The lights are dim, there’s an expectant hush, then a sudden rush of noise as the cheering reaches heights even above the seats in the upper circle which are packed full of girls, mothers, sisters and myself with my nieces.
We are at the Hackney Empire at a concert by Bracha Jaffe – New York nurse and mother of five. She’s a veritable force – all polka dots, smiles and swishy sheitel. I’m caught up in the incredible positive spirit of this show, a contrast to the controversy around it. Charedi girls schools were instructed to shun this event, for fear of it causing ‘spiritual harm’.
The buoyant Jaffe is joined on stage by fellow popular singer Chaya Kogan and child sensation Esther Krohn. Chaya debuts Battle Cry, her first ever live performance of a new song and dedicates it to “people who struggle with mental illness, as it’s literally a battle every single day for them.” She talks about Jteen, a helpline operated by anonymous volunteers which guides Jewish teenagers from ages 11-20 through whatever challenges they may be facing.
The trio’s boundless energy and passion for the music and audience is clear as they motion to the crowd, urging us to join in with the songs. “The ban didn’t work, did it?” I yell above the din to my sister-in-law.
To think there were some, namely the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, who did not want us to be at Jaffe’s concert. Because of this view there were parents who were legitimately worried about possible repercussions, such as schools refusing to take children who had attended. Many of the fearful put their tickets up for sale, which is how my own little group ended up in prime dress circle seats.
Chani, the mother I bought the tickets from, expressed her regret, as she had purchased them for her daughter and friends and felt it was a real shame.
“What do they want, that we should take our girls to Mary Poppins instead?” she typed on WhatsApp. I smiled wryly, wondering why she considered the story of the magical nanny a cause for concern, but when they ban wholesome kosher entertainment, who can blame her? Don’t they realise that by censoring positive performers, young girls in the community may well turn to the not-so-kosher rap and pop music topping the charts, of which lyrics are sure to encourage the ‘spiritual harm’ of which the rabbis are so afraid.
Bracha and Chaya are great role models for these girls – they’re frum, smart, stylish, mothers, career women – and fantastic singers. One of the many songs Bracha passionately sings on stage is Nashim Tzidkaniyot (righteous women), and the lyrics describe how “the nations will be redeemed through the righteous women of the generation.”
Judaism is about celebrating and uplifting women and one only has to look at such strong female icons as Chanukah’s Yehudit and Miriam, sister of Moses, who enabled his birth and led the women in song at the parting of the Red Sea.
Bracha warmly describes all the women at the concert as nashim tzidkaniyot and remarks on the incredible spirit in the theatre, as well as her gratitude to the event organiser Hannah Flax.
At the end of a song, Bracha stops to drink water and announces that she’s going to say a bracha and wants us all to answer ‘amen’, acknowledging the collective koach (power) of the crowd. She also urges us all to take a minute to think of something or someone for which/whom we need a blessing. If this isn’t a perfect example of pious behaviour for young women then what is?
At the end of the show Bracha sits on the stage directly addressing girls standing at the front and asks one what she’s thankful for? “Being Jewish,” she answers shyly, which brought a lump to my throat, and made me feel proud to be Jewish too.
While waiting to meet the singers backstage, a gaggle of giggling girls from Berlin are waiting too and tell me they are “big fans”. As warm and down to earth in person as they are onstage, Bracha and Chaya are happy to pose for selfies and I have one too. So was Bracha worried about the possible ramifications of the ban? “I wasn’t worried because whatever it is, I’m going to do what I do. I was hoping everyone would feel that they should be here and the turnout was so beautiful. Baruch Hashem, I’m so happy I can’t even tell you.”
As a former nurse, I wonder if Bracha feels there are health benefits to her music. “Both music and nursing involve mind, body, soul – there’s different elements of the physical and spiritual caring for a human. I think that music offers that same kind of care to an individual.”
“I really believe that our girls need healthy outlets because otherwise they’re going to look for something else,” she continues. “I have young girls myself and I’m so happy to be here doing what I love and sharing that love with the crowd.”
She most definitely was, and I tell the pair how this has inspired me to take up singing again as I used to be in a high school choir and they have reminded me how much I miss it.
“Go for it,” says Bracha. “I always say, sing when you have an opportunity – you never know where it’s going to take you”.
I left in high spirits and so did the rest of the audience. We all realised how important it is for women like Jaffe, Kogan and other Orthodox female singers to continue raising their voices in song and amplifying a sense of self and freedom of expression to females in the community. Ultimately to send the message that their voices must and will be heard.
Follow and support: @brachajaffemusic @chayakogan_official
*Given the strictures regarding religious women singing in front of men, these Orthodox Jewish female singers perform for women only. The same goes for their social media accounts, which they make available only to women.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.