Jewkebox takes third in national competition

A Jewish a cappella group prides itself on inclusivity.

Sophomore Holleigh Christie (left) and freshman Kristin Stidham rehearse Billy Joel’s “I’ve Loved These Days” in Presser Hall on March 17. | Harrison Brink TTN
Sophomore Holleigh Christie (left) and freshman Kristin Stidham rehearse Billy Joel’s “I’ve Loved These Days” in Presser Hall on March 17. | Harrison Brink TTN

Jessica Baar, member of Temple’s a cappella group Jewkebox, says she likes to think of the group as “Jewish affiliated, everybody appreciated.”

Though the group performs traditional Jewish songs and songs by Jewish artists, they are far from exclusive, Baar said.

“A lot of the other a cappella groups are very competitive in their audition process and some of them seem to unofficially require music majors,” said Sara Weinstein, a senior music therapy major and the group’s treasurer. “But Jewkebox has, from the start, probably been the most diverse group in terms of majors and music abilities.”

Recently, the group had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to perform at Kol HaOlam, a national collegiate Jewish a cappella competition, which took place on March 7. The students were awarded third place for their performances of “When You Believe,” from the film “The Prince of Egypt,” which they translated to Hebrew, as well as “Oy Vey”, a parody of the song “Bang, Bang.”

The performance was the groups second appearance at Kol HaOlam, but its first win, something members are particularly proud of after the departure of multiple senior members last year and after the Fall 2014 semester.

“We really stepped up our game,” Baar, vice president and public relations specialist of the group, said. “We brought signs with us, we upped our choreography, we really pushed ourselves with the arrangements – with the songs that we chose and performed.”

To help prepare, the group added extra practices to its schedule in the weeks before the competition and came together to trade clothes, make bow-ties and even borrowed a beatboxer from another a cappella group on main campus, Weinstein said.

Members said that in an a cappella performance, choreography is key, as opposed to a choral performance of 40 to 100 people.

“A cappella is a very exposed form of performance,” said sophomore music major and Jewkebox music director, Hannah Stevens. “Your voice is more out there, you’re a lot more vulnerable, you’re allowing people into this little world that you created and you have to create so much with it.”

The competition required groups to perform at least one song in Hebrew, which posed a challenge for some of Jewkebox’s non-Jewish members.

President Holleigh Christie said the group added American sign-language to the Hebrew translation of “When You Believe.”

“To teach a group of non-Jewish people Hebrew – that was fun,” Baar said.

 Because the competition took place at the end spring break, the group was able to travel to Washington a day early to explore the city and squeeze in some much needed bonding time, Jewkebox’s longest standing member, Nick Gomberg said.

“Bonding time is always good because we get to know each other more, really see what we’re like outside of a rehearsal setting,” the senior journalism major said. “To go up there and sound as good we did and realize how much we accomplished in a short time – to be able to do that on a national stage and get recognized for it was a really good experience.”

Part of Jewkebox’s mission is outreach in the Jewish community and celebrating the Jewish religion, having performed at Jewish community centers across the Philadelphia area.

“Right now, we’re trying to gear [our work] toward doing more Jewish work, as in community service and good things for the community,” Christie said.

The group plans to hold a “Jewkebox Jammie-Jam, Fest Jamboree,” named for the events pajama-friendly dress-code, on March 25 at 9 p.m. in the atrium of Presser Hall. Those who sport pajamas at the event will receive a free hot chocolate, and group members will be collecting donations of food, clothes and toiletries to give to homeless shelters in the city.

Since the group’s founding in the Fall 2012, members said the group has grown closer and closer, resembling a family, partly because of the influx of performances and events Jewkebox has on its calendar.

“People in the community are just so excited to see young people do something Jewish related and have fun doing it,” Weinstein said. “Singing in rehearsal is really fun, but getting out there and doing concerts and doing gigs is even more fun because we can show what we can do, and Jewkebox really gets out there.”

Alexa Bricker can be reached at

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