On December 7, New York-based Jewish rock band The LeeVees took the stage in Morrell Lounge in Smith Union, welcomed by the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and the College’s Harry Spindel Lecture Fund for a memorable night of singing, dancing, community—and plenty of latkes.
“Hanukkah Rocks,” The LeeVees’ first and only album and the title of the night’s event, aims to bring Jewish culture into popular music. Band members Adam Gardner, Dave Schneider, Micheal Azerrad, Shawn Fogel and Daniel Saks bring The LeeVees together every holiday season to bring Hannukah to life.
“This is a tough time we’re going through, especially as Jews. If we can spread the light and have joy and dancing and just be together, laughing … when I light my candles, that’s what matters,” said Rabbi Carolyn Braun of Temple Beth El in Portland while reflecting on the show.
While The LeeVees’ music shines light on their Jewish identity, they make sure to incorporate humor into their lyrics of songs such as “How to Spell Hanukkah” and “Jewish girls with the Matzah Ball.”
“It’s not just goofy Hanukkah music, the subjects that they write on are so clever. [The LeeVees are] really good at this time of year when you feel like nobody understands who you are,” said Braun.
Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Margaret Boyle was instrumental in organizing the concert and introduced the band.
“[The LeeVees] means to represent Hanukkah for all these kids who didn’t have songs that represent the traditions or the foods that they are eating at home,” Boyle said.
As part of their set, The LeeVees played music in a language, more recently known as Ladino, that Jews predominantly spoke in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. The LeeVees are part of a larger movement of artists and critics who are trying to recover the language and the stories associated with it.
The audience, composed of community members from both the College and the broader Midcoast area, got a taste of all sorts of music in Ladino and English as they danced through every song—especially the younger children.
On the day of its concert on campus, the band’s Tiny Desk Concert with NPR Music aired, bringing their music to an audience far wider than Morrell.
Braun added that The LeeVees’ lyrics brought light to the small but defining aspects of Hanukkah—including the best way to eat a latke.
“There’s a big difference when you’re talking about latkes, or if you’re going deeper talking about sour cream or applesauce,” Braun said.
The Leevees get into the debate in “Applesauce v. Sour Cream,” which audience members danced to.
“It’s the choice you’re gonna have to make,” they sang. “Which to put on your potato cakes.”
Editor’s Note 01/26/24 at 10:48 p.m.: A previous version of this article reported that the concert was held in Jack Magee’s Pub and that the singers sang in Ladino, Spanish and English. It has been updated to reflect that while originally slated for Magee’s Pub the concert was held in Morrell Lounge, and singers sang in Ladino and English. The concert was also sponsored by The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.