If you love the annual holiday parodies from Jewish a cappella groups like Six13 and the Maccabeats, but always wished you could hear more women’s voices in the mix, I’ve got good news: Your prayers have been answered.
So have mine, although I’d never realized it before.
Before we continue, a little bit about me: I’ve been writing parody lyrics for Six13 since 2016, an outgrowth of my lyrical contributions to ESPN mainstay Tony Kornheiser’s popular podcast. While I’m proud of all of my Six13 work — including “A Hamilton Chanukah,” “West Side Chanukah Story” and most of “A Lion King Passover” — I think it’s safe to say that 2018’s “Bohemian Chanukah” stands tallest among my Six13 work. The accompanying video has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube since its debut five years ago, has been the subject of multiple reaction videos, and was even played on Elvis Duran’s national morning radio show.
And now — or, to be more accurate, a year ago — it was covered by more than 150 voices that make up the Los Angeles-based Angel City Chorale.
If the name sounds familiar to you, it may be because of their run to the semifinals of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” back in 2018, when performances of Toto’s “Africa” and “The Greatest Showman” hit “This Is Me” drew effusive praise from the likes of Simon Cowell and Howie Mandel. Sure enough, the group’s take on “Bohemian Chanukah” features the choir’s signature flair. And on a personal level, it absolutely makes me kvell.
It’s not just the group’s musicality that leaves me moved as they sing the lyrics I wrote, but their emphasis on inclusion, gender and otherwise. As artistic director Sue Fink told the AGT judges back in 2018, “Black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight… even the Republicans and Democrats can sit next to each other in our group.”
At a time when our divisions are showing as much as they ever have before, it’s a message that needs to be heard more than ever.
“We’re getting better and better with that,” Fink told Kveller over Zoom. She herself is a Jewish woman who traces her ancestry to the same Ukrainian village as Volodomyr Zelensky. “We have more diverse people joining all the time. We’ve got an Arab person singing next to a Jewish person, old people, young people, our Latino members are growing in participation… we have two or three blind people, an autistic guy that we all help. We try to welcome everybody.”
Of course, world events can sometimes make that approach a challenge — especially in the weeks since the October 7 attack — but Fink has led her group through with the positive spark that led Cowell to call her a “dynamo” during the group’s AGT run.
“We all just took a minute,” Fink said, “and we just closed our eyes, and I said, ‘Just pray or concentrate or put your vibe or whatever it is you believe in, towards finding a way through to peace.’ There wasn’t any discussion about it, but we just took the time to honor this very scary moment in our histories.”
It was a test, to be sure, but Fink and her singers were up to the challenge.
“We believe in the positivity of diversity. That’s one thing that we’re not going to compromise on,” Fink said.
“When people come together in community around something that they’re doing in common — when you’re creating something meaningful or beautiful — those differences disappear. That’s what our goal is, to try to model that ethos.”
When the time came to pick songs for the group’s 2022 holiday concert, using a democratic process that is hardly the norm for large choirs, “Bohemian Chanukah” had widespread support.
“It was submitted by a member one year,” Fink said, “and that year, it wasn’t picked, but the next year, I resubmitted it because I thought it was so cool, and the group overwhelmingly went for it.”
Having written original Hanukkah music for Angel City herself — including 2016’s “One” and 2020’s “Hanukkah Lullaby” — Fink knows the challenge of finding great music for the holiday, and with a take on “Bohemian Chanukah” more than 150 voices strong, Sue Fink and the Angel City Chorale have added to it.
At this year’s holiday concerts, scheduled for December 2 and 3 at UCLA’s Royce Hall (with a livestream available for the Sunday concert), Angel City Chorale will include “Judah and the Maccabees” in the program, along with “Hine Ma Tov,” a song whose meaning — “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [people] dwell together in unity” — is a perfect distillation of the Angel City ethos.
Whether you’re waiting for that concert, or for this year’s new crop of a cappella Hanukkah parodies, take a moment and check out Angel City Chorale’s take on “Bohemian Chanukah.” You’ll be glad you did.