Shira Ben Avraham's spiritual 'Journey' to Judaism, motherhood

“It’s a collection of songs that were written as part of this journey that I’ve been on for the past, say, 10 years, that really started in South Africa where I grew up.”

 SHIRA BEN AVRAHAM in the Nahlaot neighborhood. (photo credit: Eitan Ben Avraham)
SHIRA BEN AVRAHAM in the Nahlaot neighborhood.
(photo credit: Eitan Ben Avraham)

Shira Ben Avraham has just released her second album, which chronicles her spiritual journey that led her to Israel, and now motherhood.

Born in South Africa, her Christian-born parents imbued in her a love of the Bible and of Israel. Little did they know, their daughter would one day convert to Orthodox Judaism and join the burgeoning local scene of young immigrants from English-speaking countries in Jerusalem.

Born Gizelle le Roux to a family descended from French Huguenots, Ben Avraham grew up near Pretoria. In her late teens and early twenties, she began writing songs and poetry, culminating in her debut album, Begin. In 2010, it was nominated for a SAMA, a South African Music Award, with the sweet, delicate sounds of her mother tongue earning her recognition in the category of best Afrikaans album

The nomination led her to perform for several album-launch concerts. That was the last time she ever performed in front of an audience until coming to Israel. She felt something deeper calling.

Ben Avraham spoke to In Jerusalem about her new album, Journey. “It’s a collection of songs that were written as part of this journey that I’ve been on for the past, say, 10 years, that really started in South Africa where I grew up,” she stated.

“It’s a collection of songs that were written as part of this journey that I’ve been on for the past, say, 10 years, that really started in South Africa where I grew up.”

Shira Ben Avraham
 SHIRA’S DEBUT album, the award-nominated ‘Begin’ released under her former name Gizelle. (credit: Eitan Ben Avraham) SHIRA’S DEBUT album, the award-nominated ‘Begin’ released under her former name Gizelle. (credit: Eitan Ben Avraham)

“Very soon after I released my first album, I completely lost inspiration. I didn’t want to continue making music. I didn’t understand it. It was very disorientating for me,” she explained.

That feeling led her to leave South Africa. She was hired by an international company that subsequently transferred her to Melbourne. “There I went on a spiritual journey and started really looking at what it is that I believe,” she said.

Ben Avraham’s unusual upbringing had the benefit of being raised with an awareness of Israel and Torah. “Even though we were Christians, when I was young, we moved away from that and moved toward Orthodox Judaism. But once I was in Australia all by myself, I really had to examine that and decide what I believe in.” Over the years, her parents drifted away from normative Christianity and today consider themselves something undefinable.

About three years into her five-year stay in Australia, she began an Orthodox conversion process, which eventually led her to Jerusalem. She had the benefit of Melbourne’s large Jewish community. “I came closer and closer and finally made a decision to convert to Judaism,” she said. The date of this interview happened to coincide with the anniversary of when she completed her conversion with the Melbourne Beit Din. “So today is my fifth Hebrew birthday, so to speak,” she explained.

Ben Avraham then moved to Jerusalem, where she lived in Nahlaot. It was there she met her future husband, Eitan Ben Avraham, an American-born social media guru and entrepreneur and founder of the Aleph Male Beard Balm and Oil company.

Many of the songs on the new album are about these experiences. Two videos have been released, including one called “Dance With Me” about her relationship with Eitan. The video incorporates footage from their wedding.

In contrast to her previous album, her new songs are much more spiritual, inspired by her move to Jerusalem.

“It’s about my longing for connecting to God and serving Him,” she noted. “It has a positive and uplifting message that I hope will inspire many people, especially Jewish women, to come closer to God.”

“It has a positive and uplifting message that I hope will inspire many people, especially Jewish women, to come closer to God.”

Shira Ben Avraham

Her debut album dealt with sad subjects such as unrequited love. “It was actually a difficult time in my life back then,” Ben Avraham explained. “The album was quite dark, but I felt very passionate about it.”

After the self-financed independent album went on to be nominated for a SAMA award, she assembled a top-notch band and performed at album launches in Johannesburg and in Pretoria. Seemingly poised for success, that was the last time Ben Avraham ever performed live in South Africa.

Getting disillusioned

“I was starting to feel disillusioned and disconnected and just really not inspired to continue on that road,” she explained. “I thought this was what I was going to do with my life. Looking back now, there were a number of things in play, but I recognize that part of the reason was this album didn’t really have a meaningful message. It didn’t have something that I felt like I was giving to the world. 

“It was satisfying to do the self-expression. But I didn’t see a future for myself doing that for the rest of my life.” The life of performing at regular gigs and building a following was not for her.

“I had no energy or desire to spend the next 10 years going around and performing those songs.”

That was when the company she was working for transferred her to Australia.

WHEN HER mother  was pregnant with her, Ben Avraham’s parents became very religious Christians and from there, “they forged their own path,” she explained, rejecting some church dogma and incorporating some aspects of Judaism. “When I was a small child in primary school, my parents shielded me from this because it was very controversial,” Ben Avraham said.

“It was very difficult to explain being in a Christian school with other kids whose parents just went to church and had normal Christian lives,” Ben Avraham said. “But as I grew up, I became more and more aware, and my parents gave me an appreciation for the story of the Jewish people and return to the Land of Israel. I found it very inspiring and so I started reading novels and generally gravitated toward Judaism as well, along with my parents as they went on their spiritual journey.”

A spiritual vaccum

It was after she moved to Australia that she felt a sort of spiritual vacuum. With her parents they would have their own version of Shabbat and holidays, but now in a different country, she was on her own. “I couldn’t remain in that gray area between Christianity and Judaism anymore,” Ben Avraham said, “and that’s when I started really moving toward Judaism and became involved in the community and then eventually converted.”

Although it wasn’t a surprise, her conversion was “a bit confronting for her parents,” Ben Avraham explained. But once they accepted it, “they were very, very supportive and very excited and in a way living vicariously through me because they love Israel, they love everything about Judaism.”

Her parents attended her wedding in Israel and would have visited more often if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Ben Avraham and her husband finally made it to South Africa where they were able to introduce their child to the grandparents.

 STRUMMING A guitar in her new homeland. (credit: Eitan Ben Avraham) STRUMMING A guitar in her new homeland. (credit: Eitan Ben Avraham)

That jump-started her creativity again and resulted in the new album, which she hopes will inspire others. 

“Everybody who’s made aliyah has some kind of crazy story about how God got them here and the experience of feeling alive and feeling challenged,” she said.

“If you think about it, you’re probably already free to follow your dreams,” Ben Avraham said. “But it’s your own thoughts and self-imposed limitations that can hold you back from getting started. I’ve got songs waiting to come out of me, I’ve got words just waiting for me to speak,” she said, quoting from her own lyrics from the new album, “and I hope these songs will bring you on a journey of discovery and help you to discover your own path.” ❖

For more information: shirabenavraham.com/

Aliyah Song

By Shira Ben Avraham

“I’m living in the land of IsraelI’m building, it’s building meI’m loving that I’m a part of Your planI see it unfoldingHow did You get me here?I’m not in control, it’s clearSo teach me to be the best I can beI’m here, I’m listening, I’m hereI’m home, finally