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Ladies (and Not Gentlemen): the Bulletproof Stockings!

Times of Israel

Dalia G. Shusterman, wearing bright red lipstick and a cropped jean jacket, and Perl Wolfe, in a leopard print top, look the part of alternative rock musicians. They talk about “wailing and rocking out” and list influences like Radiohead, the White Stripes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction.

The only tip-off that these young women are not your average rockers are their sheitls, or wigs. Shusterman and Wolfe, Lubavitcher Hasidim living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, are the Bulletproof Stockings – the first-ever Hasidic alt-rock girl band.

By day, Shusterman, in her mid-30s, is a part-time graphic designer and recently widowed mother of four young boys between the ages of two and eight. Wolfe, a 26-year-old divorcée, is a makeup artist who manages a cosmetics store in Boro Park that caters mainly to Hasidic women. By night, the two play gigs at various New York venues and work on writing and recording their first album, the follow-up to the release earlier this year of their four-track EP “Down to the Top.”

The band’s name hints that the musicians intend to defy stereotypes: “Bulletproof stockings” is a tongue-in cheek reference to the thick, opaque leg-wear traditionally worn by Hasidic women.

Because of the rabbinic prohibition of kol isha, which bars men from hearing women sing, only women are admitted to their live performances. Men who want to listen to Shusterman on drums and to Wolfe’s keyboard and soulful voice must make do with their MP3s and online videos.

The two see no contradiction in the fact that men are prohibited from coming to hear them play, but can easily hear them online.

“The deal is that it’s not a women’s mitzvah not to play,” explained Shusterman, using a term for a religious commandment. Her speech, in English, is riddled with Hebrew and Yiddish terms. “It’s a man’s mitzvah not to listen. Anyone who knows halacha [Jewish law] will tell you this. There are plenty of frum [religious] women putting their music out, and YouTube and Amazon and iTunes are the media for getting it out there. And especially for parnasa [income], it’s not even a question.”

“We could sing in the middle of the street and all the men would have to leave. But for the sake of ahavat yisrael [love of fellow Jews], we don’t make issues for people,” Wolfe said.

“Where we draw our line is who we will perform live for,” Shusterman said. “We are not going to put men in a position where they have to listen to us.”

But they are more interested in the flip side of the gender equation. “We are creating a forum where women can freely express themselves without having the male input and presence,” Shusterman said.

“We believe there is a beauty in keeping things separate,” explained Wolfe. “We want to create this space for women to sing and dance and jump up and down and mosh pit…we need it. Girls need it.” Otherwise, when men and women attend concerts by male singers, “the women just sit there. It’s the men who get to have a good time and rock out,” she said.

They also want to inspire other observant Jewish girls and women to play music. “We really want girls to pick up their instruments and start getting into it. There’s a weird misconception that it’s not Jewish to do this kind of thing,” said Wolfe.

The band is looking to expand to include a guitarist, bassist and string musician. Candidates must be women. “It would be easier if they were Jewish, but it’s not necessary,” Wolfe said.

The two musicians believe it was bashert – predestined — that they found each other.

Shusterman grew up Modern Orthodox in Potomac, Maryland. She played piano as a little girl, but it was shortly after she turned 16 that she discovered her natural affinity for percussion. At a New Year’s party she went onstage and used the drums while the band was on a break between sets.

“I started shaking a tambourine, and I just worked my way up to bongos and the congas. And the next thing I knew, I looked up and the whole room of people was dancing to my playing,” she recalled. “It was a total revelation for me.”

Soon, Shusterman was busking with other teen musicians on the streets of D.C. While still 16, she hitchhiked across the country: “I had lots of adventures and I eventually landed up in New Orleans, where I was playing a lot of jazz music. People heard me playing on the street and just pulled me up on to their stages.”

Her professional career as an indie musician took off when, as an undergraduate studying philosophy and literature at SUNY Purchase, a friend roped her into playing drums to open for the band Boss Hog. That led to several years of recording and international touring with another indie band, Hopewell.

But Shusterman left the indie rock scene when Hasidic Judaism started to feel like a better spiritual fit than life on the road. “As much as I totally loved it, I had one foot off the tour bus,” she said. “It’s a very spiritual experience when you’re performing. There were these massive crowds and it was amazing, but then when you walk off stage and you’re facing life.”

She discovered Chabad Lubavitch, the Hasidic outreach group, in September 2001 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, when someone handed her a flyer for a Sukkot event in Crown Heights. “That night was my first real Chabad experience, and I also met my future husband that night,” she recalled. “I stopped doing the band thing that fall and ended up marrying a rabbi.”

Shusterman and her husband, who was also a music lover, moved to Los Angeles and had four boys. The family’s life was thrown into turmoil by her husband’s untimely death last spring.

Coincidentally, that was the same time that Wolfe, who had moved from Chicago to Crown Heights after her divorce in 2008, suddenly found herself writing music. She had studied classical piano since age six, but had never written music, lyrics or poetry before.

Wolfe, who was raised in a Chabad family in Chicago, never felt she completely fit in. As a teen she was rebellious and, although she remained within the Jewish community, did not socialize with girls from her religious school.

Uniquely, Wolfe’s parents — neither of whom had grown up Orthodox — exposed her to musicians like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. She eventually found her way to Led Zed Zeppelin, The Doors, and punk rock. Wolfe’s father played jazz on the piano, leading her to legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Etta James.

For a time, Wolfe drifted away from observance, but she moved back toward it when she attended a religious seminary in Israel after high school, got married, and started her studies in psychology at Northwestern University. Following her divorce, Wolfe, returning to her roots, felt the pull of the Lubavitch community and made her way to Crown Heights.

Bulletproof Stockings’ music has been compared to that of Adele, Nina Simone, Fiona Apple and Florence and the Machine, but Wolfe insists she is not trying to sound like anyone but herself when she writes and sings her compositions — all of which are inspired by Torah and by Lubavitch’s version of Hasidic faith.

“I’m trying to channel my soul,” she said. “When I’m recording, I’m thinking, ‘Hashem, give me the right words, the right intention, so that it comes out the right way to inspire me and the people who will hear me.’”

“I didn’t expect to find someone that I would connect with musically,” Wolfe said of her encounter with Shusterman last year through a mutual acquaintance. Shusterman, for her part, never thought she would play her drums again.

But does Shusterman, who got off the tour bus long ago, really want to get back on?

“It’s true that I never thought I’d go back,” she said, hugging her bandmate. “This is the only way I would do it.”

65 Comments

  • 5. THE LEGACY OF MIRIAM & HER TAMBORINE wrote:

    These two young ladies were given tests that most of us will never know & also talents that most of us will never have. Kol haKavod for using their musical gifts in a KOSHER way to become closer to HaShem & encouraging other women & girls to do the same !!

  • 6. confused wrote:

    Pls take this article off.

    I believe in ‘live and let live’ and wish the girls luck. But why should we educate our youth about ‘Radiohead, the White Stripes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction’ on a Chabad site.

    Again, pls take this off!!

  • 7. Milhouse wrote:

    #2, Now what? What *exactly* is your objection to this? It sounds to me like Hashem gave them these talents and this is their shlichus in the world, at least for now.

  • 8. very special wrote:

    Thank you ladies for standing by your principles and expressing yourselves in a kosher manner with pride. This article is a fantastic representation of using your G-d given talents to inspire others. May you be zoicheh to playing percussion for moshiach tzidkainu speedily.

  • 10. ashamed person wrote:

    not what the rebbe wants for his kids, and that how all trouble start, why do u have the need to do so and mostly excersise it online, that how and why chabad has such bad name, whats wrong with bullet proof stuckings? its great and good for the frum and chasideshe woman who do so, im immbaresed to say that thease women are lubavitch,

    • 11. Aerin Goldberg wrote:

      You should first before even writing this article Learn How To Spell. Secondly, you sound so envious of these lovely still religious women all of which seem extremely devoted to Chabad and how on earth would you know what the Rabbi would want for his children.

      Chabad does not have a bad name it is only you that wishes to say this after I am certain someone on poisoned your little uneducated brain

  • 13. whats the point of this article! wrote:

    hello? is this an impression u want to give? whats the point!

    not impressed at all…. ;(

  • 14. Serach played on her Kinor.... wrote:

    Rock on, Ladies!
    Lets dance to the bais hamikdash!

  • 16. A Real Fan wrote:

    I just LOVE their music! They are wonderful! It makes me feel closer to Hashem to hear educated musicians playing REAL music. This brings Joy to my Heart!

  • 17. Moishe wrote:

    When I I typed crownheights.info and the first thing I saw was this…. I thought I miss typed something and went to a like a bad site………..
    I’m sure the article is beautiful and I wish succes in what they do. But the pictures I personly think is a bit much.

  • 19. chaim G wrote:

    And we wonder why Rubashkin is sitting in jail… Chabad is becoming the laughing stock of the frum world.

  • 20. Grrrl wrote:

    Perry Ferrell, lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, is Peretz Bernstein. ;)

    Just because the listed music is goyishe to you doesn’t mean that it lacks substance. People relate to it like a niggun when they’re happy, in pain, in love or without.

    Hashem gave these women purpose, helped them find each other to create something good. Who are any of you to say that his plan is wrong? I am anxious to hear their work.

  • 21. crown heights resident wrote:

    CANT UNDERSTAND WHY A LUBAVITCHER SITE WILL ADVERTISE SUCH NON LUBAVITCHER THINGS DO WE NEED MORE MATISYAHU

  • 22. ashamed to be Lubavitch wrote:

    Sadly its the women who have been dragging the name of Lubavitch throu the gutters,
    there is nothing good about your music or about you and why do you need to go to radio head and other such people to get your inspiration Whats wrong with the rebbe and rabbi akiva ager and the bal shem tov…
    Your truly nothing but a failur.

  • 23. what? wrote:

    Last time i checked “chabad” is detirmined by the rebbe. I don’t belive the rebbe would approve of women making a rock band modeled after goyishe singers. I am 100% sure the rebbe would not approve putting such pictures online as it is not in the spirit of orthodox judiasim and for sure not in the spirit of chabad which as the rebbe said is frumkiet plus. People have confused chabad’s kiruv work with the way a lubavitcher should be. Now before getting upset think what the rebbe would say. And base your opinion on what the rebbe actually said (look in sichos and igros kodesh) not what you think the rebbe meant.

  • 24. To #6 wrote:

    Fiona Apple sings Amy Winehouse?
    Seriously, I respect and liked your comment #6.
    We are ALL in this Golus together people.>TOGETHER. Know what that even means?! I doubt any of you do, except for #6.
    Your comment gives me hope that we’re all getting out of Golus soon. Thank you #6 for writing it. You go girls! Life is short. Do what you gotta do to keep your sanity. And may Hashem watch over your souls. Remember girls, it never was between you and them to begin with. It is between you and Hashem.

  • 25. 65+ wrote:

    It is about time to be said: tittles & names of websites that on the abvius represents a movement with an ideaoligi, is not for grabs. You are free to create any web site you desire , but not with a tittle that makes believe you represent a cyrcum group. It is also not fair. You are actualy doing historical damage to many. You may find your self in the not so far feuter listed with a group of achievers you may be embaraced to be inclouded with.
    So, if that is what you want to do, go ahead and be creative and find a crouwed with you Owen efforts. But do aim on a community you came from, as easy pray.
    ,

  • 27. BL wrote:

    I see in Mishpacha magazine, that rarely will you see pictures of women. Why here, for all the men to see, a picture of 2 very attractive women? Where oh where is the bottom line.

  • 28. hatzlocho, but.... wrote:

    It is really all fine and good and should have much hatzlocho, but for a chabd site their pics do not have to be online rather SHOULD not be online and maybe the whole article as well.

  • 30. Rock on wrote:

    Perry Ferral of Janes Addiction is Jewish and so is the original guitarist of the Chilli Peppers!! :)

  • 32. what? wrote:

    Last time i checked “chabad” is detirmined by the rebbe. I don’t belive the rebbe would approve of women making a rock band modeled after goyishe singers. I am 100% sure the rebbe would not approve putting such pictures online as it is not in the spirit of orthodox judiasim and for sure not in the spirit of chabad which as the rebbe said is frumkiet plus. People have confused chabad’s kiruv work with the way a lubavitcher should be. Now before getting upset think what the rebbe would say. And base your opinion on what the rebbe actually said (look in sichos and igros kodesh) not what you think the rebbe meant.

  • 33. BLAHH wrote:

    I need to throw up. First of all, why is there a picture like this on a public website?! secondly, WHERE IS CHABAD GOING?!? UGH. Not what I want my family involved in. I am all for niggunim and inspirational music, but this definitely needs to be promoted differently.

  • 34. 770 wrote:

    WHAT A SHAME CHABAD, CHABAD IS GOING TO FARE WITH THIS YELLOW PINS MESHICHISTIM, MATISYAHU GOING CRAZY AND FRY OUT,THE TSINIUS OF LADIES ON KINGSTON AVE. BOYS LIKE MEN CLEAN SHAVING, OUR YESHIVOT TROWING OUR BOYS FOR TUITION, AND NOW 2 WOMEN SINGING ROCK’IN’CHABAD, WELL AS A DIVORCEE IT’S AN OCCUPATION ?? WR IS CHABAD GOING ??

  • 35. why wrote:

    let them have much hatzlacha but why does crownheights.info have to post? so not tznius!! i mean…seriously! any shame?

  • 36. JustMe wrote:

    Great Read ch.info – dunno why so many dim comments lamenting this and lamenting that.

    If you don’t want to read this – just don’t log on.

    I am consistantly amazed at the narrow mindness of some of my neighbors – on second thought it’s probably one heretic with 12 computers ;)

  • 37. Very unimpressed wrote:

    This is what you call lubavith bulletproof stocking chas vesholom you are a embarrassment to lubavith than crownheights.info has to talk about her red lipstick and jean jacket. I mean thank god this site is not under the neme chabad. Very embarrassing.

  • 38. geulah girl wrote:

    It’s unfortunate that the first quote is about secular music but if you get to the end, it is clear that these were just stepping stones towards a higher purpose: to make a kosher space for women to develop and express the gifts that HaShem gives them.

  • 39. AA wrote:

    #20 (and #21, the duplicate): you’re right, Chabad is determined by the Rebbe. Not by you. So where do you get your “100% certainty” that the Rebbe wouldn’t approve? Sounds like you are misusing the Rebbe’s name to advance your own personal ideas, and there is no greater chillul Hashem and chillul Lubavitch than that.

  • 40. embarrassed wrote:

    Maybe should be a site for women only but of course then we would see men checking out and yet another thing to qvech about. Really not apppropiate or tznius.

  • 41. It makes me appreciate wrote:

    Hamodiah and others’ policy of no photographs of women.

  • 42. DUH wrote:

    If you read the top right small point words above the articel, CH.info did NOT write this, only publish as an existing article from Times of Israel.

    Stop critisizing and let people live their lives.

  • 43. Israeli girl wrote:

    Bs”D

    They have a great idea. I hate it when I have to stand on the sidelines while the boys have a great time dancing. But I think the pictures where not necessary.

    Hatzlocho!

  • 44. picture in front of 770 wrote:

    in the times of the Bais hamikdash
    would it have been appropriate for people to have taken such a pose in front of such a holy place
    they are not at an amusement park
    they are standing in front of the Rebbe’s shul
    either way, pictures of women, especially in fun style poses are not tznius to put up on a public website
    it is great that they have that personality, but should use it more tzniusdikly

  • 45. wake up yidden from the dream of golus wrote:

    i think what they are doing is great. it’s not for everyone but they have their own unique situations to take care of. Also, is anyone so blind to think that this is a “frum website”? Open your eyes this is a secular website with some frum content as well. If you think this is a frum website you have to reassess your level of yiddishektit for yourself.

  • 46. Colleague musician wrote:

    unfortunately some people dont understand the social context that we are in at these times. Surely enough this kind of group wouldnt acheive their mission 50 years ago, but we live in different times now. Look around you, how many people fry out, searching for something else outside of this bubble and the only place they land on is a total goishe world, in an extreme way. This band and alike, can be one of not many jumping boards to bring them back, or at least to remember who they are.

    You go to mivtzoim, you try to lekarev people, dont think those people will just hypnotically forget what they used to listen to all their lives and start listening exclusively to niggunim. It just doesnt work for too long. Their kids will probably also know some things.. if your choice is avraham fried and the other is Metallica you probably should be greatful there’s this choice, which anyway is a product of 2 special peoples’ souls.

  • 49. lol wrote:

    Everybody relax… it doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other (#5 vs. #6) – what these women are doing is commendable and does not have to be taken off the site – but maybe CHI should be a little more careful about what they appear to be promoting – having the names of non-Jewish singers in their article. Yes, I know you just copy and pasted it from Times of Israel, but maybe screen it first…

  • 50. response to 36 from 20 wrote:

    i wrote clearly why i am “100% sure” that the rebbe wouldn’t approve: it’s not in the spirit of orthodox judaisim. period. i repeat: read what the rebbe said and wrote (for example the rebbe wanted women taxi drivers for women! yes the rebbe was so “extereme”) before using the rebbe’s holy name for your junk.

  • 51. IBS wrote:

    Wow, so because they’re attractive they are zonos?
    Seriously, why is everyone so threatened of attractive women all of a sudden? They are completely tznius and they don’t sing for men. They are also seriously advancing their tafkid in the world in a way that is quite impressive. Crownheights.info publishes pictures of women daily…I wonder why this positive post received so much nasty attention?

  • 52. 770 wrote:

    hey com’on since when posted 2 girls head to head is tsiniustick what they want to bring to our kids again??? ruach schtuyot. assur to post or buy their tapes!!

  • 53. :) wrote:

    #25 is right on point! There are actually many “goyishe” bands that explore Jewish texts lyrically! Regina Spektor, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, even more extreme genres like metal. Disturbed is headlined by a former frummie, heck, there’s even a Swedish band called Meshuggah!

  • 54. Response to #46 Rabbi Zalman wrote:

    Did you actually just compare two Chassidim of the Rebbe to prostitutes?!! We are in golus because of baseless hatred, people who sit around writing nasty comments about fellow Jews NOT because of two women who are trying to promote Yiddishkeit in a way that is “different” than what you understand.

  • 55. READ THE TITLE wrote:

    Has anyone even read the title of this article: “Ladies (AND NOT GENTLEMAN),” that should clue you in from the get-go. This article is for women first and foremost, their music is for women, and most importantly, this article was published on a secular site that is not geared specifically toward frum Yidden. Crownheights.info chose to repost it here, that is CH.info’s prerogative. What does this have to do with the band at all? If you have an issue with the pictures or content of this article, that should be directed toward CH.info. This is a band of frum women who only perform for women. How is there anything untznius about that?

  • 56. #46, Are you joking? wrote:

    if you’re really a Rabbi, your smicha program needs a SERIOUS makeover.

  • 57. nn wrote:

    oy vey
    where r we all heading to?..
    apparently tznius its not an issue anymore, in fact..it almost does not exist
    the rebbe must be very “proud” of all this mishigas.
    a shame on chabad
    where is moshiach??

  • 58. disgusted wrote:

    what i want to know is why everyone is saying these women are not tznius!!!!!!!!!! you can only see their faces! or is it the way they are smiling that is not tznius???!!!! that’s ridiculous! i can’t believe the chutzpa of ppl who think it’s ok to post mean comments about thing that don’t even make sense! and # 56 and all of u who r saying these women r not tznius, apparently u can’t see straight b/c u can’t tell if these women r tznius or not. don’t judge ppl and stop saying what a chilul lubavitch it is, cuz it’s not.

  • 59. to all of you who are being negative wrote:

    please, if you don’t have something nice or positive to say, do not post it online. if anything is embarrassing about this, it’s the comments people are posting here. it’s a shame and an embarrassment for chabad to see people fighting and writing nasty things to each other. THAT is what the rebbe would not want, even more than not wanting this band. please make sure you are writing appropriate things on this site or anywhere, thank you.

  • 60. to number 55 wrote:

    ouch. that’s sharp. maybe u should try and learn a bit more yourself about ahavas yisroel.

  • 61. Stop blaming women! wrote:

    They are amazing! Beautiful voices, beautiful girls!
    It isn’t anybody’s place to judge where someone gets their inspiration from. There is nothing not tznius about the faces of two women. People need to get a grip and stop blaming women for the worlds problems. Tznius is not the problem with Chabad, it is a mere symptom! For those of you who are calling out these women, saying nasty about them on a PUBLIC website, I have two words for you – SINAS CHINIM!

  • 62. #57, no harm meant wrote:

    just the wording used in your post was pretty out of control. There is no room in this world for such harsh, baseless judgement. Anyone holding the title Rabbi should be igniting lamps, not, chasV’S, diminishing their light. Kol Tuv & a gutte Yom Tov

  • 63. sara d wrote:

    good om them! they are amazing, and helping lubavitchers stay lubavitch
    anyone who is saying bad about them – wake up to the real world, look at crown heights in 2012, its not 1974!

  • 64. Dave from Boston wrote:

    You do realize, all of you, that through some of these nasty comments, you are persecuting an almanah and a divorcee! Since when can you transgress a “lo Taaseh deOraysah” to defend Chabad?! You cruelty is disgusting, not to mention completely assur, and you should be embarrassed and ask mechilah from these ladies.
    They’re probably just trying to use their talents for parnassah- one of them has like four kids and, as mentioned before, is an almanah. You disgust me with your self-righteousness.

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