NEW YORK — Just as Rebecca Teplow sang the words “send your light and truth to its leaders and advisors,” the sun sliced through the gray sky. In that moment the composer and singer felt a sense of grace.
Teplow wrote “Avinu Shebashamayim,” a piece of sacred music which she released just ahead of Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, to honor Ezra Schwartz who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist on November 19, 2015 while spending a year studying in Israel at a yeshiva in Beit Shemesh.
Schwartz was gunned down after visiting a memorial for three Israeli boys murdered last summer and delivering food to lone soldiers near the West Bank settlement of Efrat, south of Jerusalem. Two additional men were killed and five other yeshiva students wounded.
Although Teplow didn’t know Schwartz, the news of his death struck a chord; she sank into a chair and sat there for several hours. Reflecting on her reaction some months later Teplow knew much of it was because her own daughter was in Israel studying at a yeshiva at that time. But there was something more.In his short life Ezra had established a reputation for generosity of spirit and a strong love for Israel. “Ezra’s soul yearned to help others,” said one friend in eulogy.
“Ezra sounds like he was such a special neshama. Let us learn from him to really care about our fellow Jews even when we don’t know them personally. We are all really linked. Ezra, Gilad, Naftali, Eyal, Koby and the countless other children and people who were murdered because they were Jewish,” Teplow told The Times of Israel.She decided music would be her vehicle to honor Schwartz’s life.As she sat there absorbing the news in November, Teplow received a text message from the parent of one of her voice students. It said the student had to cancel the lesson because she was leaving to attend the student’s “first cousin’s funeral, who was just murdered in Israel.”“Something about the text just hit me so hard,” Teplow said. “In America, I get lots of cancellations for our over-scheduled lives — soccer and baseball practice conflicts, karate, choir, and the way too common stress from too much homework. But nothing like this message.”
Teplow doesn’t know if the Schwartz family is aware of her song, “Avinu Shebashamayim” (“Our Father in Heaven”), which she dedicated to Schwartz on a YouTube seaside performance of the piece. She said she decided against contacting them, not wanting to intrude on their private pain.A classically trained violinist who studied under Itzhak Perlman and the composer Robert Starer, the New Jersey resident sings about her belief that people are instruments of God and must surrender their ego.Teplow, now 51, grew up in an Orthodox home and attended Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York. Always drawn to music, she first started taking piano lessons when she was in grade school. To this day Teplow regards her teacher, a Holocaust survivor, as one of the most influential people in her life.“She’d teach me from 9 am to 4 pm every Sunday. We even ate lunch together. She was very hard on me, but we were very connected,” Teplow said
When Teplow was in eighth grade she asked her parents if she could audition for the High School of the Performing Arts in Queens — the very one featured in the movie “Fame.” Her parents were ambivalent. On the one hand they nurtured her talent, and her father even took her to the interview. On the other, attending the school meant leaving the cloistered environment of the yeshiva. Teplow was accepted.“I remember it was overwhelming for me coming from the yeshiva world. In the tenth grade my parents tried to put me back in yeshiva, but the rabbi at the time told them ‘Let her go,’” she said. “I stayed in the high school. I stayed Orthodox and I retained my Judaism. It was the music that kept me connected. ”Teplow’s first CD was released in 2004, her second in 2008. The latter combined her classical training with spiritual view of Jewishness. This recent moving song features her light lyric soprano singing in Hebrew, enfolded in an accompanying string quartet.As an Orthodox woman Teplow has wrestled with kol isha, the prohibition against women singing in public. Years ago she was anxious that singing in public meant she wasn’t a “good girl.” But the more she thought about it, the more strongly she felt that she needed to sing — out loud and strong.“I feel it’s completely okay to sing in public. If men have an issue with it, well, that’s about them, not me,” she said. “When I’m singing I’m so focused on the words and it just can’t be wrong.”She said it would be wrong to quell what she calls a God-given talent to help people and also believes that women are the core of Jewish families and responsible for spirituality in the home. And so she performs publicly for both men and women — foremost to show her daughter and two sons what women can do.“I just don’t fit into a box. I am modeling for them to be true to themselves, to not be judgmental,” she said.— Matt Lebovic contributed to this report
When Rebecca Teplow first heard about Ezra Schwartz’s tragic death, she sank into a chair for several hours trying to absorb the news. Teplow, a New Jersey resident and classical singer and composer of Jewish liturgical music who once studied violin with Itzhak Perlman, knew she somehow had to honor Schwartz’s memory.
Eighteen-year-old Schwartz, a 2015 graduate of Brookline’s Maimonides School, who was from Sharon, was spending a gap year in Israel. He had just visited a memorial for three Israeli boys murdered in the summer of 2014 and was on his way to deliver food to soldiers near the West Bank settlement of Efrat when a Palestinian terrorist gunned him down last November.
Although Teplow did not know Schwartz or his family personally, she felt connected to him. Like Schwartz, her college-age daughter was also spending a year studying at a yeshiva in Israel. Coincidentally, one of Teplow’s voice students was Ezra’s first cousin. She became aware of the connection when she received a text message canceling the girl’s voice lesson with her to attend his funeral. “Something about the text hit me so hard,” Teplow said in an interview with JewishBoston.
The day of Ezra’s funeral, Teplow attended the annual dinner for the Zionist Organization of America, where her husband is the art director. She couldn’t sit through the evening and left to watch Ezra’s funeral online. Later that same night she was on a plane to Israel for a planned visit to her daughter. On the flight, Teplow took out a list of liturgical words she had intended to use to write a commissioned song, but instead she began composing “Avinu Shebashamayim (God in Heaven),” her musical memorial to Schwartz.
“The ‘Prayer for the State of Israel’ jumped out at me as the song I was going to write in Ezra’s memory,” she said. “The words to the prayer to give a living memorial to Ezra and victims of terror in Israel feel right. The words also beg God to help watch over Israel, which is all we can do.”
Teplow, 51, attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush and went on to study music at the High School of Performing Arts, the same high school depicted in the movie “Fame.” The move was highly unusual for a modern Orthodox young woman, but her parents were supportive. She remained Orthodox and channeled her musical talent into singing and composing sacred music. She released two CDs in 2004 and 2008; the latter combined her classical music background with her distinctive take on spirituality.
Teplow said: “When I’m composing a piece, I feel the meaning of the words. I do not have an intentional awareness of my musical technique because I try to enter the holiness of the words. The musical techniques mirror and reflect the deeper meaning of the words.”
Those techniques are on display in Teplow’s poignant music video for “Avinu Shebashamayim.” “When you listen to the [actual] words, avinu shebashamayim, you hear that they are interjected toward the middle and end of the song and at the climax of musical phrases,” she explained.
In the video, which has garnered nearly 4,000 views on YouTube, Teplow performs her song against a backdrop of the sea on a gray, melancholy day. She recalled that during the taping there was a sudden windstorm. “But when I sang the Hebrew words for ‘God, send your light and truth,’ the sun suddenly came out,” she said. “It was surreal. People have noticed the correlation to the Hebrew. They are also moved by the raw emotion I express in it. It gives them a connection to Ezra.”
As an Orthodox woman, Teplow has grappled with the issue of kol isha. Literally translated as the “voice of a woman,” the phrase points to the traditional prohibition of hearing a woman sing in public. Teplow explained that there are a few Orthodox rabbis who permit a woman to sing before an audience if the lyrics are drawn from scripture. “I feel so connected to what I’m saying,” she said, “that when I sing my music it is a vehicle to connect people to God. So how can it be wrong? If men don’t want to watch [the video], they don’t have to watch it. This shouldn’t be an Orthodox women’s issue.”
Teplow does not know if the Schwartz family is aware of her musical tribute. Her student’s mother, however, was moved by Teplow’s song. “She said she was going to personally send it to them,” Teplow noted. “She was so moved. She expressed a lot of gratitude.”
Judy Bolton-Fasman is the culture reporter for JewishBoston.com. She has written about arts and culture for over two decades. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, The Jerusalem Report, Cognoscenti and other venues. Email her at email@example.com.
One of the most striking things I noticed about Rebecca Teplow when I first met her was her soulful, green eyes, eyes which seem to find meaning and music in everything around her.
Rebecca is in her late thirties, and lives in Teaneck with her husband and three beautiful children. Her first CD entitled “Tefilot / Prayers” is a collection of Rebecca’s original compositions that she both arranged and performed.
Since purchasing it four weeks ago, I have become addicted to it and have been listening to it incessantly—in spite of the plethora of other music options available to me. Each song seems to have its own ethereal quality, and as such, is both inspirational and experiential—to the point where even the five year old girls in my carpool now request ‘the Rebecca CD’ when I drive them to school on Friday.
For Rebecca, the CD is the culmination of a dream she had dreamed for many years. Her early childhood years were spent at the Yeshiva of Flatbush Elementary School. However, when it came to selecting a High School, Rebecca’s father allowed her to interview at the prestigious School of Performing Arts—the famous school which acted as the backdrop for the movie ‘Fame’. Although 3,000 people applied to this school annually, only 200 were accepted, and Rebecca was one of them. The next few years saw her perfecting her skills at the violin, and although she and many of her classmates were invited to feature in the movie ‘Fame’ she had to decline the offer because of her Sabbath observance—a hard thing to do for an ambitious and talented 14-year old, especially when many of her classmates were enjoying the experience.
Following her graduation from the School of Performing Arts, she obtained her music degree, and one of the most important and lasting lessons she gleaned from the Master classes she took with Itzhak Perlman was the importance of ‘singing with the violin’ not just playing it. This desire to sing became an important leitmotif in Rebecca’s mind and heart in the years that followed, especially as she realized that the human voice is the most original musical instrument of all, one that, in fact, predates all others.
Rebecca started composing her own music about four years ago, the decision to do so coming spontaneously during a turbulent flight to Los Angeles. Interestingly, the in-flight turbulence seemed to coincide with a period of emotional turbulence as one of Rebecca’s family members was sick and she was anxious to see a recovery. As she sat on the plane confronting her own mortality and the preciousness of life, she jotted down some music notes on a piece of paper, and on her arrival home, composed these into a song which now appears on her CD as “Im Ein Ani Li” (If I am not for myself). The song’s words, taken from Ethics of the Fathers, reflect her appreciation of the fragility of life, the importance of self-worth, and the acknowledgment that, when possible, people should attempt to realize their dreams before it is too late to do so.
It was after this turbulent, thought-provoking plane ride that Rebecca started taking voice lessons with Jocelyn Rasmussen. She has since become a powerful mentor, friend and voice encouraging Rebecca to develop her singing talent—in spite of what might be perceived as some of the traditional restraints in the Modern Orthodox community with regard to the issue of women singing and/or acting in public.
Over the past two to three years, in conjunction with these voice lessons, Rebecca has also found herself to be increasingly compelled to sit down and compose music—particularly at those times when she is moved by a personal event, experience or a touching story heard on the communal grapevine.
Like so many others, Rebecca was deeply affected by the events of 9/11, and in the wake of this tragedy, started thinking about the legacy people leave behind. She then decided that she, too, wished to create something to give to her own children so that they would, one day, have a tangible piece of her—even if she were no longer there in person. Her ‘Tefilot’ CD is the first piece of her tangible legacy to her children, yet it simultaneously seems to serve as a physical symbol of the possibility of a person reaching for a dream and realizing it…
Rebecca confesses that the support she received from her family and friends—especially her husband Josh and three children—helped fuel her desire to fulfill her dream to find and express her voice. The fortitude shown by her parents over the years as well as the strength, perseverance and dignity displayed by her mother-in-law also served as guiding lights to her, she says, and enabled her to find the strength to develop her own voice and create the new CD.
During our interview, she admitted that she first conceived of this CD as a private piece of music that she would share with only close family and friends as she tends to be a modest, unassuming person who shies away from the limelight. Moreover, her modern Orthodox education had taught her that Kol Isha—the voice of a solo woman singer—is often frowned on by religious males.
However, when a cancer patient stopped her on the street and told her what great meaning and comfort she had found when listening to one of Rebecca’s songs, she then decided to publicize her music in the hope that it might also bring emotional sustenance to others in need. A conversation with a local rabbi also assured her that it was totally acceptable for her to make the CD.
Regardless of whether one is religious or not, the songs found on her CD tend to be those which stir the soul, her voice emerging as a unique and touching blend of heartfelt passion and feeling, one non-Jewish colleague of mine even spontaneously describing her powerful and mellifluous voice as reminiscent of Barbara Streisand’s.
The first song on the CD is a heartfelt rendition in which Rebecca uses a line from the Hallel prayer to thank G-d for listening to her prayers—in her case, she says, this is her thanks to G-d for granting her a husband and children whom she loves and cherishes, although the song is relevant to anyone, anywhere, anytime who feels that they have what to say Thank You for.
One of the other stirring songs on her CD is the one which she composed for the late mother of her piano students—Rivka Rosenwein—who was struggling with her fight against cancer. The song is sung with a passion and fervor that clearly suggests that Rebecca is, in fact, using her beautiful and strong voice to beg G-d to perform a miracle and save the mother of her students.Going forward, Rebecca expresses the hope that this CD will encourage other women—whatever their religious background and affiliation—to feel empowered to reach out and fulfill their personal dreams, and mothers, to merge these with the responsibilities of parenthood.
While she is still grappling with the Kol Isha issue, she admits that she is certainly still eager to explore the potential for singing opportunities in the future.
Tefilot is available for purchase in local Judaica stores, West Side Judaica, Great Neck Judaica and online at cdbaby.com/rebeccateplow.
Teaneck—Rebecca Teplow, 49, wife and mother of three children, is a singer, composer, performer, and former student of internationally renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, but not someone who one might think would keep her light under a rug. Light seems to be a motif for her as she speaks of her feelings for the art of performance and composition and which she repeats often to be a God-given gift.
Teplow said she first came to music when she was around seven or eight. “I was always drawn to music.” She said it wasn’t so much what she learned at Yeshiva of Flatbush, but the connection coming from growing up and constantly hearing Jewish melodies at the Shabbos table. “My father loved music,” resulting in the opportunity for Teplow and her siblings to all learn piano at home. Music and the piano were her escape, yet she falters in explaining from what she needed to escape. “I think in most artists there is that feeling to escape a little bit. It was where I was able to express myself.”
Teplow said growing up Orthodox and going to yeshiva “really does not give kids a big chance to become a disciplined musician. You get home at 5:30, you have hours of homework, and it’s impossible to spend the time that most classically trained musicians spend at an instrument.” She says that she sees that today with her own piano and voice students. “I see that the kids’ lives are so full and their hours are so limited that they don’t have any time to dedicate to their instrument.”
That search for a means of self-expression was what eventually drew Teplow to the violin. Accepted into the High School of the Performing Arts to study piano, she had to learn a second instrument and was drawn to the violin because of its power to convey shades and textures of emotion. “I think it’s the most demonstrative of emotion. It cries like no other instrument.”However even then, Teplow found that her life had limitations. The film Fame was being shot at the High School of Performing Arts. She was excited; as were all her friends who were destined to be in the movie. But, it was to be filmed on Shabbos and she could not reconcile her feelings of being left out.
As she developed her studies, she continued to feel separate from the music world as student performances were given on Friday nights and Saturdays. “It definitely was challenging.” However this did not stop Teplow from pursuing her dreams and, as an advanced student, she found herself being taught by Itzhak Perlman.“
The lesson I learned from studying with Itzhak Perlman was the importance of singing the violin, not just playing it. The desire to sing became an important motive in my mind and in my heart in the years that followed, especially as I realized that the human voice is the most original.”
But whereas previously she felt a bit alienated as a musician for being an observant Jew, the concept of singing now further added to her trepidation. “As a woman and as an Orthodox Jew, I’m a little bit of an outsider in my own world.” Teplow said of herself, “I have been hiding from an audience my entire life. I am not sure if this is because I have a strong case of performance anxiety, or that the issue of kol b’isha erva has presented a strong obstacle. Or is it both? Has my performance anxiety been profoundly influenced by my fear that I am not being a ‘good girl’ when I sing in public?”
For years she only sang Shabbat zemirot in an undertone. “It cannot be wrong for me to use my God-given talent to enable people to hear the inner voice of their soul’s yearning for spiritual greatness.
”Teplow then spoke of singer Neshama Carlebach, daughter of the late Sholmo Carlebach. “She said she’s making alyiah to the Reform movement because she’s had such a hard time being accepted in the Orthodox community.” Teplow is one of only a few Orthodox female vocalists, she said of herself, who wants to perform publicly to audiences of women and men. “I want to do this. I want to set an example for future generations. I want to be an example to my daughter whose school does not allow women to sing in front of men, only in front of women.
”Teplow will be giving a concert of her compositions on Sunday, March 9 at 8 p.m. at Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, NJ/ Tickets are $15 for JCC members and $20 for nonmembers and can be purchased at rebeccateplow.com.
Proceeds will be donated to JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance)
Apologizing for her voice, which needed no apology, Rebecca Teplow sang for an audience of about 200 people on March 9 at the Eric Brown Theater in the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.
“A strange thing happened to me two weeks ago,” she said in explanation. “I decided to start intense weight lifting to get into shape for this concert. I came home that night and all of a sudden, I couldn’t speak. My voice was gone.”
She was told by her otolaryngologist that weightlifting is forbidden to singers and can cause severe damage.“
The doctor told me to cancel the concert. I had to work very hard to get my voice back and I had to succumb to the idea that I need not be perfect.”
However, Teplow makes lessons out of the events of her life and this was no exception. “My voice is simply on loan from God,” she said. “In the end we’re imperfect beings.”
However Teplow’s voice, her words, and her songs, were only one of the instruments demonstrating her talent. Teplow composed the music to her songs as well as writing the arrangements which spoke just as well, just as eloquently, of what she felt when she sang and the messages she wished to convey with the traditional prayers she had set to her own music. The prayers spoke of the coming of the Messiah, putting faith in God, tikkun olom, finding personal joy by surrendering to personal sorrow, facing fear with perfect faith, praise to Elohim, and of course the Shema.
In interviewing members of the audience—who were mostly aged 40 to 80—all seemed to know of the debate concerning men listening to women sing. Nevertheless, there were a goodly number of men present, not all as vocal as the women.Bernice Greenberg of Teaneck was asked what she thought of the debate. “I feel that it is against everything that should be equal in Judaism. I was very upset when I heard that she was not allowed to sing in a mixed audience and since this is her first concert I was worried that a lot of Orthodox people would not attend because of that. But I see that a number of them have. We are among those. I am not Orthodox. I am Modern Orthodox; this is how I’ve already felt, as far as women davening, women singing, why not. If they have the knowledge and the wisdom, they are equal.”
Greenberg’s husband, Mishel, had a slightly different view, understanding if some wanted to stay away. “They’re concerned about changes that might lead to other changes. I believe that what was once contemporary opinion influenced some of those judgments. I don’t know the source. I’m not enough of a scholar to know the halachic sources, but I suspect it may have been influenced simply because they lived in a time and place that felt that way.”
Deborah Wenger of Teaneck, a member of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance)— the recipient of the proceeds from the concert—said that, “Halachically, when women are singing of Jewish related subjects that are not intended to be seductive or enticing, when they’re trying to be spiritual, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. If a man has a problem with it, he’s welcome not to come.”
Glen Shepherd of Teaneck said it’s all about personal belief. “My feeling is that a woman with talent, which is what Rebecca Teplow represents, should be enjoyed for what she’s trying to deliver, which is inspiration on a personal level, on a religious level. It doesn’t really matter what I think, what matters is that she’s trying to present a great talent for people to enjoy. I think this is a great context for people to enjoy it and I’m certainly going to enjoy it.”
Each of Teplow’s songs was a prayer with inspiration coming from the great sages of the past as well as the present, Psalms, and passages from the Torah. Before each song, Teplow explained the prayers. “While each of us waits for the Messiah, hoping that the world can change, each one of us is an appointed to bring redemption closer by godly actions. Some people think they will meet God in the afterlife. But the truth is if you can’t meet God in the here and now then we’ll have a very difficult time meeting God in the afterlife.”
Teplow also used personal experiences to explain the meaning of the prayers she sang. Recalling a concert she gave of original music, she said as the curtain parted and she viewed the audience, she forgot all her songs. “At that moment I realized I would have to totally surrender my ego, let go and trust God. With perfect faith, I put my fingers on the keyboard and a miracle happened.” Her fingers touched the right keys. “I suddenly experienced myself as the instrument of God. God was playing through me. All I had to do was get my ego out of the way.”
Joining Teplow on stage were David Morgan at the piano, Chris Russo at the guitar, Melissa Westgate at the cello, and Rebecca’s daughter Tamara on the flute.
Rebecca Teplow of Teaneck didn’t start composing until her son Joe, now 22, was 10 years old.“I felt that having children sparked within me a new creative energy,” said the musician, who will perform some of her songs on March 9 at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades’ Eric Brown Theater.
Ms. Teplow has quite a musical history.After taking up the violin at the High School of Performing Arts in New York —she already had studied piano as a young child — Ms. Teplow went on to pursue a degree in music performance, attending both the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem and Brooklyn College. The renowned violinist Yitzhak Perlman and the composer Robert Starer were among her teachers.
One of her early piano teachers was a Holocaust survivor who had played with underground orchestras and “developed a unique system of teaching music. I would come every Sunday morning and wouldn’t leave till night.”As she worked on a master’s degree in musicology, Ms. Teplow — by then married and expecting her first child — “dropped out” of the music world.“I stopped performing,” she said. “It wasn’t part of my life. It was impossible to pursue a career in musical performance and remain observant.
“I spent the next 15 years focused on raising kids. I have no regrets and it was the best time of my life.”Still, her love for music did not diminish.“When my son, Avery, was 7 and my youngest child, Tamara, was 4, I started composing,” Ms. Teplow said. Then, in her mid-30s, she began taking voice lessons, recording her first CD, “T’filot/Prayers,” in 2004.“The CD was very successful,” she said. “It sold out.” She credits her husband, Josh, an art director, with helping her market her music. “Powerful things happened,” she added. “I did a second CD, ‘Kaveh/Hope,’ four years ago.
”Ms. Teplow said she always has been drawn to Jewish music, particularly to the composers, such as Mahler and Bernstein, who intertwined Jewish melodies into their compositions.“Jewish music has enhanced my observance,” she said. “As a child, I had a hard time connecting to God in yeshiva, but singing zemirot in front of the campfire at sleepaway camp evoked the core of my neshama and sparked my belief.”The importance of music cannot be overstated, she said. Her husband echoed that sentiment, who cited a teaching of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “If words are the pen of the heart, then song is the pen of the soul.”
Suggesting that spirituality is integrated with music, Ms. Teplow said that while “God’s words of Torah flow down to our minds and actions, joyous song carries our souls upward to connect with the Almighty.”
One of her concerns is that many Jewish women today “are not tapping into the spiritual core of ecstatic singing that Rabbi Zalman spoke of.” She expressed these concerns in a recent blog post she wrote for JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.“I was looking for an organization to donate the proceeds of the concert to,” Ms. Teplow said. “I went on their website and saw excellent articles on spirituality and the issue of women singing publicly that I would not have had access to.”
“There really is a spectrum of thought on this,” she said, addressing the issue of kol isha, which holds that men should not listen to women’s voices. She noted the teachings of several rabbis who have held that women may sing publicly.Rav David Bigman, rosh yeshiva of Maaleh Gilboa, for example, writes that “there is no prohibition whatsoever of innocent singing; rather, only singing intended for sexual stimulation, or flirtatious singing, is forbidden. Although this distinction is not explicit in the early rabbinic sources, it closely fits the character of the prohibition as described in different contexts in the Talmud and the Rishonim, and it is supported by the language of the Rambam, the Tur, and the Shulchan Arukh.”
Quoting Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, an Orthodox rabbi in Washington, D.C., Ms. Teplow said, “If we deny the girls of our community the ability to express themselves through song, we run the very real risk of allowing them to be serenaded by an alternative influence.”Noting the biblical precedents of Miriam and Devorah performing music, Josh Teplow said that for him, “it’s not about the sex of the singer but about context and what is appropriate.”“Women really provide more than the majority of strength and education in a Jewish home,” he said. If they can’t help their children connect to the passion of Judaism — through music, for example — then “they’re not raising their kids in the best possible way.
“It’s a mitzvah,” he said, noting the irony of permitting children to listen to performers such as Jay Z but not to the spiritual music of Jewish women.Reflecting their devotion to Jewish spirituality, Rebecca and Josh Teplow — parents of Joe, 22, Avery, 20, and Tamara, 17 — have hosted a Carlebach minyan in their home every Friday night for the past seven years.“It’s such a blessing,” Mr. Teplow said. “I look forward to it. It gives me strength.”
The singer/composer – who also teaches voice and piano in Teaneck — said that her music has been described as “intense, which stems from the fact that [when she’s singing or composing] I’m completely focused on recognizing God’s presence in my life. The listeners hear this and reflect it.”One example, she said, can be found in her rendering of “Ani Ma’amin,” which speaks of belief in the coming of redemption. After singing the word “wait,” she changes the rhythmic structure, adding three extra beats “as a reflection of waiting.” Her tendency to use technical devices to help illustrate the words is not done consciously, she said.
“I notice it after the process of composing. Magical things happen because of the deep connection.”
At her March 9 concert, Ms. Teplow will be accompanied by a cello and piano, with a guitar used for some songs. She also will tell the story behind her music, explaining, for example, the psalms she’s interpreting.“I want the audience to be uplifted,” she said. “But when I’m singing sadder music, I want them to feel the sadness, not to try to escape from that. There’s a joy in yearning, in feeling lovesick for God.”
Well, she certainly has my attention. Teplow’s voice is lovely. A little Norah Jones, a little Neshama Carlebach, with a good cabaret singer’s flair…She’s definitely someone worth keeping an eye and ear on.
“Teplow boasts the voice of a pop diva with a hint of Barbara Streisand, well suited to her dramatic, cello-flecked, pop-rock arrangements of Psalms and passages from Jewish wisdom literature.
Rebecca Teplow’s latest CD “Kaveh, Hope” has just been released. The songs are all in Hebrew and composed and arranged by Rebecca on liturgical texts. Rebecca’s strong embrace of text is clear and distinct. She has interestingly even composed variations of her own songs and presents “Gam Ki Elech” twice in different styles. I liked the Joni Mitchell clarity and simplicity of her word painting in “Esa Einei” and that is one of her real strengths. The rock idiom predominates as in pieces such as “Hinei Kel,” which also includes some fun instrumentals. Teplow’s use of contemporary musical idioms are muted but used in a effective way, as in the introduction to “Peyrasti,” which starts out in one idiom but morphs into a rock sequence with some nice guitar riffs. The songs showcases Teplow’s vocal range and ends the entire album with a quiet dieout. Many will enjoy this album. It’s available through CDBaby.com.
Teplow has a painterly approach to song writing, one that layers the tiny precise brush-strokes of her clear and controlled voice over large voluptuous brush-strokes of shifting musical genres and textures. Which means that she can do the neat trick of swinging between cabaret, folk, and rock sounds without sounding contrived, clearly drawing on the different emotional strengths of each.
Rebecca Teplow began her musical path as a classically trained violinist. After graduating from the prestigious High School of Performing Arts, Rebecca then went on to pursue a degree in Music Performance where she studied under violinist Itzhak Perlman and composer Robert Starer. Eventually, her thoughts turned from instrumental performance to the creation of music. Rebecca’s compelling need to write songs was realized with the release of her first CD in 2004, entitled “T’filot/Prayers.” Rebecca’s second CD was released December 18, 2008 Rebecca’s musical compositions combine her classical training along with a potent spiritual view of Jewishness. Rebecca’s CDs received very positive acclaim from critics and listeners. The award-winning writer, Seth Rogovoy, listed “Prayers” among the best CD’s of 2004. He stated “Teplow boasts the voice of a pop diva with a hint of Barbara Streisand, well suited to her dramatic, cello-flecked, pop-rock arrangements of Psalms and passages from Jewish wisdom literature.” Zalmen Mlotek, Artistic Director of The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene, states: “Rebecca Teplow’s new CD “Kaveh/Hope,” is a must for anyone with interest in new music to the holy scriptures…Haunting as well as soothing, her songs resonate on a deep emotional level. Fresh and new, evoking the ancient and deeply spiritual.” Tanya Krim writing in the “New Jersey Jewish Standard” described Rebecca’s voice as “powerful and melifluous, reminiscent of Barbara Streisand’s.”
I have been hiding from the audience my entire life. I am not sure if this is because I have performance anxiety or that kol b’isha erva (a woman’s voice is nakedness) has presented an obstacle. Is it both? Has my anxiety been influenced by my fear that I am not being a “good girl” when I sing in public?
After many years of “hiding” from public performance, I’m stepping onto the stage. Just thinking about it sets my heart racing. Although I am still anxious because my education defined the Jewish woman in a certain way, I have come to the conclusion that it cannot be wrong for me to use my God-given talent to help people hear their soul’s yearning for spiritual greatness. I now need to tap into my inner strength and model for my children, my students, and future generations what I believe.I come to this concert with a singular idea: Orthodox women singing in public are an endangered species. Our people, theoretically guided by the maxim, “every Jew is responsible for all other Jews,” don’t even realize the importance of this species to the spiritual biosystem or even that it is in such danger.
Judaism teaches us to release ourselves to faith and connect to God through mitzvot. Through mitzvot, we realize that each of us is a living Sefer Torah, part of an infinite God. Everything emanates from our faith in God and our Jewish community. Much of this is accomplished by women, the core of Jewish families.Women are creators of life, physical developers of the next generation. Jewish women also define spirituality in the home. We are Jewish because our mothers successfully connected their children to God.
“If words are the pen of the heart,” taught Rabbi Schneur Zalman “then song is the pen of the soul.” While God’s words of Torah flow down to our minds and actions, joyous song carries our souls upward to connect with the Almighty. Jewish women are connecting their children with words of Torah, but many are not tapping into the spiritual core of ecstatic singing that Rabbi Zalman spoke of.Rabbi Herzfeld’s article, “Kol Ishah” states that many rabbis including, Rabbi Yechiel Weinberg, Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein and Rabbi David Bigman, agree that women may sing publicly. Many in our community have not adopted this view and run the risk of destroying our spiritual community if women are treated like Dinah and locked in a box. Rabbi Herzfeld writes: “If we deny the girls of our community the ability to express themselves through song, we run the very real risk of allowing them to be serenaded by an alternative influence.” Consider Neshama Carlebach’s recent announcement that she is “making aliyah to the Reform Movement.
”Rabbi Herzfeld further points out that by not allowing women to sing, the Orthodox community is teaching men that girls “are such erotic creatures that it is impossible to have an encounter with them that is not erotic…We are in fact reinforcing the notion that our spiritual personality cannot rise above our physical nature.”After reading Rabbi Herzfeld’s article, my interest was sparked and I did some research. It seems that the word erva comes from the root ayin-raish-hey which means to uncover, bare oneself. The idea of revelation in this root seems to be more innocent than the Gemara’s later definition of erva as unchasteness or lewdness.
Right now I choose to understand the idea of a woman’s voice as revelatory – innocent and chaste – and my songs as pronouncing the Jewish truth of holiness that is a part of our lives.The following experience describes how redemptive music can be:Two years ago I was wheeled into emergency surgery on Yom Kippur. Still awake, the nurse asked if she could play my CD that I had given the surgeon. I had not heard my CD in years and did not sing or listen to my music the entire time I was sick. (Often, we drift from the things we need most in our lives.) Lying on the steel table, I nodded, closed my eyes, and heard Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing), while the anesthesiologist told me to count back from 20. This was my prayer on Yom Kippur.
Sometimes I have a hard time connecting to G-d in synagogue. Spirituality is such a personal thing. Too many people around me.
I am really a very private person which is unusual for a performer. It is the introspective quality that people hear in my music. It evokes the core of their neshama (soul) in a private and intense connection to G-d.
The most profound element in my music is the intensity. The intensity stems from the fact that when I am singing I am completely focused on recognizing G-d’s presence in my life. Listeners feel it, absorb the emotion and the music echoes in their souls.
People gain an image of what my music is about without reference to Hebrew. This is because the words are so vividly linked to the musical techniques used. For instance, in Kaveh, the hope that we are trying to hold onto when we are in a desperate situation is presented in the opening notes of “Kaveh” (which means “hope”) with a series of dissonant chord clusters. When the words move into “strengthen yourself and G-d will instill courage in your heart”, there is a strong resolution of the dissonance presented. Another example is present in the rhythmic drive of “Nachon Libi” (which means “steadfast is my heart”) reflecting your heart racing towards G-d presence in your life, as if you are singing to G-d with your whole being. It is an announcement that you are ready for a spiritual connection. I will sing music even with my soul. The beat is awakening the world to G-d’s presence in their life.
Another example is in “Ani Maamin,” on the words “I will wait” for the coming of redemption, there is a measure when the rhythm of the music is changed to incorporate three extra beats, when I switch from a piece in 6/8 and suddenly use a measure of 9/8. This extension of timing reflects the “waiting” and for the coming of the Messiah.
The interesting thing about these techniques, is that I do not “consciously” compose them in this fashion. I only start noticing that they are there much after the process of composing. Magical things happen because I am so deeply connected to the words as a vehicle of connection to G-d.
The occasional sadness that someone hears in my music is a reflection of my soul’s yearning for spirituality. Rav David Aaron says: “We are the happiest when we are sadly searching for God. When you allow yourself to hear the inner voice of your soul’s yearning for spiritual greatness, you may feel much sadness. It may then seem hopeless that the more you awaken to your soul’s desire for God, the sadder and the more discontented you will be. But the path to true happiness is to embrace your souls sadness. The sadness and discontent of the soul is actually the very material from which the soul makes joyous music.”My music tells people not to escape from the sadness of their soul. Don’t try to fill the void with money, fancy cars, jewelry or pain killers. There is joy in this yearning that feels lovesick for G-d. Constant searching for G-d’s presence in your life brings joy.
I studied the violin and piano classically. I came from a mixed world, going from Yeshiva of Flatbush elementary school to High School of Performing Arts. Talk about a transition. I obviously have brave parents. Music got me through my life. People like Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Ricki Lee Jones, Samuel Barber, Maurice Ravel and Bach got me through some of the dark times. I knew I met my bashert when we could listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Til Tuesday together for hours on end.