It’s not often you find a musician who deliberately excludes half the population from her oeuvre. Yet, “For women and girls only” proclamations adorn virtually every piece of promotional material, from Web pages to concert fliers for Shaindel Antelis, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter from northern New Jersey.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a superstar, to be a famous singer in the world, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do that,” she says. Instead, she has found her niche within the Orthodox world.
Antelis, who will be performing a concert for women and girls only at Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, an Orthodox congregation in Wynnewood, on Feb.16, has been surrounded by music from birth. Her father, Moshe, is a bassist/guitarist/ arranger, and brother Jake is a drummer/producer. She began singing in the family’s studio by the age of 5, and was writing her own songs by the time she was 10. But her career foundered until her first visit to Israel at age 18, a trip that provided her with the dedication to, in her words, “become more religious, more Orthodox.” In addition, there was material enough for an album’s worth of songs and inspiration for carving a niche for herself in the music industry.
Call it addition through subtraction: She would focus on becoming a musician exclusively for women and girls, thereby adhering to kol isha, the Jewish law that states Orthodox men may not listen to a woman singing due to the potential for arousal.
Almost immediately, she says, “my career really took off. Before, I wasn’t able to write so many songs, and they weren’t filled with as much light as they are now. After I came back from Israel, I just got so many more shows, things I wasn’t able to get before — it showed me that I was doing the right thing.” In addition to performing across the United States, Israel, Canada and England, Antelis has released two albums: Change and Heart & Soul, both of which feature her sweet voice singing positively charged lyrics and catchy pop grooves a la Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato — all strummed on a guitar that she famously hand-encrusted with over 5,000 crystals.
For Chava Gross, the rebbetzin at Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, booking Antelis was an easy decision. “Since we adhere to kol isha,” she says, there was no question that the entertainment that she booked for the congregation’s annual women’s event would be female. Accordingly, “I Googled ‘Jewish female entertainer,’ and I was very impressed. She has an incredible voice, and her lyrics are inspirational — they speak to morals, courage and honesty.”
The ease with which Gross found and hired Antelis underscores the counterintuitive wisdom of the musician’s career decision. The number of professional female musicians who target the growing Orthodox female demographic is quite small: Beyond Antelis, Kineret and Chava Rosenbaum, the list gets pretty thin. Antelis acknowledges that, while she made her choice based on her beliefs, it turned out to be good for business as well. “There are only so many people doing what I’m doing, whereas in the real world, there are millions of girls my age trying to do the same exact thing — and most people don’t make it.”
N.B. for those with Y chromosomes: While there is no chance you will ever be able to experience Antelis live in concert, on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.
If you want to check out www. shaindelantelis.com, there is nothing stopping you.