Jews Shaking it the Harlem Way

From your favorite NFL stars to your hippie granny, everybody seems to be doing the “Harlem shake” these days. Some have even called it the new Gangnam style, but that’s because they just don’t know better. The Harlem shake ushers in the new era of video memes. Twitter’s bravely ventured into this new trend, but Apple pulled it back upon realizing that people were actually using it to create more of America’s favorite pastime, porn. But the Harlem shake is the real deal. It seems to be the first in a new creative trend of instant gratification attempting to satisfy the techie kids of the twenty-first century.

The Harlem shake (to Spielberg’s discontent) is a 30 second video comprising of two parts. The first half consists of one person (often masked) dancing to the song while people around him act normally, as if unaware of his presence. After 15 seconds the bass drops and the video suddenly switches to everyone (often dressed in costumes and holding props) dancing wildly in an almost spasmodic manner. This Internet meme blew up in February, and people from all around the globe started replicating the phenomenon.

Still, there was one place I never expected to find the Harlem shake: Yeshiva University. I would have never imagined that an unapproved co-ed event which involved dancing would fly, much less be recorded and uploaded to the web. The event was organized fairly quickly, spreading by word of mouth and through Facebook. There were no requirements; people just had to show up, and what happened afterwards is best described by the video itself. And, like it does regarding most issues that don’t involve religion or exemplify Jewish success, YU stayed quiet, hoping that the shake would go away once it would stick its head in the sand long enough. However, the video is still on the rise, with more than 30,000 viewers.

If we can learn anything from the Yeshiva’s past controversies, it’s only that YU does a terrible job at managing its public relations during a crisis. Once we pay more attention though, we see that many of YU’s biggest controversies have only revealed what lied underneath the surface. Sometimes the most scandalous topics in fact represented the new struggles and conflicts the Modern Orthodox Jew had to face in the modern age. Yeshiva’s “Harlem Shake” would not have been possible if not for a strong desire to participate in the larger social media forum and create something original together.

Many Orthodox Jews largely dismiss the Internet and social media as appropriate professions. Often they’ll echo the voices of centuries past, claiming that the new Internet trends are immature and hold no financial benefit or purpose. I realize that twenty years ago that might have been the case, but things have changed. We exist in an age when Internet companies sell for billions and the best YouTubers make more than our finest doctors. Our personal and professional interactions become more integrated with the Internet every single day, so the sooner we jump into the electronic pool, the better.

The world is changing fast: so fast that a 30 second video meme is more famous than some of the great works of Ravel, Tolstoy and Spielberg combined. We don’t know what next thing will become viral, nor do we know when Modern Orthodox Jews will choose to explore the reasons for reoccurring controversies rather than ignore them. But no matter what the next “Modern Orthodox scandal” will be, one thing’s certain: YU’s PR department is going to have one hell of a day.