Rabbi Avi Weiss says the Jewish community can be compared to a symphony orchestra, one in which there are drummers, flautists, violinists, and so on. Many in the community play different roles so that it will function at its best. Each person has their unique place and hip-hop artist Drake is someone who should be embraced by the larger Jewish community as playing a positive role in the Jewish orchestra.
Last week on the first night of Passover, Drake released his “bar mitzvah” video “HYFR”, which starts with footage from Drake’s actual bar mitzvah, where he is seen dancing, and wishing the camera “mazel tov.” (As Drake has stated previously, his mom is Jewish, and he attended a Jewish day school growing up in Toronto.)
HYFR is a music video – staged as a bar mitzvah – with hip-hop stars including Lil Wayne, Birdman and DJ Khaled sitting in a synagogue respectfully watching Drake (wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl) read from the Torah. Throughout the video, one sees a proud Jew – with no Jewish self-mocking – in scenes showing Drake being thrown up in a chair, and the event foods showcasing bagels and gefilte fish. This video is great for Jewish pride.
As one may expect from a hip-hop music video, there is profanity and sexually explicit lyrics, but even so, a yarmulke bearing Drake does a lot to help Jewish pride and awareness everywhere.
Young Jews rarely see Judaism as cool and having “cool Jews” to look at helps. It’s not easy to get young Jews to wear their religion so outwardly, but a video where Drake so publicly embraces Judaism (he previously wore a Chai pendant on the cover of Vibe magazine) is a positive cultural moment for Jews everywhere and can do a lot to bring Jews closer to their religion.
We live in a world where the Pope and the Dalai Lama wear distinct outfits which people understand, and rightfully see as normal. However, a Rabbi with distinctive Jewish garb and a beard is seen as “weird” by some Jews. This video is one that may be able to show some young Jews that a bar mitzvah (and Judaism) can be cool. Let’s face it, in a teenager’s world, “cool” means a lot.
As a proud Jew myself, I am firmly committed to Jewish education. My PR firm works extensively within the hip-hop industry with clients including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and others. I can firmly say that Drake’s video is very good for the Jewish community.
A caption at the beginning of the video says the rapper “chose to get re-bar mitzvah’d as a re-commitment to the Jewish faith.” Now, Rabbis and other communal leaders need to do their part to bring more Jewish youth closer to the Jewish faith, in an authentic and real life manner.
While I am not yet ready to add Drake to my Jewish celebrity role model list, Drake is playing his role in the orchestra. Now it’s up to the rest of us in the Jewish community to do our part.
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