The recent explosion of talented Orthodox Jewish music artists has given rise to a new wave of Jewish summer music festivals. The past few years, visionaries have started to create spaces to bring diverse audiences together to celebrate this artistic renaissance. However, at large public events, the plethora of artists starts and stops with male performers.
We are Esther Freeman and Laura Melnicoff. Esther Freeman is a singer-songwriter who, for the last fifteen years, has sung for Jewish women and girls of all ages and backgrounds in countries throughout Europe, Scandinavia, in Israel, the Caribbean, and throughout the United States. Her audiences range from intimate gatherings, to the thousands in attendance at international conventions for Chabad Emissaries.
For both of us, our engagement in the Jewish world as musicians has been limited to private venues.
Laura Melnicoff is a cellist, classically trained at the conservatories of New York City, and holds a Masters in Cello Performance from Tel Aviv University. Her performances have included the stages of Carnegie Hall, the Women’s International Convention for Chabad Emissaries, tours in Europe and Israel, and an internship with the Israel Philharmonic. For both of us, our engagement in the Jewish world as musicians has been limited to private venues.
The term “kol isha,” Hebrew for “voice of a woman,” is a reference to a Jewish law that is an obligation for men to avoid listening to the singing voice of a woman. This presents some challenges for Orthodox women singers. Can we expect to make albums that sell? Is it possible and worth it to perform at a festival where half the audience will not be in attendance for us? It would seem to make more financial sense to showcase male artists for the sake of revenue, since there is no injunction on women listening to men sing. This outlook obviously discourages and stifles the self expression of women.
This law enshrines the unique environment of a women’s-only space, where women can connect in an intimate way with each other.
It’s time to shift the focus. This approach has ignored the possibilities of honoring kol isha to foster women’s spaces and communities. The term is derived from the Talmudic phrase, “kol isha b’erva: a woman’s voice is an intimate part of her body.” Though intimate, we share it. We believe that this law enshrines the unique environment of a women’s-only space, where women can connect in an intimate way with each other.
Last summer, Sababa Fest, an Orthodox Jewish music festival, kicked off for the first time. The organizers, Alter Deitsch and Mendel Sherman, worked together with singer-songwriter Esther Freeman to address this pressing need for Orthodox women to perform on the Jewish music festival circuit. Blazing the trail, they produced a revolutionary Shabbat candle lighting ceremony for women that included a set by Esther. The popularity of the ceremony and positive feedback was hugely encouraging, sparking plans to do bigger and better this year.
We still need to lay the financial infrastructure to support women at these events.
Sababa Fest 2018 will be taking place June 7-10 in Honesburg, PA. Junity Music and Arts Festival, the newest to join the ranks of the Orthodox Jewish arts platforms, is having its debut June 3rd in Los Angeles. The producers at both Sababa and Junity have set up women’s spaces and time slots for acts featuring female singers. Although the path has been cleared, we still need to lay the financial infrastructure to support women at these events. Now that Jewish music festivals are a yearly fixture, we are working to maximize the opportunities for women to have the limelight.
Sponsorship for these events in general is limited. The Jewish music industry has long been a community of men, because the financial incentives intuitively rely on the male acts that can guarantee revenue. That is why we are turning to crowdfunding to raise the initial investment to set the stage, permanently, for women at Orthodox music events.
The Jewish music industry has long been a community of men.
Until the financial infrastructure and physical accommodations are built for Orthodox female musicians at Jewish music festivals, they will continue to be relegated to the side as a novelty, their self-expression minimized as solely a hobby. Looking at numbers and projected sales based on the past stunts the future, since this is uncharted territory. It misses the true value of featuring female performers.
However, we have a vision for Orthodox women to have our voice heard at public cultural events. The path has been cleared, the trail blazed. Now we have to lay the financial infrastructure. We are turning to crowdfunding to set the stage, literally and figuratively, for women at Orthodox music events.
This is a cause that makes a difference for all of us.
In extending the fundraising to as many people as possible, we are uniting all our communities in making a lasting statement: this is a cause that makes a difference for all of us. This is the seed money, the initial investment, to make an immediate change that will give the voices of women a permanent presence in these cultural events.
We are creating the space that we want, designing the environment that we believe will create all-encompassing positive change for our communities and beyond.
Please join us.
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