Women attend sell-out concert in defiance of strictly-Orthodox call to shun event due to ‘spiritual harm’

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Women attend sell-out concert in defiance of strictly-Orthodox call to shun event due to ‘spiritual harm’

More than 700 young women flocked to Hackney Empire on Sunday for a concert starring Bracha Jaffe and Chava Kogan, in defiance of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, which called for event to be shunned.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Sunday evening's concert at the Hackney Empire. Pics: @ifyoutickleus
Sunday evening's concert at the Hackney Empire. Pics: @ifyoutickleus

Hackney Empire, the grande dame of theatres from another era, had rarely had an audience like this one — between 700 and 800 girls and women, from every level of Orthodoxy and none. But all were avid to see their heroines, the singers Bracha Jaffe and Chava Kogan, from New York and Israel, together with “child sensation” Esther Khron.

The two-hour event, replete with encores, was a sell-out. But it had attracted unwelcome attention from rabbis of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, who had previously announced that the concert should be shunned for fear of bringing “spiritual harm” to its intended audience.

In a statement issued on email and posted on synagogue noticeboards, the UOHC said it “endorses and supports the decision” of Charedi girls’ schools, such as Beis Yaakov Grammar School, to ban girls from attending the concert.

This statement appeared to have had no effect on the women and girls crowding the Hackney Empire steps as soon as its doors opened. There were women in fashionable sheitels, and literally hundreds of small children and young girls, some clutching their sisters’ hands, some holding on to their mothers. The only men in sight were volunteers from the Community Security Trust, keeping watch to ensure the audience was safe.

Very few of the audience wanted to speak to Jewish News — though once assured that no-one would be able to identify them from their remarks, some did open up.

One chicly dressed woman said: “I wanted to come, I’m familiar with the songs, so I’m not taking notice of any ban.” Another said: “I thought the ban was only for children — and we’re not at school, we’re adults.”

“We listen to Bracha Jaffę and Chava Kogan every day at home,” another enthusiast said. “We love their music, so of course we are taking the opportunity to attend their concert.” She said she didn’t know about the ban and began explaining it to another woman queuing to get in to the theatre.

To laughter, two women confessed that they had only heard about the event — entitled Zahav 2023 — when the rabbis announced their ban. “We hadn’t heard about it before, so actually the rabbis were giving it free publicity,” they said.

It had been previously been claimed that many women were selling their tickets because of the rabbinical edict, nervous about a clampdown on school admissions if they were known to have attended the concert.

But the Hackney Empire box office said that there had been no returns or cancellations — and some pictures taken at the concert, carefully edited so as not to identify individuals, showed a joyful and packed audience, singing along to the music they knew.

Bracha Jaffe had previously said she was “greatly saddened” by the UOHC ban, adding: “Our girls need healthy kosher music, healthy kosher entertainment that will bring them closer to God. I want to be a good example to our girls. I care about the way I present myself. I only want to be a positive role model.”

One of the very few women ready to comment on social media, Michaela, took a picture of her thrilled daughter at the concert, writing: “My daughter’s face when her favourite Jewish singer Bracha Jaffe first came on stage tonight. She can’t believe she got to go to her concert, I can’t believe I’m finally well enough to be able to take her and make such incredible memories with her.”

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