Maccabeat and creator of ‘Candlelight’ joins faculty as new ‘spiritual advisor’


Ezra Fax

SINGER: Rabbi David Block performed alongside Judaic Studies teacher Noey Jacobson at the White House in 2011, and is now teaching Talmud, Tanach, and Jewish History at Shalhevet.

By Nicole Soussana, Torah Editor

fteaNew Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi David Block is Shalhevet’s second mashgiach ruchani and its second Maccabeat.

Rabbi Block, who is teaching freshman Advanced Tanach, sophomore Talmud and Jewish History, and senior Tanach classes this year, started singing at Yeshivat Sha’alvim in Israel after high school. His roommate there for two years was current Judaic Studies teacher Noey Jacobson.

After two years at Sha’alvim, they both moved on to Yeshiva University, where Rabbi Block co-founded, directed and sang in the Maccabeats, the famous all-male Jewish a capella group based there.

And it was Rabbi Block who co-wrote and co-directed the group’s viral hit “Candlelight,” which made the group famous.  He stayed a Maccabeat for four years until 2012, when he left to receive his master’s degree in education. Noey Jacobson has remained in the group.

“Candlelight,” Rabbi Block said, was a surprise hit.

“I was just this little kid in Yeshiva University who wanted to sing and wrote lyrics to a song.” Rabbi Block said. “And the song took off.”

Originally from West Hempstead, Long Island, New York, Rabbi Block earned a master’s in Jewish History and Jewish Education from YU and is now a doctoral student in its Graduate School.

His position as mashgiach ruchani, or “spiritual mentor,” means he will be present to ensure that students can ask big questions and discuss theological issues.

“I have the opportunity here to teach things that I really, really love.” Rabbi Block said. 

There’s something really beautiful about hearing a harmony, to sing and make it beautiful. There’s something really spiritual about that.

— Rabbi David Block

Shalhevet’s last mashgiach ruchani was Rabbi Aaron Parry, author of The Complete idiot’s Guide to Talmud and the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hebrew Scripture. Rabbi Parry left the school in 2011.

Rabbi Block said he looks forward to teaching Gemara, but especially Jewish History, which he describes as one of his passions. He also hopes to teach students how to take real meaning from what they learn in Tanach.

Singing low tenor with the Maccabeats – the same part Noey sings — Rabbi Block got to meet President Obama when the group performed at the White House at a reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month in 2011. He describes this experience as very special, though short.

“Regardless of your politics, being in the presence of someone who has so much ability to effect change and make a difference was amazing,” Rabbi Block said. “It also taught me that we’re not that many steps removed.”

Rabbi Block also explained that there are some parts of singing with the Maccabeats that he misses and parts that he does not.

He misses the thrill of performing in front of a crowd and inspiring his audience along, with traveling and experiencing new scenery. Even more, he misses being able to sing in harmony with the other members, he said.

“There’s something really beautiful about hearing a harmony…to sing and make it beautiful,” Rabbi Block said. “ There’s something really spiritual about that.” Rabbi Block said.

Something that Rabbi Block does not miss, he said, is that once singing becomes a profession, singing so constantly can make it feel old and less meaningful.

“I do like the fact that I don’t sing as often.” Rabbi Block said. “It allows me in those times where I am singing to tap in to the beauty of singing.”