Performance group for women only
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Performance group for women only

Take one talented woman who grew up in Englewood and two more who grew up in Teaneck and you’ve got three key players in an all-female production, "Shir La Ma’alote — Elevating the World Through Song and Dance," debuting this Sunday at 4 and 7:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Cultural Center on the campus of Stern College for Women, ’39 East 34th St.

The Englewood-raised founder of the sponsoring organization, Professional Women’s Theater, is dancer-singer Adena Kozak, a Moriah, Frisch, and Stern graduate and a medical student in Israel. Trained in ballet, jazz dance, and voice, the ‘4-year-old organizes women’s talent nights in Israel.

"I realized that it could go far and I wanted to make them more official so I opened a non-profit in the States called Professional Women’s Theater," she explained in an e-mail. Through her Website, pwt.org, she "met" Miriam Leah Droz, a Massachusetts resident who’d staged a women’s musical in New York last year as a sort of trial balloon for the genre.

 Together, the women decided to stage a benefit concert by women and for women. It will feature vocal artists and dancers in performance styles ranging from opera, Broadway, and pop rock to niggunim (wordless melodies) and tefillot (prayer). Many of the artists have recorded CDs and will be singing their own compositions.

Falling into the latter category are Chaya and Faige Glaser, who spent much of their childhood in a music-infused home in Teaneck. The sisters perform original songs on guitar. (Their father, Don, released an album in 1998 that includes the jazzy cut "Teaneck, N.J." and includes collaborations with his wife, Carol.)

"While in Teaneck, we attended Moriah and participated in the choirs there," said Chaya Glaser, ‘4, an educator at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. "We also worked at and attended musical theater and improv workshops at the JCC in Tenafly."

Why the "W" in PWT? As Orthodox Jews, Kozak and Droz — along with most of the featured artists — adhere to the prohibition against men listening to women sing, otherwise known as "kol isha," or "woman’s voice."

According to Rabbi Chaim Jachter, a rabbinic judge and an instructor of Talmud at Torah Academy of Bergen County, the prohibition has its origins in the Talmud (Berachot ‘4a), which concludes that women’s singing voices are alluring to men.

In an article in the Torah Academy student publication Kol Torah, Jachter wrote, "Observance of the kol isha prohibition is quite challenging for us as this prohibition runs counter to the prevailing Western culture. In today’s promiscuous society where outrageous behavior is deemed acceptable, a woman’s singing voice appears innocuous. Moreover, the general culture views this prohibition as offensive and demeaning to women. We are challenged to hold firm to our beliefs against the flow of the general cultural tide."

For the women who are dancers rather than singers, there’s an issue of modesty that bars them from physical performances in front of the opposite sex.

"As a result of having to compromise my religious convictions in order to dance professionally, I have begun a dance company in Israel which combines a mixture of modern and jazz styles, and which performs only for women," said Kozak, who expects to fly in for the Sunday PWT debut.

Droz said that until PWT’s creation, most of the featured entertainers "have been limited in their ability to find halachic performance opportunities. Several artists began performing in secular settings, but now hope to use their talents in religiously appropriate ways."

For information and to order tickets, visit
http://pwt-concert.eventbrite.com.

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