One defining characteristic of the Orthodox pop genre is its exclusivity — for male singers only. For modesty purposes, under Jewish law, men are prohibited from hearing women sing, though women can sing in front of other women.
Many others have gone on to careers not in music, including Herskowitz’s two younger brothers, Jeremy and Max. The family is one of many to send multiple children to the choir, which itself has been a family project.
The Begun family also comes from a legacy of musicians and performers, including MBC composer Yerachmiel Begun’s father, the former vaudeville actor Chaim Begun. Yerachmiel Begun’s wife Shoshana, a classical pianist, wrote many of the group’s English songs, such as “Sunshine” from the 1995 album, “One by One.”
Now, the Miami Boys Choir, which Yerachmiel Begun still leads, albeit with a totally new cohort of boys than the video, will be returning to the stage with their annual Sukkot tour of the tri-state area. (Dates and locations for the tour have not been set yet, but the group’s website shows that it held auditions last spring in two places: Miami and Lakewood, New Jersey, which has a large Orthodox community.)
MBC’s TikTok account is run by Yerachmiel and Shoshana Begun’s son Chananya Begun, who is also a music producer and the owner of the Young Talent Initiative, a creative arts organization to support young Orthodox musicians. He presented his father with the idea of creating a TikTok account at a Shabbat meal several months ago, citing the group’s more than 40 years of content.
“I just think something crazy might happen,” the younger Begun recalled telling his father, whom he called “not tech-y Mr. Social Media.” He added, “For me, personally, I was obviously motivated for multiple reasons, as far as furthering my father’s legacy and Miami’s legacy.”
When he first started posting the videos two months ago, engagement was moderate. But six weeks ago, the “Yerushalayim” video started blowing up. Since then, web traffic has increased, people have been buying albums and subscriptions to MBC’s music, and Spotify listens have tripled, Chananya Begun said. Even TV studios and documentary producers have been reaching out to the Beguns.
“We’ve seen incredible reactions and it’s been absolutely wild to watch,” Begun said. “Absolutely crazy.”
Beyond MBC’s popularity with the Orthodox Jewish world, Begun has been impressed by the group resonating with non-Jews and people who haven’t identified much with Judaism in recent years. Tweets and comments left on their videos often refer to people not understanding a word of the music but listening to the songs on repeat.
The “Yerushalayim” video, which is less than a minute long, has thousands of comments on TikTok, and hundreds have duet videos as people react to the song. Comments praise the young boys’ talent, often admitting, “this song has no business being this good.” New fans rank or choose their favorite singer, much like fangirls would have a favorite Beatle or member of One Direction.
MBC isn’t the only Orthodox Jewish boys choir to take on the pop genre — the Yeshiva Boys Choir, famous for their song “Ah Ah Ah,” which draws from the Hebrew acrostic prayer “Ashrei,” has a similar pop sound with religious and spiritual elements.
The YouTube version of the full “Yerushalayim” song, which was uploaded Sept. 11, well into the frenzy, has 70,000 views. “I’m not Jewish but I’ve listened to this so many times I’ve memorized the words,” one user commented. Another wrote, “I would give away my first born child to go back in time to watch this concert live.”
This kind of exaggerated proclamation is not uncommon in the world of pop fandom, and the comparisons of MBC to Korean boy band BTS of K-Pop fame have been made clear in the comment section and in TikToks about the group.
Jewish comedian Eitan Levine declared the Miami Boys Choir to be “the Jewish BTS” in one video, with commenters suggesting that perhaps “K-Pop” could stand for “Kosher Pop.”
But creating something to appeal to the general public was never the goal with their music, or the TikTok account, Chananya Begun said. After all, the video that went viral is from more than 10 years ago, when MBC’s audience was primarily Orthodox.
“We didn’t do anything that wasn’t genuinely Miami Boys Choir,” he said. “It just spoke to us that being genuine is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”
“We have this Orthodox-but-American entertainment type of thing that seems to really be having some wide appeal, all of a sudden, out of the blue.”