There is no sisterhood comparable to the sisterhood of Jewish women, whether experiential, practical or spiritual. Abiding and often unspoken, there is a bond of silent understanding that dates back through an unbroken chain of millennia to our earliest beginnings, that of our holy matriarchs. We seek out and support each other; we live and learn by example, and we hold each other up in good times and hard times. We transform energy and potential into action and conviction. In this way, we also hold up the nation.
As founder and director of HERe Happenings for Jewish Women, Leslie Gold Ruder brings a lifetime of credentials, experience and professionalism to the organization. HERe Happenings provides Jewish women with unique, fresh and enjoyable events for the expression of their creativity, while being entertained and uplifted. It creates a venue for meeting new friends, for collaboration with colleagues and peers and engaging in meaningful conversations.
“The ultimate goal,” said Ruder, “is to energize and inspire Jewish women to be joyous in their daily lives, which is crucial to the health of the entire Jewish people!”
Ruder said that her inspiration for HERe Happening was “to bring frum Jewish women together for elevation and relaxation in a variety of settings, while creating opportunities for talented female performers in the frum world to shine their light on us all.”
HERe Happenings has produced and presented numerous live and Zoom concerts by and for the Orthodox Jewish community of women, and this Sunday, December 11 is the next opportunity to join live or via Zoom. The live performance, to be held in Paramus on Sunday evening, will include wine and cheese, plus an intimate off-camera live jam session with the artists.
The Jewish Link was privileged to engage in a pre-show behind-the-scenes dialogue with each of the artists, for a glimpse into their perspectives on music, performing as a frum woman, and advice to aspiring girls and young women.
Shaindel Antelis related: “I grew up in a house full of music. My father, Moshe Antelis, is a baal teshuva who was very successful in the secular music industry before becoming observant. We had a recording studio in our home, and I remember people coming in and out to record. I thought, Hey one day I’d love to do that, too! I started writing songs around the age of 11 or 12, and it helped me get through some difficult times … Not finding much Jewish women’s music with English and relatable lyrics when I was young, I wanted to put out music about my personal life and struggles in hope that it could give people chizuk and help them feel less alone.”
Asked what success means, Antelis shared a poignant story: “When CDs were the primary way to listen to music, I was so excited to come out with my first album. I was told by one of the main Jewish music distributors that women’s music doesn’t sell, so they weren’t interested in distributing my albums. I was devastated. Baruch Hashem, I had to reorder thousands of copies of albums over the years and they sold very nicely just from me selling them at gigs. Eventually that distributor did want to distribute my albums. … I think there is a market for women’s performances, but in the [Jewish] religious world it’s not really an option [to tour and perform for months at time], as many women are raising families, etc.
“I want to let girls and women know not to give up on their dreams, but I also want them to know that it’s not an easy field to be in; they will need to give it time and patience. Sometimes it looks like people gain overnight success, but usually it’s many years in the making.”
Esther Berger Pitterman also shared her thoughts: “The conventional definition of ‘success’ in regards to the performing arts is having the most listeners, playing on the most tours, and having the biggest fan base. When it comes to Orthodox women performing, the measure for success is vastly different. Success to me is every time I hear that my music has helped someone through a hard time, uplifted or validated them, I am touched and gratified. I am not looking or expecting to have a very large fan base or to go on fancy, exciting tours. I truly think sharing my music and having it be a part of others’ inner dialogue is how I would define success as an Orthodox Jewish female vocalist.
“Performing in public is a powerful and intimate experience. I feel that I can reach the audience in a deeper way when I am live. … In terms of my musical career, putting myself out there and performing is important to ensure my music reaches a wider audience.”
Pitterman’s advice to aspiring musicians and vocalists was straightforward: “Keep pursuing your musical talent! It is a vital outlet like no other. Your talent will evolve as you evolve, and it may take you by surprise. My style has changed over the years and I’ve written things that surprised me. As I’ve had different experiences and struggles, I’ve written more and more music. I can see my journey in my songs, and they are a timeline of my life.”
Tzippora (Amster) Rothberg expounded on the importance of performing in public: “There is nothing like experiencing the pulse of energy in the room from touching people with music. It hits everyone in a much different way than recorded music ever can. There is a deep sense of fulfillment from being able to share my music with people, to express the themes in my songs that often have to do with my reflections on the complexity of life and how the themes from the Torah are applicable and speaking to us today.”
Rothberg went on to explain that passion and meaning are the driving forces behind her pursuit of music. “The artistic nature of music, the ability for music to pull at your heartstrings, and the brilliance in the creation of music is what sparked my interest and propelled my journey in the musical world. As a young child, I began singing and composing my own songs about anything and everything, from simple, joyful themes to deep philosophical concepts. Twelve years of piano lessons provided some decent classical training, but more importantly, I came out with a sense of ownership over the various compositions I experimented with over the years.
“I wrote a song at sleepaway camp and performed it. People loved it! I loved it! And then it snowballed into something much larger. Not only did I continue composing, but I recorded some of my songs professionally, which are now available via online platforms. I gave multiple concerts for women, showcasing my original music. I have given songwriting workshops, and have a recording studio where I specialize in creating soundtracks for [other] artists’ original soundtracks. I also give piano lessons, and my most valuable ‘training’ comes from trial and error, experimentation and asking questions from those more experienced than me. I am forever grateful to my parents, who have continuously encouraged me to use the gifts I was given and not to be afraid of trying something new.”
Rothberg’s advice to girls and women echoed the sentiments of the others. “Stick with what you are interested in and don’t be afraid to work at something. I did not like practicing piano, but stuck with it and I came out with something so valuable. I learned not to be afraid to ask questions. … Go and do something with your passion—record a song or start learning how to play an instrument!”
If you’d like to give yourself a really special gift before Chanukah this year, tickets to the concert, wine and cheese tasting and post-concert jam session are still available by visiting the HERe Happenings website. The live performance will take place at 7 p.m. this Sunday evening at Forte Piano Music Company, 159 West Route 4, Paramus.
You can also attend via Zoom. Reasonably priced tickets for either option, as well as sponsorships and other information, are available at www.herehappenings.org
HERe Happenings also supports women in need, and is an IRS sanctioned 501(c)(3) charity, so donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. You can also reach them at (973) 800- 6243.
By Ellie Wolf