June 18, 2009

Six Orthodox Jewish women have formed their own rock band, giving women from their community the first opportunity to let loose in a girls-only environment.

If there is one thing that religious girls in Israel like to do on holidays and celebrations, it’s dance. But Orthodox prohibitions prevent them from forming their frenetic dancing circles in front of men. Considered immodest, the religious Jewish girls put up a curtain in front of the men – who are usually the ones playing the dance music – instead. 

“But it feels like we are dancing to a tape recorder,” says Inbar Gassner, 22, who is the bass guitarist in Israel’s first all-female religious rock group. Comprised of six musicians, the band called Ashira “she will sing,” formed three years ago so that women from the religious community could have the same fun at parties as men. 

Today Ashira is making headlines around the world, for its women-only policy at concerts. They are also striking a chord among Israel’s secular audience as well, despite the fact that their songs all have a religious theme. Their upcoming album will have a warning label: for women only. 

“At first the idea was Pnina Weintraub’s, the violinist,” Gassner tells ISRAEL21c. “She was very angry because during all the dancing circles we do at schools and during the holidays like Purim, Passover and Rosh Hodesh we would have to bring a man to come play. 

“It was very annoying that there are no girl bands that could play music without the separation. Pnina had a dream, her first dream was a band of girls who can play music in front of girls so they could dance and have fun.”

A show their husbands will never see

Pnina, who was studying at Bar Ilan University outside of Tel Aviv turned to a friend Yael Taitz who played flute, with the aim of starting a band. 

They found Inbar, then a drummer – Maayan Schweitzer, a guitarist – Lia Bagrish, and now they are working with their second singer, Hagit Tawil, who they found after auditioning about 20 women. 

At first they started playing at women’s seminary colleges, and small halls during the Jewish holidays when live music is permitted. 

Although three of them are married, their husbands will never get to see them perform, since the modesty rule works in both directions: religious Jewish men are not permitted to hear the voice of a woman who is not his wife. They are also not allowed to see women dancing. 

Rock is for letting loose

“Whoever invented rock did it for people to let loose,” Weintraub told the <i>Associated Press</I>: “It’s not just sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Our music is very liberating, and that is very important for our community.”

The band plays Irish music, rock music, Jewish music, and songs that they’ve written. “We play lots of genres of music,” says Inbar who is hoping to become big in Israel.  

“We play everything that makes sense for the songs. We do covers for Jewish songs and we combine them with our songs. This way the audience will know some of the songs, and will feel comfortable,” says Inbar who is married and lives in Petah Tikva. 

The other band members live in the greater Tel Aviv region as well, while practices are held at Bar Ilan University or at Maayan’s house. 

Ashira is convinced that the music they are making is on a par with the music the guys get to listen to at their men-only parties. At Ashira’s last show in Jerusalem about 300 women turned out, both religious and secular. And there is one more twist: they pray before they sing. 

Until recently, Ashira hadn’t thought that much about performing outside Israel. But that’s changed. “Invite us and we will come,” says Inbar. 

Take note that all the men will be locked out of the show.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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