Tofa'ah, Hebrew for 'phenomenon,' is celebrating 28 years of playing music. Their ninth studio album will be released later this year
Several weeks ago we published an article about a newly-founded religious rock group made up solely of women and titled the story, "Introducing 1st religious women's rock band." It turned out we were wrong. Another band, founded almost three decades ago, was in fact the one to pioneer this unique genre.
This year the all-women religious rock band Tofa'ah is celebrating 28 years of playing music. When the band was founded in 1981, the idea of an all women, Jewish rock-and-roll/blues/jazz band that only performed for women was unheard of. The band inspired religious women by offering an acceptable outlet to explore Jewish identity and the arts.
Yona Jakobovitz started the band driven by a belief that women deserve opportunities. She held auditions looking for a group of women that together could inspire audiences through music. The band's original lineup in 1981 was Yona Jakobovitz (drums, piano vocals), Esther Leuchter (Vocals), Rachel Kantorowitz (violin), Joy Shapiro (flute), Rahel Limor (guitar), Tehilla Shwab and Devorah Belinky (flute).
Tofa'ah was supported by the Israel Center in Jerusalem and given free practice space and a venue to perform concerts for all women audiences. Throughout the years, the band has undergone a series of lineup changes but has stayed true to their original message.
"We organized the first women-only events there. It was thanks to us that women's events became more common, and finally the norm," Yakobovitz told Ynetnews.
For the past 20 years, Tofa'ah has been performing continuously throughout Israel and the United States. A few times a year the Jerusalem Municipality hires the band to perform at large women-only events. In the last few months alone, the band has performed to over 12,000 women.
Accepted by all Jews
Throughout the band's history they have been embraced by all sectors of the Jewish world. Early on they received a blessing from one of the highest rabbinical authorities in Jerusalem. The rabbi has asked to remain anonymous. Band founder Yakobovitz said: "He encouraged us all through the years and told us that as women we had an opportunity to reach out to more diverse audiences and that we should remember our responsibility to spread goodness and light in the world".
Many of their songs feature arrangements of sacred liturgy so the band has always consulted rabbis to ensure proper adherence to halachot. The band's diverse fan base ranges from secular feminist, Hasidic, modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Tofa'ah has toured with major national and international music festivals around the world and packed Binyanei Ha'uma, the largest convention center in the Middle East. They also performed on a number of Israeli television and radio shows.
"Tofa'ah opened the door for women to reach other levels of creativity and spirituality and identify. Woman to woman songs about Rosh Chodesh, the mikveh, motherhood, sisterhood, and women's prayer…before us, and even to this day, most Jewish music is very male dominated," explained Yakobovitz.
Tofa'ah, whose musical influences include Joni Mitchell, Pat Benatar, and Earth Wind and Fire, have always worked to encourage women to embrace their spiritual identity and have influenced women to pursue the arts. The band's non-profit organization, Tof Miriam, promotes the arts among women in Israel, working to create forums for musicians, painters, and writers, to showcase their talents.
Another band member Rahel Limor told Ynetnews: "In the 1980s, observant women had never seen electric guitars and especially a woman playing on a drum kit! Many women asked about these instruments at our concerts. It was so new and exciting to them."
After rocking for nearly three decades Rahel added, "We are still here. Tofa'ah remains true to its name – a truly phenomenal group of women who, though not always in the public's consciousness, have offered so much to the world". The band's ninth studio album is due to be released later this year.
To listen to Tofa'ah and watch concert clips, check out: www.myspace.com/tofaah
Josh Lichtenstein Published: 06.08.09, 17:18 / Israel Jewish Scene