz majored in math, but when “Candlelight” exploded he switched his major to Maccabeats. He “graduated eventually,” he said. “In our concerts I like to joke that I always wanted to be a doctor, but my mother strongly insisted I become a Jewish a cappella singer. But she still mentions my taking the L-SATs some day.”
Mr. Joel works for an insurance broker. Every Maccabeat has two jobs — his real-world position and his responsibilities to the group, which includes practice once or twice a week and recording, as well as the 40 or 50 annual appearances. The Maccabeats are doctors, lawyers, a medical student, a psychologist, and an architect.
Uri Westrich, who filmed and edited “Candlelight” and still directs Maccabeats YouTube videos, was in his first year of medical school in 2010. The emphasis there on “was.” That experience convinced him that “his true passion was in the visual arts,” Mr. Horwitz said. “His parents have never forgiven us.”
Mr. Horwitz says he’s experienced very little anti-Semitism, except from journalists. “I did an interview for a newspaper in Northern Oklahoma and the reporter asked if I was obnoxious, because all the Jews he knew were obnoxious.
“You can’t be a public Jewish presence online without exposing yourself to anti-Semitic trolls. But I don’t like to focus on that.”
Who: The Maccabeats
What: In concert
When: Wednesday, December 6, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: At the bergenPAC, 30 North Van Brunt St., Englewood
How much: Tickets range from $19 to $49.
For information and reservations: Go to or call the box office at (201) 227-1030.
When: Sunday, December 10, at 2 p.m.
Where: At Rosen Performing Arts Center, YMCA., Wayne
How much: $20 in advance, $25 at the door
For information and reservations: Call the box office at (973) 595-0100.