Talia Lakritz, 20, a Modern Orthodox Jewish sophomore at Barnard College, and her two girlfriends got off a very crowded No. 3 train at Kingston Avenue in a fevered hurry of glee, as they headed to an open-mic night for women at the gallery at The Creative Soul, an organization in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
Inside the gallery, new mothers cradled their crying babies, and teenage girls clutched their guitars, waiting for a turn to try out new material.
One by one, the women shuffled onstage. Most performances were about the Jewish faith and God. One woman read a short story on the struggles of motherhood and marriage. Another performed a traditional Hebrew song and urged the crowd to join in, creating a sometimes patchy but mostly harmonious choir of soft melodies.
“This is so cool!” said Tova Kamioner, 20, one of Lakritz’s friends. “Who knew this existed?”
The women only open-mic night provides a creative outlet for women who observe kol isha, the halachic prohibition that prevents women from singing in front of men who aren’t their husbands.
Finally it was Lakritz’s turn. She perched herself on a stool in front of a keyboard and belted out an original song she calls “Superhero,” an upbeat pop melody with lyrics that read, “They say all the good ones are taken or gay.”
“I guess it’s not typical of what other religious women are writing,” Lakritz said after her performance. “But I never have a problem when I sing it.”
Lakritz, a native of Milwaukee, is considered a star among the crowd of amateurs. As a member of The Jewish Women’s Talent Agency, a not-for-profit organization known as JeWTA that was created last year to foster Orthodox female artists, she’s made a name for herself in Crown Heights and beyond, setting up her own blog and YouTube page and performing whenever she can. In order to dissuade men from watching her, each online video begins with a disclaimer suggested by her rabbi: “For Women’s Eyes Only.”
“From time to time, I get some creepy messages from guys, saying, ‘Please, can I see your videos?’” Lakritz said with a laugh.
While Lakritz has found an audience despite halachic restrictions, she says that abiding by the rules is sometimes frustrating.
“I hear people say kol isha is liberating because it frees women from men’s expectations, but it doesn’t make dealing with it any easier,” she said. “Sometimes when there’s a mixed-gendered open mic night at my school, I just want to get up there and perform, but I can’t.”