Shaindel Antelis is very ambitious, but not just for herself. The 21-year-old Orthodox Jewish singer-songwriter from Elizabeth says there are many other enormously talented women in her religious community who might also welcome the chance to record and perform their music.
“The problem is that they just don’t have the budget,” she told NJJN in a phone interview. “Very few people have the financial backing they would need.”
Complicating the situation is that in many Orthodox communities women singers are forbidden from performing in the presence of men. Antelis said the prohibition, known as kol isha, sometimes frustrates her, but she is deeply committed to her religious observance and believes there could be plenty of opportunities for women to sing before all-women audiences — Jewish and non-Jewish.
Her own career is moving up, driven by her own passion and some hands-on support from her family. Her first CD, Heart and Soul, came out in 2009; her second, Change, will be released at “A Night of Musical Inspiration for Women” — a concert party for women only — on Sunday, Jan. 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the ROC House in Manhattan.
Her sound is rock-pop with a steady beat. Antelis describes it as “not Borough Park but also not Taylor Swift.” Her lyrics speak of heartache and the search for happiness, but the love they explore is for God rather than boyfriends.
Antelis also has a website, ShaindelAntelis.com. Although available to anyone with an Internet connection, the site is clearly marked as intended for women.
She describes her family as a sort of Jewish version of the Von Trapps of Sound of Music fame. Shaindel’s father, Moshe, played in a band before becoming ba’al teshuva, a Jew who turns to Orthodoxy. “He is a genius guitarist and also writes songs,” she said. In New York, they had a music studio in their home and there was a flow of musicians coming through.
Her mother, Nesha, who teaches Zumba fitness classes, has a beautiful voice, according to her daughter. Then come their nine kids, ages nine to 24. Antelis is the oldest girl, with two older brothers. She says a number of them are very musical, though not as eager as she is to perform — not yet.
She grew up taking for granted the notion of putting one’s feelings on paper. “I used to write a lot of poetry,” she said, “and then somehow it switched to songs. I remember writing my first one when I was 10, with a tune and a chorus.”
It became a crucial way for her to channel the stormy emotions of her teen years, made all the more difficult by the family’s move from Brooklyn to Elizabeth when she was 12. Though she enjoyed the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School for Girls — especially being involved in the school’s music productions — she felt like a newcomer and an outsider at the Elizabeth school.
Her lyrics, she admits, were pretty dark — but she also tried to reach out to others who were going through hard times, too, to share her faith. “I think being sensitive is part of being creative, and it made me very aware of what other people were feeling,” she said.
These days, her songs are more uplifting. That evolution was helped by the joy she encountered when, at 17, she went to Israel for a year after graduating high school.
“It was the best time of my life,” she exclaimed. She combined Judaic studies in the day with night classes in cosmetology, and still managed to find time to attend concerts. Spilling over with excitement at all she was experiencing, she wrote song after song and began performing whenever she got the chance.
When she came home, the family started work on her first CD. Her dad played bass for her and did the arrangements. Jake, now 23, her second-eldest brother, played the drums and worked on the production.
She returned to Israel later that year. Within weeks, she had entered Israel’s version of American Idol, just for women. Out of a few hundred contestants, she made it to the top 10.
Antelis began seeking out open-mic nights at venues all over Jerusalem. Her confidence grew, as did her delight in the music she heard from others. “I would cry when I heard what those women were saying,” she said.
Since returning, she has performed at schools, women’s-night events, banot mitzva celebrations, and concerts all over New Jersey and New York — and she wants to go much further.
“I’d love to take my music all over the world and inspire women everywhere,” Antelis said. Given the strictures, that won’t be easy, but she is unfazed. “It can be challenging at times, I know, but God helps me out. He leads us,” she said.