Singer, songwriter, musician, all rolled into one

The lesser-known sister of the famed Razel brothers, Ricka Van Leeuwen, is remarkable in her own right – and is displaying her sound at a gig on Monday.

Ricka Van Leeuwen (photo credit: REUVEN HAYUN)
Ricka Van Leeuwen
(photo credit: REUVEN HAYUN)
Last December, as a producer for the Spotlight On Women organization, I had the pleasure of giving Ricka Van Leeuwen, 40, a stage for the all-new women’s Acoustica show that hosted an array of over 15 performers.
Watching her lead an all-women’s band through the streets of Nahlaot to the newly refurbished Beit Mazia theater, I was reminded of the Beatles on the streets of London, carrying their musical instruments on their backs. A sense of excitement seeped in, as if something epic was about to happen for women’s music.
Van Leeuwen welcomed the audience as if she were born to play, connecting with women of different ages and walks of life. She is young, hip and very funny. I became a big fan of her music, her message and her zest for life.
I was really excited to hear about her upcoming show, where she will be playing with four other women musicians, as well as inviting her well-known brothers Aharon and Yonatan to accompany her.
This is not the first time Van Leeuwen and her brothers will be sharing the stage. On the shelf in her living room rests an old record with a picture of the “Jackson 5” of Israel, Lehakat Razel, which was produced in 1989 with 11 songs. She and her brothers were just teenagers.
VAN LEEUWEN was born into a musical family in Nahlaot, Jerusalem, along with her three brothers, Aharon, Yonatan and Yehuda. They were very close in age.
“Looking back, it was an amazing childhood.”
She and her brothers were privileged to receive a different, out-of-the-box education from their parents.
“Growing up, my mother was the pillar of the home, and quietly took care of us.”
Her father, born to Holocaust survivors from Holland, made aliya with his family to Jerusalem after the war. She recalled being awakened daily by her father, who would sit in the doorway between her room and her brother’s room, either playing the guitar or a record of classical music, prompting: “What piece is this? Who composed it?” On Shabbat, he would read poetry by Haim Nahman Bialik. Then, when they became more observant, he read the weekly Torah portion.
“My father would also encourage our creativity. One time, when grandma visited from New Jersey, my father got everyone around the table and said ‘OK everyone, draw Grandma Trudy.’ Or, ‘OK Ricka, go write a song.’” Growing up in the Razel home was also very scheduled.
“We all had to learn the piano and another instrument as well. Flute was my main instrument, and I eventually went on to study at the music academy.”
On a typical afternoon, she would come home, relax a bit, and head off to lessons. By 6 p.m. it was homework, practicing piano, and flute. She also had classical voice lessons.
After 7 p.m. dinner with the family, her father would announce that they were “hofshim le’avoda”– free to go back to work” when they would finish practicing. She remembers a jar on the piano filled with change. Every time she practiced, she would “earn” a bit of pocket money.
“I am not afraid to say I hated it.”
Even so, she never stopped playing and writing music.
It was a constant in her life, and now is a constant in her own home.
“I think it’s important to know that people change.
Looking back, I think it was a good thing that I stuck with it.”
When asked if she forces her children to study music, she says no, but they are very musical and are developing their own talents.
WHEN SHE was 12 years old, she and her brothers started a band, making their debut at Grandma Trudy’s retirement community. They wrote songs for any family event that came up. She was the lead singer, accompanied by Yonatan on keyboard, Aharon on bass/guitar, and Yehuda on the drums.
At one point they entered a youth band competition in Jerusalem. Although they were one of the youngest bands to play, they won.
Van Leeuwen and her brothers went on to play on the popular Channel 1 TV show Siba Lamesiba (A Reason to Party) that was aired every Friday night.
“Since there weren’t many television shows, it was a very big deal.” They were invited back many times, and were also featured in local newspapers.
Afterwards, Lehakat Razel was invited to play in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and venues all over the country, as well as the President’s Residence. They continued playing together for more than three years as a young religious band playing mostly original music.
“I really loved performing with my brothers. When Yonatan went to the army, though, we stopped. I got married, and my brothers built themselves solo music careers. Now they play a lot more together.”
At the age of 19, she married Yoni, a real-estate lawyer, and stayed close to where she grew up in Nahlaot.
Together they are raising their eight children; Michal, 19; Ohad, 18; Ariel, 16 Haleli, 13; Anael, 11, Eden, eight; Amiad, six, and Binyamin, five.
About 12 years ago, she opened a real-estate business eponymously called Uricka Properties, conveniently located below her home. Encouraging families to find a home in Nahlaot is testament to how much she loves the area.
Within the last two years, she started recording songs became more serious about finishing an album of her own.
“ORIGINALLY, I was bummed to perform just in front of women. In the band, we played in front of mixed audiences. After a while, it became exciting. It’s also amazing to play with other women in a band. The energy is great!” Looking for a venue to play her own music, she went to Yellow Submarine, where she and her brothers played at the opening event there many years ago for mayor Teddy Kollek.
“I was so disappointed that they didn’t let me book a show for an all-women’s audience; my brothers play there all the time.” She was turned away from Beit Avi Chai as well, for choosing to play only for women.
Regarding her upcoming March 28 show, she said, “I am very excited to play again with my brothers. I found a format that works, and in the end, a great venue.”
Included in the repertoire is a song dedicated to the memory of Dafna Meir – a young mother killed in January by a terrorist at her home in Otniel – which she co-wrote with one of Dafna’s best friends.
For Van Leeuwen, music is a great way to share what she is going through with others, and to give strength to others.
“Music changes things within us. My wish is to connect, touch and inspire people through my music.”
Who does she listen to at home? “My brothers, Aharon and Yonatan Razel, as well as the Beatles, [Shlomo] Carlebach, Stevie Wonder, Idan Raichel and Sting to name a few.”
Jerusalem’s Port, 22 Hillel Street Doors open (restaurant) 7 p.m., Show starts at 9:30 p.m. Tickets: NIS 85 (02) 625-4447