Arise, Arise: A New Wave of Jewish Women Musicians
Yesterday I attended a workshop on themes of social justice in Jewish music. I was given a music packet that included songs by Bob Dylan, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary), Pete Seeger, Jeff Klepper, the stud-of-a-Jewish-Rockstar Rick Recht, and E18hteen (the modern Jewish rock band founded by Dan Nichols). "E18hteen" sings that catchy song "Kehilah, Kedoshah" which is all the rage in Reform Jewish camps (I'm not going to lie -- I dig this song despite its cheesiness).
Disturbingly, there was only one woman included in the packet of Jewish social justice singer-songwriters. Can you guess who she is? That's right: Debbie Friedman (coincidentally, today is the 13th anniversary of Debbie Friedman's 1996 sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall). While Debbie Friedman may be the best known and most influential female singer-songwriter in the world of Jewish social justice-themed music, and while she's certainly had an extraordinary impact on Jewish experience in the United States (particularly in the Reform Movement), she isn't the only American Jewess in the Jewish music scene. Indeed, there are plenty of younger female Jewish musicians shaking up today's music in new, creative ways with Jewish social justice messages expressed through their lyrics and performance styles. To name a few:
Basya Schechter, founder of Pharaoh's Daughter, blends Hasidic chants, Mizrachi and Sephardi folk melodies, and music from Central Africa, Turkey, Kurdistan and Greece in ways that bridge the divide between religious and secular Jewish expression.
Jewlia Eisenberg, founder of the radical, punky group Charming Hostess, explores the relationship between Jewish text, the female body, sex, and the rich traditions of the Babylonian Jews.
Louisa Rachel Solomon, co-founder and bassist of The Shondes - a queer Jewish political punk band - composes and performs songs about peace in Israel/Palestine.
Naomi Less, "Jewess-Empowerer Extraordinare," performs gender justice-themed songs at Jewish organizational gatherings, encouraging Jewish girls to raise their voices louder than her own.
Sandy Opatow of Emma's Revolution (named for none other than the revolutionary Emma Goldman), sings about gender justice, global human rights, and peace in the Middle East. (You might not know that "Emma's Revolution" created the "Peace, Salaam, Shalom" T-shirt, born out of their song "Peace, Salaam, Shalom")
Sarah Mina Gordon, a Yiddish lyricist and singer, co-directs "Yiddish Princess," a project that blends traditional Yiddish music with American power-pop ballads of the 1980s. (How cool is that?!)
Who else is out there?
How to cite this page
Namerow, Jordan. "Arise, Arise: A New Wave of Jewish Women Musicians." 7 January 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 22, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/new-wave-of-jewish-women-musicians>.