Bulletproof Stockings

Not these….

Filazi Satin 70 Opaque Tight 49


Photo: Thanks to all the ladies who totally filled up the house and sang your hearts out around the post concert bonfire till the wee hours. You are why we do what we do. May all your Lag b'Omer prayers be answered in complete revelation...<3, BPS
The hasidic Alt Rock Girl Band out of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Their music is inspired by the likes of Radiohead, the White Stripes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. The band’s name, “Bulletproof stockings” is a reference to the thick, opaque hosiery traditionally worn by hasidic women. The band is made up of four women – Perl Wolfe on Lead Vocals and Piano, Dalia G. Shusterman on Drums and Vocals, and Laura Kegles/Elisheva Maister who both play the Cello. Their Facebook page gives a brief history of the group:

“Perl Wolfe and Dalia G. Shusterman met on a rainy night in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in December of 2011. Perl played her songs, and Dalia knew just what to do, like she had heard them before in another lifetime. The connection was made, and Bulletproof Stockings was formed. They recorded their first single “Frigid City,” and played their first show at “In The Glow,” a benefit concert at Lubavitcher Yeshiva for a local school, less than one month after meeting. In March 2012, they recorded and released their first EP album “Down to the Top.” They’ve since played many shows all around New York, and recently played their first show in Los Angeles.”

A Times of Israel article and a New York Post article give background on the two founding band members, Perl Wolfe and Dalia Shusterman. By day, Shusterman, in her mid-30s, is a part-time graphic designer and recently widowed mother of four young boys between the ages of two and eight. Wolfe, a 26-year-old divorcée, is a makeup artist who manages a cosmetics store in Boro Park that caters mainly to hasidic women.

The two are committed to performing for women only audiences. In addition to following the laws of kol isha, a rabbinic prohibition which prohibits Jewish men from hearing women sing, Wolfe posits that, “Women will party and rock out in a completely different way when there’s nobody there but women,”

Critics are saying that the band does not try hard enough not to attract a male audience. Many of the listeners purchasing their four-track EP “Down to the Top.” are men. They are currently number 12 on the ReverbNation Alternative charts for Brooklyn, NY. Critics came out of the woodwork after a photo montage of the women posing in front of the Lubavitch Chabad headquarters appeared on CrownHeights.info:

20121004-bulletproof stockings multi

In the blog article, Shusterman said:

“The deal is that it’s not a women’s mitzvah not to play,” explained Shusterman, using a term for a religious commandment. Her speech, in English, is riddled with Hebrew and Yiddish terms. “It’s a man’s mitzvah not to listen. Anyone who knows halacha [Jewish law] will tell you this. There are plenty of frum [religious] women putting their music out, and YouTube and Amazon and iTunes are the media for getting it out there. And especially for parnasa [income], it’s not even a question.”

“We could sing in the middle of the street and all the men would have to leave. But for the sake of ahavat yisrael [love of fellow Jews], we don’t make issues for people,” Wolfe said.

“Where we draw our line is who we will perform live for,” Shusterman said. “We are not going to put men in a position where they have to listen to us.”

But they are more interested in the flip side of the gender equation. “We are creating a forum where women can freely express themselves without having the male input and presence,” Shusterman said.”

Some of the negative reader comments are below –

“I need to throw up. First of all, why is there a picture like this on a public website?! secondly, WHERE IS CHABAD GOING?!? UGH. Not what I want my family involved in. I am all for niggunim and inspirational music, but this definitely needs to be promoted differently.”

Another commenter wrote – “hello? is this an impression u want to give? whats the point! not impressed at all…. ;(“

Yet another commenter wrote – “Sadly its the women who have been dragging the name of Lubavitch throu the gutters,
there is nothing good about your music or about you and why do you need to go to radio head and other such people to get your inspiration Whats wrong with the rebbe and rabbi akiva ager and the bal shem tov…Your truly nothing but a failur.”

“Last time i checked “chabad” is detirmined by the rebbe. I don’t belive the rebbe would approve of women making a rock band modeled after goyishe singers. I am 100% sure the rebbe would not approve putting such pictures online as it is not in the spirit of orthodox judiasim and for sure not in the spirit of chabad which as the rebbe said is frumkiet plus. People have confused chabad’s kiruv work with the way a lubavitcher should be. Now before getting upset think what the rebbe would say. And base your opinion on what the rebbe actually said (look in sichos and igros kodesh) not what you think the rebbe meant.”

“I see in Mishpacha magazine, that rarely will you see pictures of women. Why here, for all the men to see, a picture of 2 very attractive women? Where oh where is the bottom line.”

There are 65 comments on the CrownHeights.info article, some positive and many negative. What seemed to bother people the most was the pictures that were shown of the women. From the reactions, you would have thought it was a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition!

I think that these women are doing very important work. We have far too few orthodox Jewish female musicians. These women are an inspiration to girls interested in pursuing musical careers or even playing as a hobby. Bulletproof Stockings does have a tough path ahead of them.  It is very difficult to garner a steady following when Jewish radio stations won’t play and promote your music, Jewish music websites won’t promote female musicians, and only women buy your music and concert tickets.

Additionally, the financial viability of the music industry has imploded for even the most popular secular musicians due to illegal downloading of albums and singles. Even male hasidic superstars like Mordechai Ben David, who is listened to by men and women all over the world, have been hit hard. Mordechai Ben David stated that illegal CD burning and internet downloads were ruining the industry and making albums financially non profitable.

It doesn’t surprise me that Bulletproof Stockings have so many secular artists as their influence. Speaking as a woman, there are very few places to get female musical inspiration in the frum community. Women who love to sing or play instruments have to rely mainly on secular role models. The closest we get to hearing soprano or female alto ranges is The Miami Boys Choir. I always found it kind of creepy that male musicians must use young boys for what would normally be female parts in songs. Bulletproof Stockings is changing all that. I wish them continued success.


Haredi High-Tech Heroes

Tehiya Dayan (left) and Lior Halavi (second from left) accept awards for their aerospace project.
Photo credit: Israel Hayom.com

Anytime I hear about ultra orthodox Jewish women who expand beyond the boundaries of societal expectations I get excited.  I read with interest a recent article from Ynet news that talked about Tehiya Dayan and Lior Halavi, two ultra orthodox graduates from the Lustig Institute (or Machon Lustig) in Ramat Gan.  The Lustig Insititute provides technological training to haredi women, many of whom will be married to men learning in kollel full time.  As the sole financial providers for their families, they will be able to maintain a more secure and comfortable lifestyle through their higher education.

The American Embassy in Israel met with Dayan and Halavi because of an advanced chip they developed for the American defense industry.  As part of the two students’ work with the Verisense company, they were required to develop a code that would simulate the activity of the chip, which would eventually be installed in a space vehicle, and ensure that it properly communicates with its surroundings.

In the article Lior Halavi explains, “All I can say is that it’s for a defense industry. We didn’t know much about what it was supposed to do either, as we naturally received very specific and focused data.  It’s a very expensive development.  Producing the chip and then discovering that it has problems would cause serious damage. Our development saved a lot of money.”

The American Embassy has a strong interest in getting more haredi women involved in high-tech fields.  They plan to work with the Lustig Institute to assist students through mentoring and training.

Tehiya Dayan briefly touches on the controversial nature of haredi women working in secular professions that are largely dominated by men:

“Dayan, who is married and has a child, lives in the northern haredi community of Rechasim. The long way she made from the local Beit Yaakov high-school to the defense industry is a very unusual sight in the local landscape.

“I really don’t understand what the fuss is all about,” she says modestly. “I am very happy with what we did. I also received many warm regards from residents who are very proud of us. Naturally, there are also those who are not.

“There is now a very strong trend of haredi girls integrating into high-tech. Personally, I am rather exceptional because I went to study it academically, and in Lustig of all places, which is considered modern compared to the background I come from. And yet, it is definitely unacceptable working in a clear secular or security-related environment.”

If ultra orthodox women are going to be placed into the roles of bread winners, than they need to have the education and job experience necessary to support large families.  Machon Lustig has an educational environment that will enhance and collaborate with the principles of their ultra-orthodox upbringing.  I commend the staff, graduates, and current students of Machon Lustig and wish them every success in the future.  I hope in the near future similar programs sprout up to offer haredi women even more lucrative career choices in environments that cater to their comfort.

Don’t Get it Twisted, Lapid – Haredi Women are Used to Hard Work

employment fair for the Haredi community - Hagai Fried - 27012012

Photo by Hagai Fried in Haaretz-An employment fair for the Haredi community

I have always been befuddled by the kollel lifestyle.  Growing up in a secular home, I was raised to believe that the husband was the breadwinner for the family.  Even in my day, the idea was becoming outmoded, and the trend was that husbands and wives shared the burden of earning a living.  However, my parents were an older generation than most of my friend’s parents, and this was how they were raised.

Even though I always knew I wanted to attend college and have a career, it was still ingrained in me that my husband would be the steady financial provider throughout our marriage.  However, we have taken turns throughout our marriage for being the main breadwinner.  In general, women make less money than men do.  The first few years of our marriage, when my husband was still in school, were lean years indeed.  Despite our initial hardships, we always looked forward to the day when my husband would graduate, and begin to earn a decent wage.

The kollel lifestyle is one where the husband is not expected to financially provide for his family.  Rather, he will spiritually provide for them by sitting in a beis medrash and learning full time for the rest of his life.  His wife’s parnassah (salary), parental assistance,  and in some cases, government assistance will be expected to provide for the financial and material needs of the family.  This way of life has become more popular as the orthodox community becomes more haredi.  It creates a system of continuous poverty that necessitates these large families having to ask for tzedaka from their families, friends, communities, and the government.

Of course, there are superstars in the torah world who should be sitting and learning.  Men who have an aptitude and interest in devoting their lives to torah study deserve the opportunity.  However, not everyone is cut out to be a scholar.  For those best suited for the workforce, they would receive more merit for providing for their families and giving tzedaka to others with their earnings, than hanging around the coffee urn and being a bench warmer.

As I said earlier, it is hard for me to understand why any woman would want to enter into this kind of marriage.  The burden of child bearing, child rearing, homemaking, working, and bill paying is almost incomprehensible.   There is a website that gave me some insight into the minds of young women in shidduchim who are looking for “learners.”  The site is called aptly enough,  In Shidduchim.  It is a forum for girls in the same “parsha,” who are looking to get married.

The girls on the site seem so young and innocent.  They seem to have seen so little of the world – particularly the world of men.  They also seem to play such a passive role in the matchmaking game.  It seems that the boys have so many dates to choose from, while the girls seem to have much fewer options.  It seems there is a rush of girls lining up to support a kollel husband for life.  The girls are relegated to sitting at home and hoping the shadchan calls with match.  Sometimes the phone doesn’t ring for months.

Because the shidduch process moves so quickly, there is pressure to determine if they want to marry a boy after only one date.  Marriage being such a monumental decision, girls are constantly doubting their own judgement.  If they say no to another date with the boy because they didn’t feel a “spark,” it is entirely possible that they will have passed up their last opportunity for marriage.  Boys don’t need to think that way, because there is always a healthy line of marital candidates in their dating queue.

Most of the girls on the In Shidduchim site are looking for kollel guys.  Rich or poor, most of these girls want full time learners.  They are fresh from seminaries that teach them that the greatest merit a woman can earn is to support a torah scholar.  All the merit he earns, she will earn as well for being his aizer kenegdo (helpmate).  Some of these girls have fathers who are kollel guys, but many have working fathers.  They don’t know what it is to live in poverty with all the burden of supporting a family on your shoulders.  The kollel life is a romantic fantasy of being in love with a talmud chachum, living in the heart of an ultra orthodox community with other young married kollel couples, and raising lots of Jewish babies  – all on a teacher’s salary.

Young men and women are being indoctrinated at a fast pace that the kollel life is the only life for a torah true Jew.  Even young men and women who grew up in working families are adopting this mindset.  I think that Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s proposed “budget of hope” is not going to have the effect he anticipates if implemented. He believes that cuts in government spending will move Israel from a “culture of stipends to a culture of work.” He has no idea what he is up against.

If anything, Lapid’s plan will make those in the kollel movement dig their heels in even more.  For them, this is a war on torah Judaism.  They truly believe they are protecting the people of Israel as well as Jews everywhere with their learning – and maybe about 10% of them are.  Most people have a hard time getting motivated to go to work in the morning when it is expected of them.  If your wife, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, and your rabbi were all telling you shouldn’t even think about working a job, that it actually is a sin to work – would you be compelled to rebel?

Practically speaking, Lapid’s proposed budget cuts for child allowance programs are going to hurt the main haredi population who are working – the women!   Without the child allowance subsidies, many women might not be able to afford childcare to go to work.  These women, financially speaking, are like single mothers.  Yes, some might have parental help, but as we are getting into second and third generations of kollel lifestyle families, previous generations are as broke as the next.

So many kollel wives are struggling with the herculean task of working while raising large families.  It is the children and women who will suffer under these cutbacks.   I don’t know of a way to “punish” the men into the workforce without punishing their wives and children too.  All I do know, is that ultra orthodox women should not be lumped into the same category as their men.  Women are workers, and it would be nice if Lapid made that distinction.

Catfish – The Rabbi Episode

Rabbi Michael Broyde might be the first catfish rabbi.  For those unfamiliar, the term “catfish” was coined by a young man named Yaniv “Nev” Schulman, who made a 2010 documentary about his experience falling in love on Facebook with a fictitious young lady named, Megan.  Nev was so taken in by the girl that wanted to meet her in real life.  However, every time they came close to meeting, she had an excuse as to why she couldn’t.  As his doubts compiled, Nev decided to film his journey to find Megan.  When they finally met, Megan turned out to be Angela – a middle aged married woman with multiple online identities.

Angela’s husband, Vince, tells a story in the film. He says that when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish’s inactivity in their tanks resulted in only mushy flesh reaching the destination; but fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active, and thus ensured the quality of the fish. Vince talks of how there are people in everyone’s lives who keep us active, always on our toes and always thinking. It is implied that he believes Angela to be such a person.

Nev Schulman has gone on to create an MTV series called, Catfish.  The show profiles those who, like Nev, have been involved with people who created fake online identities.  Apparently, there are quite a few people who spend their days creating personae online.  It is quite complicated and requires pilfering other people’s photos, coming up with background stories, creating fake friends and colleagues for the false characters, obtaining multiple cell phone numbers for each character, etc.  Many of the imposters on the MTV show lead fairly solitary lives and prefer to live in their fake universe without thought to the damage they do.  A famous Catfish case that was recently in the news featured Notre Dame linebacker, Manti Te’o.

Like a catfish, Rabbi Broyde certainly has everyone stirred up.  Perhaps the orthodox community is late to the games played by insecure and lonely souls on social media sites.  We have quickly caught up with this incident.  It’s hard to know what kind of insecurities caused Rabbi Broyde to create false online identities praising and supporting his own scholarship and career.  Certainly, he was already a well received personality in the orthodox world.  Despite Broyde’s rapid fall from grace, it can’t be denied that modern orthodox Judaism did lose a prominent figure.  More specifically, modern orthodox women lost a prominent supporter.

Rabbi Broyde’s thoughtful analysis about the future of ordaining women into spiritual leadership roles was progressive, if not cautious.  His endorsement of a pre-nuptial agreement for grooms to promise not to withhold a get showed his commitment to eliminate the plight of the agunah.  Rabbi Broyde even tried to make an argument to free women from the bindings of their headcoverings in a controversial essay.

It remains to be seen whether or not Rabbi Broyde will recover from from his catfish controversy. It also remains to be seen if other prominent orthodox rabbis will step up where he has left off, concerning women’s issues.   Despite his online indiscretions, Rabbi Broyde is a man who has attempted to reconcile halacha with 21st century life.  He is a man who has made efforts to ensure that contemporary orthodoxy maintains the integrity and dignity of Jewish women.  It’s a shame that he could not maintain his own.

To Be Loved is To Be Needed

I just read a fabulous article by Rabbi Eliyahu Fink entitled, Don’t Blame Women for Not Going to Shul.  The article tries to explain why so many orthodox Jewish women do not attend shul on a regular basis.  He talks about some of the reasons that men enjoy going to shul – the ability to participate and be called upon for honors, the socialization, the kiddush food, and the freedom from childcare during services.

Rabbi Fink goes on to say that women do not have any of the above incentives to attend synagogue.  We are not obligated to daven with a minyan, we are never called upon to participate during services, we usually don’t have a regular chevra (group of friends) to socialize with because female attendance is so sporadic, the food at most shul kiddushes is usually cholent and kishke not sushi and salad, and childcare is a chronic issue for those mothers with very young children.

On top of that, we have articles and lectures that tell us that women’s special role is to daven to Hashem one on one – we don’t need the reinforcement of a public forum, but rather, our own homes will do just as well if not better.  Rabbi Fink surmises that if roles were reversed, most men would not go to shul either.

Hadassah Levy writes another article on the subject entitled, Why Women Don’t Go to Shul.  In the article, she links to other orthodox authors who have written on the subject of women feeling excluded in the male-centric world of public prayer.  She summarizes that “Childcare, a later davening time and a more comfortable women’s section would certainly go a long way toward bringing more women to shul.”

When I think about my own connection to shul, I am reminded of the bar mitzvah speech that I gave for my oldest son at the family Friday night dinner.   In the speech, I told my son that right after he was born, I looked at him and thought that I could never love him more than I did at that moment.  When you hold your child in your arms for the first time, your heart fills up in a way that only another parent can understand.

However sincere my thoughts were during the first few minutes of my son’s life, they were wrong.  I could and did love him more.  With every diaper change, every bout of colic, every feeding, every burping, every bath, every clothing change, every cleanup….I loved him more.  As he grew, the tasks of caring for him became more complicated and demanding – he needed more from me emotionally and intellectually.  Being a mother is hard work…but in the doing is the loving.  By his bar mitzvah, I knew enough to know that my love for him would continue to grow.  Every obstacle, every triumph, every shared burden and success – all are the building bricks of loving a child.

For me, the same thing holds true in loving synagogue services.  When you have no role, it is hard to have commitment.  Where there is no work or effort put forth, there can be no love.  Those admirable men who are committed to daily shul attendance have put in the blood, sweat, and tears to feel ownership and pride.  The work they have put into their own tefillos and their spiritual institutions create a sense of love and loyalty.  Women are shut out from that experience.  Unless there is some meaningful way to include us as more than passive observers, orthodox shuls will continue to be men’s clubs, while women will be seeking out membership elsewhere or not at all.