January 27, 2020

Jewish Women’s Choir Sings From the Heart

Photo courtesy of Chaya Rochel Lipsker

A religious law called kol isha (a woman’s voice), prohibits men from hearing women sing. As such, Orthodox women cannot sing in public if there are men present. 

For women in Los Angles seeking an outlet that does not violate the laws of kol isha, there is now an organization that enables them to fulfill that dream: the Los Angeles Jewish Ladies Chorale (LAJLC).

Established in 2017, the nonprofit choir currently boasts 12 women who range in age from 20 to 80. They sing at community events in front of all-female audiences throughout the year. 

“A lot of the women grew up singing in professional choirs and then they became religious and stopped singing altogether,” LAJLC co-founder  Chaya Rochel Lipsker told the Journal. “When they heard this choir existed, they were so excited.” 

The LAJLC performs a mixture of Jewish songs, from Sephardic tunes including those of Yaakov Shwekey, to traditional songs like “Eishet Chayil” and “Mishenichnas Adar.” They do so accompanied by pre-recorded instrumental music. 

The group has performed for Chai Lifeline, Friendship Circle and at private events throughout the community. They have several upcoming gigs including a Holocaust survivors’ luncheon for Café Europa and an event at Chabad of Poway, where they will perform a song they wrote about the late Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed during the shooting there on April 27.

Member Gila Sacks, who is a licensed clinical social worker at Chai Lifeline and lives in Pico-Robertson said, “It’s given me not only the chance to sing, which I love and is one of the biggest joys in my life, but it’s been really nice to just build something with these people who were strangers. Now, we really care about each other and we’re very supportive of one another.”

“This is such a treat because I feel safe in the religious context. I’m able to be within Jewish law and also singing HaShem’s song.” — Gila Sacks

Raised in a non-religious home, Sacks grew up singing and playing her guitar in front of mixed audiences. When she became religious, she dropped that hobby, but now, several years later, she’s back on stage thanks to LAJLC.

“This is such a treat because I feel safe in the religious context,” she said. “I’m able to be within Jewish law and also singing HaShem’s song. Jewish women need to be uplifted. They have a big burden to bear emotionally. We take care of kids and do chesed in the community. I’m a social worker for families with difficult challenges. Coming together to sing and bring out spiritual music and uplift people is amazing.”

“Some women had emptiness and were depressed,” Lipsker said of certain members. “Some were recently divorced or widowed. They said now they had something to look forward to. It’s almost like a sisterhood they feel this connection to.” 

LAJLC also offers members vocal training and feedback. Co-founder Alexandra Blaker said the group hired a conductor who is also a vocal coach, and the more formally trained members will give tips to other members on how to refine their voices.

“We not only have an opportunity to connect socially and do community building through expressing ourselves,” Blaker said, “we’re also really training the instrument of the voice and pushing people’s skill levels.”

With the vocal training and a passion for the material they’re singing, Lipsker added that LAJLC has been able to bond with other Jewish women in their audiences and help them feel spiritually elevated. 

“The feedback from the audiences is that we touch their souls, and we make them feel so proud to be Jewish,” she said. “That’s really what the goal is.”