97-year-old Emily Kessler shows off her mandolin technique / Courtesy
When Emily Kessler escaped the Nazis, she stopped enjoying the music she used to sing with her parents in pre-war Ukraine. But after 40 years, Kessler finally returned to the songs she loved so much. Since then, she hasn’t stopped.
Now, this 97-year-old Holocaust survivor will fulfill her dream of playing Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night.
Kessler’s debut concert will be the special performance at the annual charity dinner of the Blue Card Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides support to Holocaust survivors. In her melodic voice, Kessler, who has personally been a beneficiary of the Blue Card Fund for nearly two decades, will sing the Yiddish and Russian folk songs of her childhood, and play her beloved string instrument, the mandolin.
Kessler remembers the first time she was exposed to this sort of music in her shtetl, Khmelnik, in Ukraine. “I was singing at home since I was a child with both of my parents,” she recalled. “They had very nice voices.” Kessler learned to play both the mandolin and the violin in 1927 when she was just ten years old.
“Her music expresses the ghetto, Ukraine, and losing family,” said Masha Pearl, the executive director of The Blue Card Fund, explaining why Kessler will be this year’s special performer. Pearl believes that Kessler’s music “represents both sorrow and hope.”
An all-female, all-Hasidic rock band? Alright!
Throw in an all-women crowd, and you’ve got the Bulletproof Stockings show which took place at Arlene’s Grocery last night.
After several unsuccessful attempts, in which venues have backed out last minute, Bulletproof Stockings finally managed to showcase their music and let their hair down (figuratively, as all band members wear wigs, per Orthodox custom) with their fans.The five-part band played to a packed house at the rock venue in New York’s Lower East Side.
For the first time in its history, Arlene’s Grocery closed its doors to men, who were allowed in the bar outside, but not by the actual stage. The modesty prohibition of kol isha forbids women to sing in front of men. As a result, Bulletproof Stockings only performs for women.
Bulletproof Stockings // Facebook
It isn’t everyday that Arlene’s Grocery hosts a show for women only. But that’s what will happen Thursday night when the all-female Hasidic rock band Bulletproof Stockings takes the stage at the iconic Lower East Side venue.
The modesty prohibition of kol isha states that Hasidic women cannot sing in front of men. The group — led by Perl Wolfe, 27, and Dalia Shusterman, 40 – has had trouble booking gigs restricting male attendance in New York City after forming in Brooklyn a few years ago. The manager of Arlene’s Grocery was hard to convince at first, but she warmed up to the idea after seeing how devoted Wolfe and Shusterman were to gaining fans. They hit the streets to promote the show and got signatures from women who promised to see them play.
“We did take a little bit of a risk on them,” the venue’s manager, Julia Darling, told the New York Post. So far there have been no complaints. The Post notes that Arlene’s male employees are exempt from the ban.
The band says their style is influenced by blues, jazz, rock, and even classical music. Wolfe’s piano playing is front and center.
Thursday’s show will be filmed by the Oxygen Network for their upcoming series “Living Different.”
Back in her ‘90s heyday, Lisa Loeb was responsible for the tortoiseshell-cateye-glasses trend, and of course for being the first-ever unsigned artist to have a No. 1 single. (That would be the super-addictive “Stay” from the “Reality Bites” soundtrack.) Now that Loeb is a semi-retired wife and mom, she’s setting a different kind of trend. She recently talked to People magazine about how her two kids, Lyla and Emet, got their names.
Loeb and her husband, Rory Hershkovitz, are both Jewish. He’s Israeli, and Lisa’s family is from the South, where their accents sometimes have trouble pronouncing Hebrew names. So Loeb and Hershkovitz came up with a plan: They chose kids’ names that were Jewish, easy to spell and easy to pronounce with Texas accents. As Loeb points out in her blog, “Lyla” (usually transliterated in English as “Lilah”) means “night,” and “Emet” means “truth.” I’m from North Carolina, where our accents tend to over-emphasize first syllables, and I think that “LIE-lahh” just flows right off of the tongue. Lisa knows of what she speaks.
However, Loeb isn’t the only parent in this country rethinking her approach to kids’ names. According to the US social security administration, Lyla has jumped in popularity for newborns in America. The name ranked No. 864 in 2005 and No. 127 in 2011. (I have a theory that some of this popularity bounce isn’t from Jews at all but from people who liked Minka Kelly’s character Lyla Garrity on “Friday Night Lights.” Then again, that’s harder to prove.) Loeb’s spelling of Emet doesn’t even hit the top 1,000 boys’ names, but the more commonly spelled Emmett is also a rising star, hitting No. 222 last year. I also wonder whether Loeb’s Texas relatives are Dallas Cowboys fans — if so, it wouldn’t be surprising that her son’s name bore similarity to former Cowboys running back and local hero Emmitt Smith.
It was small, low-key and the participants numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands. But a crowd of Israeli women took to the streets to speak out — or, more accurately, sing out — against the continuing attacks by religious extremists on women’s right to be seen and heard freely in the public square.
The November 11 action was a long time coming. Too long. As Sisterhood readers know, for months the situation has become increasingly disturbing. There has been: bus segregation, harassment of schoolgirls in Beit Shemesh, streets free of females in Mea Shearim during Sukkot, soldiers walking out on ceremonies that include women singing in the IDF and women soldiers being excluded from Simchat Torah celebrations, in addition to disappearing and defaced images of women on Jerusalem billboards. None of it is new.
Astoundingly, until now, no Israeli women’s organization took the initiative to organize a public event of any kind to express the anger and frustration of Israeli women at these developments. So the 11-11-11 singing protest, created single-handedly by intrepid blogger Hila Benyovich-Hoffman, and promoted on her Facebook page, finally brought some objection to the public square was sorely overdue.
Good news — Israeli women are fighting back against those who would hide and silence them.
Recent developments for women in Israel have been worrisome and depressing, as readers of this blog are well aware. There has been increasing gender separation on buses and on public streets, harassment of young Beit Shemesh girls whose only crime is attending their school, trouble in the Israel Defense Forces with religious officers walking out of ceremonies in which women are singing, as well as the disappearance of women from Jerusalem billboards.
For Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman, a Tel Aviv woman who has a master’s degree in gender studies, works as a technical writer and blogs about women’s issues, it has all become too much. She decided that someone had to take action. On her Hebrew-language blog and on a Facebook event page she created, she announced a Tel Aviv street protest in which a group of women would stand in public and sing, to make their voices heard.
The tidal wave of response to her initiative has been “unexpected and overwhelming,” she told The Sisterhood in an interview.
I recently went down to the Bowery Ballroom to see the rock band Wild Flag perform. They’re a fairly new all-female rock group consisting of two of Sleater-Kinney’s Jewish former members, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, and two other pioneering female rockers, Rebecca Cole and Mary Timony.
I’d been listening to their new album, “Wild Flag,” on repeat and was excited for show because their stage antics and energy are already legendary. But I didn’t know how much just seeing them launch into an aggressive rock set in person would resonate and feel like a call to arms.
After all, this is a moment when notions of power and pushing back against the status quo are at the forefront of my mind, in light of the “Occupy” movement that has seized the national spotlight and wrapped progressives up in revolutionary fervor.
Miri Ben-Ari, the Israeli “hip-hop violinist” who has played with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys and who recently was honored by Michelle Obama at the White House this week, has single-handedly turned the violin into a cool instrument.
It’s wonderful to have a glamorous female role model who has mastered music. While “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua may have had the energy to stand over her daughters for hours of practice and turn them into virtuosos, we weaker-willed Western moms are always looking for ways to motivate our daughters to take up a musical instrument and practice diligently.
And now we can point to Ben-Ari, in her designer dresses and with her glamorous celebrity lifestyle. Presumably, it works much better than attempting to get them excited about playing in some boring old symphony.
Singer and songwriter Sara Kamin jokes that she never sleeps. That’s because she’s juggling a burgeoning music career with teaching college-level psychology classes and completing her post-graduate studies in psychotherapy. The Toronto-based Kamin, 30. has three folk/pop/blues albums under her belt. And her music has been getting increased attention — and airplay — thanks in part to her new hit single “Superhero.” Kamin, whose summer calendar is packed with gigs in the U.S. and Canada, recently spoke with Sisterhood contributor Renee Ghert-Zand about the balancing act that is her life.
Renee Ghert-Zand: How long have you been singing and playing music?
The 1990s era music festival Lilith Fair — like The Sisterhood’s fellow Jewish women’s magazine Lilith — derives its name from the Jewish medieval myth about the first woman on earth, exiled because of her refusal to submit to Adam’s rule. A nebulous character who shows up in various cultural myths, the Lilith figure has become both a proto-feminist heroine and a demonic femme fatale.
In keeping with its lightning-rod namesake, the music festival has attracted its share of controversy and derision, dismissed as a stereotypical touchy-feely estrogen festival of bad music. Recent news that Lilith Fair was coming back for a 2010 tour brought a chorus of shrugs in the blogosphere, mostly from feminists dismissing music from the likes of Jewel, Sarah McLachlan and Paula Cole as over-earnest molasses-pop, the kind of earth-mother stuff that gives the women’s movement a bad name tempered by brief nods to the fact that the actual musical acts at the festival varied from Christina Aguilera to Casandra Wilson to Joan Baez to Missy Elliot.
But I have to disagree: I was exposed to those artists in middle school. During those socially conformist years, top 40 radio was embraced by every single kid in my age group, from the future punk devotee to the future folkie to the future hip-hop head. The idea that one should look at Jewel through an ironic lens wasn’t even considered; instead, my fellow sensitive 13-year olds and I gathered around her lyrics sheet and talked about how deep she was.
Growing up I didn’t much think about my wedding. This is not to say I didn’t dream about the man I would one day marry; I did that plenty. But the details — a white tulle dress, a tiered fondant cake — were never part of that revelry. I have stayed true to the girl I once was, and have managed to plan a low-key wedding that bucks most of the costly and extravagant traditions. But there is one thing I can’t resist from the American storybook wedding, and as a young Jewish woman, it is the probably the worst of the lot: I want Wager’s “Bridal Chorus.”
Much of my ambition with wedding planning has been to strip off the excess that has been layered on the American wedding over the last 20 years, and pare it down to the traditions I find pretty and simple. For me Wagner’s song, which comes from the opera “Lohengrin,”), fits in this category. The dah-dah-dah-daaaah, whether intuitive or learned, just feels like a wedding procession, allowing a bride to eschew the often too-precious individualism of modern weddings. Using it would be a no-brainer if it weren’t for the composers well documented, not to mention handwritten, antisemitism.
While it would be enough for most that Hitler both adored and was inspired by him, Wagner himself, in 1850, made his own views on Jews public in the essay he penned entitled “Das Judenthum in der Musik,” or “Jewishness in Music.” In this polemic, he claims that Jews are incapable of making good music, and are an overall bad influence on German society. Counter-critics have replied, “some of his best friends were Jewish.” While that was likely true, as was the fact that his motivations were likely bound up in some nascent form of national ideology that makes them even just the tiniest bit more sensible within context, there is really not much wiggle room here.