By Ariel Foxman
“I usually don’t like Hebrew music, but the Hamsa Boys have got the moves,” raves Galit Wernick, a 12-year-old Yeshiva student with flushed cheeks who’d come to see the group play an Upper East Side Orthodox synagogue. “And the blond guy is just so hot!”
The brainchild of Israeli producer Benji Rafaeli, the Hamsa Boys are, in essence, the Backstreet Boychiks, with cute-but-not-too-cute looks, faux-urban posturing, and matching costumes. At one point, a member even had payis.
“Non-Jewish kids have had something for a long time,” says Rafaeli. “It was time for the Jewish kids to have a group with the same energy. Now everyone wants them. In Israel, in Russia … in Michigan!”Since releasing their first CD, Shema Yisroel (“Hear, O Israel”), last April – the techno-pop collection of Hebrew prayers comes with the advisory “Please do not play this album on Shabbat” – the boys have hit the Catskills and electrified outer-borough shuls. And now in Manhattan, Hamsa was in the house (of worship) again. Well, most of Hamsa. Stealing a page from Destiny’s Child, the band has already lost a member, Rocky. “Scheduling conflict,” says 25-year-old David. “We’re still good friends.” (Rocky’s replacement, Rafi, is the new designated “bad boy.”)
After the emcee plugged coupons for local kosher restaurants, the Hamsa Boys launched into a 60-minute, two-encore, five-costume set culminating in a Michael Jackson–esque routine that had them stroking the brims of their black fedoras. Congregants were on their feet, but things didn’t get as crazy as they have at other shows. “We played haftr” – the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway – “and the girls were hanging from the rafters,” says David. “I was literally afraid for their life.” They’ve yet to be mobbed on the street, though. “We rehearse in Far Rockaway,” adds David, “and when we go out for falafel, some girls recognize us. It’s nice.”