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Jewess » And the Rose Was Not Consumed…: Jewesses, Rebellious and Not, Rock Hard

And the Rose Was Not Consumed…: Jewesses, Rebellious and Not, Rock Hard


by Rebecca Honig Friedman

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The self-proclaimed Jewish Indigo Girls: Oyhoo recording artist Chana Rothman and Jewish Chicks Rock’s Naomi Less at the Rose on Fire Festival

Jewesses rocked the bayit at the Rose on Fire Festival, a women-only musical event, earlier this month. Despite a last-minute change in venue that could easily have put the fire out (a water main break at the Knitting Factory), the show went on, with all fifteen acts playing to a packed and spirited house at Fontana’s, proving that this was no ordinary fire and no ordinary rose.

Presented by Soho Music 39 and Girls’ Night On! (GNO), which organizes women-only open mics in the New York area, the Rose on Fire Festival was a full-on concert, featuring the most popular performers from GNO open mics and other notable female musicians, including up-and-coming Oyhoo recording artist Chana Rothman (featured in this month’s “Women Who Rock” issue of American Jewish Life Magazine) and the debut performance of the very frum, extremely rockin’ “all girls band” Schwadjam.

The crowd, which was largely young and Orthodox but included women of a variety of observance levels and ages, showed an exuberance and enthusiasm that indicated a thirst for this kind of forum, and an excitement at seeing their peers shine onstage.

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Chava, in long skirt andtichel , ripping it up on electric guitar.

The level of talent exhibited and sheer variety of musical styles represented were impressive, from women’s open mic originator Elana Greenspan rapping the playful and hilarious “Fully Halachic With a Beat”; to relative newbie Rebecca Fishman’s dedicating a sultry piano ballad to her husband (who popped in for her performance and left right afterward); to master-guitarist Chava’s classic-rock-esque, electrified compositions using lyrics from Tehillim [Psalms]; to the dynamic duo (they’re sisters and music educators both) of Glaser Drive’s airtight, folk-guitar driven harmonies.

While much of the music engaged in Jewish themes, some did not at all, and some did so in surprisingly un-Orthodox ways. For example, the edgiest act of the night by far came from Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad’s very funny Goddess Perlman, who claimed she was told to tone down her usual act. She sang a relatively tame tune called “What’s in Gefilte Fish?” but her pre-song stand-up routine was much more raunchy, and funny. “I put the whore in hora” she exclaimed, and got some of the tamer audience members riled up when she pointed out the true symbolism of hamantaschen: “It’s no hat, ladies, but you can put a head in it.” (Which prompted someone in the audience to call out, “Hey, there are children here.” Unclear if they were kidding or not.)

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Girls Night On! founder Leslie ginsparg singing her hit “Aidel at Heart,” which was considered too racy for a women-only compilation CD — Ginsparg considers that rejection a point of pride.

Another un-Orthodox act came from the Orthodox Greenspan, who the festival emcee, Girls Night On! founder Leslie Ginsparg, introduced as her own inspiration for learning to play guitar and starting GNO.
Greenspan used to perform at open mics around New York under the name Alexa Witt before she became religious and started calling herself Elana (Greenspan is her married name). While studying in Israel, she started a popular monthly open mic for women only, which served as the model for Girls Night On! But becoming observant, married, and a mommy hasn’t made Greenspan lose her edge. The hilarious lyrics of “Fully Halachic With a Beat” reflect the concerns of a newly religious young woman, while showing off her fondness for early hip-hop (with a sample from A Tribe Called Quest’s debut single “Bonita Applebum”), as well as her fondness for something else not typically appreciated by frum women:

What about weed? / Am I still allowed to smoke it? / Issur d’rabanan, d’oraisa or machloket? / What’s the halacha? / And can I make a bracha?

But the overwhelming tone of the evening was one of unity and mutual support — women encouraging other women, rather than competing with each other — as one performer, Naomi Less, pointed out. Less is a GNO regular (though she also performs for mixed audiences) and a professional in the Jewish organizational world. She used the Rose on Fire Festival as an opportunity to debut songs from a project she’s launching called Jewish Chicks Rock, which uses “values-based, pop-rock music” to teach Jewish girls to respect themselves and each other. “Responsibility,” a Britney Spears-esque pop number, talks about the importance of speaking up and not standing idly by while others are hurt.
Less also teamed up with Chana Rothman, the biggest name on the bill and not undeservedly, for a cover of the Indigo Girls’ “Mr. President.”
Rothman then took center stage with her own energetic brand of earthy, foot-stomping, roots-rock. She got the crowd moving, and singing along, with two numbers off her new album, “Ana” (as in “Ana Hashem hoshiya nah” from Hallel) and the title track, “We Can Rise.”
The biggest crowd pleaser of the evening was the all-girls rock band Schwadjam, who, in keeping with Rothman’s theme of rising, made their debut with an upside-down cover of Tom Petty’s “Freefallin’” called “Rise Up.” The lead singer, Sarah Schwadron, had the charisma of any great front woman and her modestly dressed backup band — frum girls playing electric guitar, bass, keyboard and (my favorite) drums — was off the hook. Schwadron expressed some disdain for the location, a standard bar/performance space, and said her goal was to get her audience to rise up above it. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, she succeeded.
Even the Goddess Perlman was inspired. “The all Ortho-Girl Band rocked,” she told Jewess, “there needs to be more of that.”

Chana Rothman and Elana Greenspan smiling at the Rose on Fire Festival
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    Jewess is a blog about Jewish women's issues, and is part of the Canonist network of religion blogs.

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