Viral Hanukkah video has St. Louis connection

A screenshot of Six13’s Hanukkah video “Bohemian Chanukah.” St. Louis native Lior Melnick is the newest member of the a cappella group.

By Xena Wolf, Staff Writer

Maybe you’ve seen it on Facebook already. It has certainly made the rounds, with more than 1 million views and counting on that platform alone, all within three days of the Jewish a cappella group Six13 posting its latest music video. 

Entitled “Bohemian Hanukkah,” it is the group’s latest take on an annual tradition of Hanukkah parody songs, a popular trend among the niche but thriving community of internet-age Jewish a cappella groups. “Bohemian Hanukkah” is, of course, a fresh take on Queen’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with a new emphasis on the Jewish festival of lights.

This might not be news to you, but what you probably don’t know is that the newest member of Six13 is a St. Louisan. Lior Melnick is a Creve Coeur native, alum of Solomon Schechter Day School (now the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School) and member of Traditional Congregation. Now a transportation engineer living and working in New York City, Melnick, 28, auditioned for and was accepted into the 15-year-old Six13, which he has admired since he was in high school. 

Melnick has been singing since he was 10 years old and started in a cappella when he joined an all-Jewish groupat the University of Pennsylvania as a college student. 

“I’ve always been into music and had played instruments for most of my life, but I had never sung in a formal capacity and had interest in trying it out,” Melnick says.

The Jewish a capella community is widespread but “is incubated here in New York City, where a lot of the groups are based,” he says. It is fairly common for these groups, which use only their voices to make music, to perform together –— Six13 has an upcoming concert with three of its peer groups — and Melnick describes a flourishing community.

“Among the Jewish a cappella groups, pretty much everyone knows everyone else,” he says. “It’s a very close-knit group of singers in the Jewish a cappella world.”

Parody videos for Jewish holidays, most commonly Hanukkah and Passover, are “something that the Jewish a cappella genre has gotten into the habit of,” Melnick says, but while these viral videos may be the aspect of Jewish a cappella that is most familiar to a wider audience, especially outside New York, “those are kind of the outliers of our calendar year.” 

Six13 in fact does dozens of live performances every year, ranging from synagogue entertainment to stage performances. Unique to most Jewish a cappella groups, Six13’s repertoire is largely made up of original songs, often based off traditional Jewish, Israeli and liturgical melodies or lyrics and sometimes including parodies or covers of contemporary pop and rock-pop songs. 

Many of the group’s songs are written or arranged by Mike Boxer, its founder, though “Bohemian Hanukkah” was a collaboration with a few others. 

When writing parody lyrics, Melnick explains, Six13 members make an effort to retain the rhymes, inflections and sounds of the original lyrics in order to create “a real symmetry between the original and our version.” 

“Bohemian Hanukkah” is a masterful example of Six13’s ability to craft clever parodies with consistent nods to the original song. For instance, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” lines, “Put a gun against his head / Pulled my trigger how he’s dead,” are rewritten as “Evil Antiochus said / No more torah could be read.” Later in the song, the theatrical bridge “mamma mia, mamma mia” is replaced with the Hebrew “aba, ema, aba, ema” for father and mother.

Given that this wittiness is by no means uncharacteristic of Six13, why was “Bohemian Hanukkah” such an instant and huge success, even by its standards? Melnick has a few theories;  part of the credit is with the group’s talent and execution, of course, but part may also lie with the group’s bold song choice. 

“ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is probably one of the most iconic songs of all time, and it’s incredibly well-known and incredibly revered,” he says. “I think many artists don’t even bother to try covering it because it’s such a daunting and vaunted song that … no one feels they can … do it justice.” 

The group took a risk with this song, Melnick says, but it certainly seems to have paid off.

“ ‘Bohemian Hanukkah’ was by far the biggest musical undertaking that we’ve done as a group, I think, ever,” Melnick says. “The song is incredibly challenging and … we knew that if we were going to do a take on Queen and Freddie Mercury, we would have to do it really, really well.” 

After many weeks of hard but enjoyable work and help with a video closely based on the original music video, “Bohemian Hanukkah” was finally ready to go, and Melnick watched in awe as it took off. 

Watching its viral ascent has been “incredibly overwhelming and exciting at the same time,” he says.

“It’s hard to really wrap my head around just how big a success it’s been in such a short time span,” Melnick says. “I feel very fortunate that I was able to join the group and that I was able to join it in time for this amazing project.” 

After all, Melnick is the most recent addition to Six13, having joined only three months ago. 

“We’re really happy that this has become a success and that people are really enjoying watching it, and we hope that many more continue to enjoy it – and a happy Hanukkah to all.”