Spotlight on women

Females take center stage to sing messages of hope, clarity and strength.

Poster for the Soul Dance workshop at ‘Acoustica.’ (photo credit: DEBORAH JACUBOVSKY)
Poster for the Soul Dance workshop at ‘Acoustica.’
(photo credit: DEBORAH JACUBOVSKY)
Annie Orenstein of Ma’aleh Adumim is a woman on a mission.
Growing up in a family that was “always appreciative of arts and culture,” she works tirelessly to provide women performers in Israel with a stage and an audience.
It seems that Orenstein was genetically programmed to work in the arts.
“My mother studied piano at [New York City’s] Juilliard School when she was in high school. She was also a painter and a poet. She passed away when I was young. I started playing piano here in Israel when I was almost 30. When I first touched the piano, I felt that I was connecting with my mother’s legacy.
“My Moroccan father played musical instruments and gave me his worlds of music, including Sephardic nigunim [vocal music] and hazanut [cantorial music]. I also remember my grandfather listening to lots of classical music.”
Inspired while attending a 2007 competition sponsored by the now-defunct Professional Women’s Theater, Orenstein started producing shows for women in the arts. During the next few years, she “met tons of performers.
I met women who were religious and secular, Israelis, Anglos (English-speakers), instrumentalists, singers. I was very inspired by all of the variety.
“The competition lasted for four years; I produced the last three. I got involved when the original producer went to medical school. She bequeathed it to me and I grew into the role.”
As she began producing shows for women, Orenstein saw more opportunities for women in arts. “In the past eight years, I’ve worked with more than 150 performers, from novices to seasoned performers ranging in age from 12 to 80-plus.”
Five years ago, Orenstein co-founded “Spotlight on Women” with dance judge Rochel Grundman. Grundman, formerly a student of the prestigious School of American Ballet, danced with the Israel Ballet and is now a mentor and a dance coach. Together, the pair won a prestigious grant from the city of Beit Shemesh and produced almost 20 shows together. Although Grundman is no longer active with Spotlight on Women, she remains a huge supporter.
Spotlight on Women is much more than a theatrical production company, Orenstein explains.
“I look at it as a movement, giving women consistent opportunities to express themselves – not only to raise the bar professionally to meet the standards of the secular world, but to raise the level of quality of what’s given on the stage.”
Performances at Spotlight on Women productions neatly avoid what Orenstein calls “the general sexualized culture.”
Since 2010, Spotlight on Women has “hosted one-woman shows, groups and variety shows based on themes.”
Religious performers and non-religious performers connect to the themes in different ways, so these shows create an opportunity for women of different backgrounds to share the stage and coexist.
Orenstein emphasizes the uniqueness of shows produced by Spotlight on Women.
“In general, people of the same cultural spectrum go to the same types of shows. Here we have a mix. A member of the Belz Hassidic community performs on the same stage as a woman from a secular kibbutz. And the friends of each performer come and blend in the audience.”
Spotlight on Women exists, in part, because of the traditional Jewish prohibition on men listening to women singing. Orenstein explains, “Up until eight years ago, girls had to choose between their art and their Judaism in the professional realm. Now there are tons of opportunities, in Israel and in the world beyond, for women to perform.
“My goal is to create consistent opportunities for women to express themselves and to create a new standard, a standard where women are taught positive messages and to give examples of women tapping into their talents in a healthy manner.
“A performer who has committed herself to perform for only women needs consistent opportunities. So we’ve created a show called StageNight, with open mics for women on a monthly basis in Jerusalem. January 2016 starts the sixth season of StageNight.
“Spotlight on Women originally got funding from Beit Shemesh to produce StageNight so that girls and women of all ages can share their talents and their expressive abilities with others, inspiring them to tap into their own strengths. It’s a stage not of competition, but of celebration of the unique gifts given to each of us.”
Monthly StageNight performances have included singing, dancing, acting and spoken poetry slams. “We want to encourage women and girls to discover, develop and define who they are on stage and off,” Orenstein emphasizes.
Although the majority of performers at StageNight are religious, English-speaking women, the stage is open to all. At the last open mic, one of the performers was a Christian woman from the US. The need women performers have for a stage and for an audience is so great that Orenstein has barely scratched the surface.
“I have so many performers that I haven’t even tapped into the Israeli scene. Spotlight on Women hasn’t yet had too many Israeli, Russian or Ethiopian performers.”
The best performers at StageNight are invited back to appear in the larger shows. Spotlight on Women is currently producing Acoustica, scheduled for December 20 in Jerusalem. Acoustica is two shows in one evening. The briefer, early show, for which doors open at 5:30 p.m., is being billed as ideal for mothers and daughters. It features three singers and expressive and musical workshops for all participants.
The later show, which will run longer, has six featured singers as well as singing and dancing workshops.
One of the first performers Orenstein met in 2007 was Delia Spiers, now Delia Bueno de Mesquita. Today, they work together producing shows for Spotlight on Women. Bueno de Mesquita is an acoustic soul and folk singer and songwriter. Of her craft, she says, “These journeys are how I make sense of my head, of our world; they are lullabies to soothe my soul and bring into harmony all the pieces that make us up.”
Originally from England, Bueno de Mesquita sang in jazz clubs in her native country. Now living in Pardess Hanna, she began singing to women- only audiences soon after receiving a record deal offer from Universal.
Besides performing, Bueno de Mesquita is co-producing Acoustica with Orenstein and is equally passionate about “giving women a stage to express themselves and a space that supports and displays their talents in a professional way.”
Another of the performers in the upcoming Acoustica show is Lizzi Serling.
Raised in California, she was already doing commercials at the age of four. By the time she was eight, she had entered the world of professional theater. Serling first came to Israel five years ago on a Birthright trip and she stayed to study more about Judaism and to begin her adult life in Israel. Her studies led her to become an observant Jewish woman and she’s now married with one child.
As her life transformed, Serling began writing her own music. After she gave birth to her first child, a friend encouraged her to use her voice. Inspired, she wrote an original song called “Use Your Voice,” which she will perform at Acoustica. The song will also be featured on the forthcoming inaugural Spotlight on Women podcast, which is being prepared for release on Sound- Cloud.
Orenstein points out the significance of “Use Your Voice.”
“This song is valuable as an example. Lizzi wrote the song and now she’s giving it ears, life. Women around the world are hearing these messages of love, light, positivity and strength coming from Jerusalem. These are voices that have been put aside and are being expressed now that the environment has been created for them.”
In addition to performances, Acoustica will also feature workshops.
Author, composer, and singer, Anaëlia Ben David will present her “Sing, Heal, Rejoice” workshop. Ben David was born in France to a family of singers.
As a young performer, she was inspired by the Beatles and went on to study classical and world music. Eventually, her journey led her to Jerusalem, where she was captivated by what she calls “Hebrew letters and their ancestral vibrations.” She sings original compositions based on ancient Hebrew texts, as well as traditional songs in Ladino and Yiddish.
Her workshops will incorporate basic breathing exercises, relaxation and voice training to help participants connect with the pleasure of singing.
Both Orenstein and Bueno de Mesquita have young families. In addition to their other responsibilities, they invest their time and money in these shows because they believe in the work of, according to Orenstein, “Raising the bar for the messages that need to be heard in the world of pain, darkness and challenge today.
“We work so that women can hear messages of hope, of clarity, of strength, so that they can be a source of strength to others. It’s lighting a candle. We have to inspire ourselves and let ourselves inspire others.” •
For tickets to Acoustica in Nahlaot’s Beit Mazia theater on December 20, visit