Rabbi Avi Weiss says the Jewish community works best when it works as 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 has his unique place – and major hip-hop artist Drake is someone who should be embraced by the larger Jewish community as playing a major positive role in the Jewish orchestra.
Last week on the first night of Passover, Drake released his much-anticipated "bar mitzvah" video “HYFR” which starts with footage from Drake’s actual bar mitzvah, where we can see him 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 huge 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 self-mocking of Judaism–with scenes showing Drake being thrown up in a chair, and food choices including bagels and gefilte fish - this video is great for Jewish pride. As one may expect from a Hip-Hop musical video, there is profanity and sexually explicit lyrics but this Jew wearing a yarmulke does a lot to help Jewish self-pride, and Jewish pride and awareness everywhere.
Young Jews have never seen Judaism as cool – and Jews too need cool Jews to look at. It’s not easy to get young Jews to wear their religion so outwardly, but a video where Drake so publicly embraces Judaism (and previously has worn a Chai pendant on the cover of Vibe magazine) are positive cultural moments for Jews everywhere and can do a lot to bring Jews closer to religion.
We live in a world where the Pope & Dalai Lama wear distinct outfits which people understand, and rightfully see as normal - but a Rabbi with distinctive Jewish garb and a beard is seen as “weird” by some Jews. The video is one that may be able to show some young Jews that a bar mitzvah – and Judaism - can be cool and in the teenage world, “cool” means a great deal.
As a traditional proud Jew firmly committed to Jewish education who owns 1 of the largest PR firms in the US, we work extensively within the hip-hop industry with client experience including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and others – I will firmly say that Drake’s video is very good for the Jewish community. Many more young Jews will see this video than the videos of Jewish organizations, and having a “cool” major celebrity being proud to be Jewish is key and a big success to bring Jews closer to Judaism.
Having a “cool” bar mitzvah by one of the hottest musical acts in the world (which in less than 2 weeks has more than 1.75MM views on YouTube) can only bring many Jews closer to Judaism. 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 hook more Jewish youth and Jews and bring them closer to the Jewish faith – in an authentic manner, not one shown in a hip-hop video.
While I am not yet ready to name Drake to my Jewish celebrity role model list, Drake did his part in the orchestra now it’s up to the rest of the Jewish community.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR Agency and an active Jewish philanthropist who previously served as National President of Betar, founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky.