But now my passing admiration has blossomed into a much deeper and holistic appreciation of their music and purpose.
Coming from the deep southwest, we simply don’t have many (any?) Jewish musical groups to speak of. The whole concept of a Jewish boy band or a cappella group was entirely foreign to me until I heard The Maccabeats sing in their matching white shirts and yarmulkes.
My non-Jewish husband was so entertained by their Hanukkah video; he went so far as to purchase their album and surprised me with it. When he blasted it out, I remember hot tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. I had never heard Lekhah Dodi sound so beautiful.
Like any aspiring parent, you heed all the advice during your first pregnancy. No sushi. No lunchmeat. Regular stretching. Aqua aerobics. Play music for the baby in utero. Let the baby hear your voice.
We would hopefully hold up the iPod speakers to my bulging belly, assuring ourselves that with every kick along to Bach or Beyonce that we were definitely creating a Baby Einstein. At the very least, a kid who could hack it in honors classes.
When it was time for the baby to be born, we rushed to the hospital with adrenaline pumping and nervous anticipation after my water broke. This was it!
Except that nothing went the way we planned. Turns out, my son was a rare kind of breech. Good thing Yom Kippur comes once a year and has since allowed me to forgive the awful military doctor who missed that reality not one, not two, but THREE separate appointments prior to me giving birth.
I had a full-fledged panic attack as I was wheeled down the hall to the sterile operating room for the inevitable Cesarean section. No hospital tour or guidebook could have prepared me for how thoroughly traumatized the experience would leave me.
In the recovery room after it was over, the nurses brought my son to me. Still numb from the pain and unable to move much, pale and shaking, I held him. I remembered reading somewhere that C-section infants have a harder time breastfeeding, so I insisted on feeding him right away.
The first day and night in the hospital was a blur of life changes. And blood. And poop. And worry. And crying. And exhaustion. I couldn’t get my breastfeeding position right. I just couldn’t.
The second night in the hospital I finally had enough strength to get out of bed and walk (limp) to the chair. My back felt so good against a hardback surface. It was time to feed the baby.
We finally got wise to what veteran parents now know instinctively: a pillow under the baby, pillow on the armrest, cradle infant close skin-to-skin, and latch away. Then my wonderful husband, knowing my heart, put on some relaxing music. He picked The Maccabeats’ Aleinu.
My sweet baby boy latched on and got the best feeding of his life to date. The music soothed and calmed him, and soothed and calmed me. We became a family, the three of us, floating around together in a sea of disbelief and harmony and joy.
I am sure that whatever healing process which took me years to complete started there in that recovery room with The Maccabeats.
One year and two military duty assignments later, the Jewish Federation brought The Maccbeats to our local duty station, and we went to see them on the lawn of the Israel@65 Festival. Watching my now-toddling son wriggle and bounce to their sound gave me hope that maybe this was the beginning of his love and appreciation of Jewish music, too.