On Thursday, October 1st, the expansive Emek Hebrew Academy campus was overhauled with a grand collection of games and activities that created a Sukkot Carnival such as never had been seen before. There was hope for a good turnout and the final numbers were rewarding with sales to more than 1,500 people. Visitors were from a cross section of the entire Jewish Community.
The event is a yearly program that Emek has been hosting and providing as a chol hamoed service for the broader Jewish community for close to 10 years. Each year Emek makes additional changes always striving for a premium event. This was the first year that there was also a concert. The excitement peaked as the highly popular Chassidic rock band, 8th Day took to the stage. Playing many well-known songs, the concert lasted more than an hour. Brothers, Shmuel and Bentzi Marcus, with other musicians in the band, played dozens of songs from their previous albums and introduced their fans to tracks from their new CD, Inner Flame, released in June. With a mesmerizing aerial camera filming the show, the crowd of kids and parents were delighted.
The Rockin’ Sukkot Carnival was organized by Rabbi Moshe Tropper, Director of Family Programs, who was delighted but unsurprised by the turnout, saying, “We knew the broad selection of interesting activities would appeal to many students and the chance to see and hear the wonderful sounds of 8th Day was a certain success. Our community is bursting with good energy and the LA Jewish population is stronger than ever; that’s why the Carnival was a successful Sukkot celebration.”
Admission cost was capped at a maximum of $25 per family which allowed large families to enjoy the day of fun in a secure environment at an affordable cost. It takes a large group of people to organize such an event and Emek staff as well as student volunteers from other Jewish schools were complimented on their professionalism, efficiency and dedication. Rabbi Mordechai Shifman, Head of School at Emek, was thrilled by the enthusiasm of the guests, remarking, “It makes sense that Emek, the community school, would host a community event that has something to offer everyone.”
The Sukkot Carnival concert was the first time in five years that the band has spent the Sukkot holiday in California. In previous years they have played concerts elsewhere, from New York and Texas to stages in Australia, Canada, Spain, South Africa and England. Still, 8th Day creators, Shmuel Marcus, a family man with 5 children and the Rabbi of Chabad of Cypress, CA and Bentzi Marcus, his brother, with 3 kids and additionally the manager of a recording studio and music production company, know they are able to avoid a certain amount of touring because of the internet distribution of their music.
The Emek crowd were mighty pleased that the band was home this year. There are few contemporary Jewish bands and most school kids are familiar with 8th Day’s music and videos which are even played on El Al’s flight entertainment channel. Their songs are created with the hope that audiences, young and old, will be uplifted and entertained by the compositions.
As the school kids watched the 8th Day band dancing and guitar strumming, they were filled with breathless wonder, thinking perhaps, “You can be religious and play music for a living?” Shmuel answers carefully, “Music in general is an amazing thing to be involved with. It develops and enhances our way of seeing. It’s more than playing music that captures our hearts, it is also the expression and spiritual connection that is meaningful. Jews played instruments in the Bet Hamikdash and Kind David himself composed and played. Music is a great gift and it is a different language and for kids with a Torah education it will enhance their learning.
“Yes, I encourage Jewish kids to have music in their life because it enhances Yiddishkeit. On the other hand, as a career, it can be very, very challenging. It is not a typical profession. Still, if someone is inspired, music can be a big part of your life in a Torah friendly capacity. You just have to know that along with the joy, there are a lot of challenges.”
Perhaps our school curriculum should include more music? Shmuel agrees and explains the recent history. “In the ‘50’s and ‘60’s it was thought there was no infrastructure to handle music and in the frum community it was pushed aside. Now, a new educational style is in place and music can be included in a safe space again. Music enhances self-esteem and it is not a danger. That was the fear, although that’s not a valid argument any longer because the world has embraced the frum lifestyle and the door is open for us to enjoy our heritage more easily. I think the learning of music is the healthiest thing that our kids can do to remind themselves that everyday life is inspiring.”
Bentzi agrees, emphasizing the truth about humankind. “If you have a talent it is G-d given and you should use it and you have an obligation to use it. Our kids will pursue whatever they want in the framework that we parent them. Today the recording studios are less expensive and so is graphic design and filmmaking and these can all be used to produce entertainment that celebrates Yiddishkeit.”
The band is named 8th Day after Shemini Atzeret, but the concept of the number eight is also one of transcendence. What does their music transcend? Shmuel wants fans to, “try and evoke a sense of breaking out of the personal limitations we put on ourselves and embrace infinity.” This sounds serious and deep at heart. Shmuel agrees, “Music can inspire people and so we write songs that are inspirational.” Still, along with this thoughtful component, the band keep their music upbeat, hopeful and amusing even. This is the blend that has created their unexpected success.
Passionate and motivated about music they have taken pleasure in building their family sing-a- longs into a global phenomenon with millions of fans and thousands of CD sales. Bentzi admits, “We write music all the time, and there are songs that don’t make it to performance. That’s OK. We aim to be prolific composers. Shmuli has tons of ideas and lyrical creations and hooks that keep us fired up. We also love performing and reaching Jewish people who have not previously considered their Jewish identity. Often when we play there is someone from the audience who shares a poignant story where our music has opened the door to their Jewish observance.”
8th Day have built a viral internet presence by continually posting magical music videos which blend the simplest idea with a witty musical delivery. The supermarket was the location for Ya’alili whose singing fish were seen by 3.4million viewers to date. 800,000 viewers have watched Hooleh, set in the Baron Herzog winery and a variety of simple urban locations are made exotic in other frum-sensitive music videos which pull in viewers who love the high energy rhythms and poetic lyrics. The newest album, Inner Flame, the 6th album in 8 years, sums everything up, “There’s a smile deep, deep within you.”
“We take our inspiration from different places. Back in the ‘70’s we were mesmerized by the Jewish Rock band, Megama. This was the first time we heard country/ folk sounds and it was a new movement without a clarinet in sight. There was also the frenetic electrified sound of the Jewish band, Raya Mehemna. And the Baal Teshuva movement brought modern sounds to the yeshiva music scene. Much Jewish music remains true to the original shtetl sound but many new artists, especially coming from the Israel scene, have introduced electronic music which has influenced Jewish music in general.”
The Marcus brothers feel a strong responsibility for the values and sounds they bring to their fans because they grew up in a large family in a Rabbi’s home. They are proud of their routes in a small Los Angeles Yeshiva. Celebrity can change you, but Shmuel qualifies this reality in a religious framework, “Everyone is either changing the world, or the world is changing them. That’s why we daven and make a bracha over our food before we eat. Jews are always changing and when you are well-grounded in your values you know that we are just the student with a suitcase who is passing through this world. At the end of the day, everything is temporary. In the meantime, it feels good to spread a message of joy. That’s our goal.”
8th Day website can be visited at my8thday.com. 8th day albums can be downloaded and purchased from the site, or at Mostly Music or iTunes.