Arrivals: From London to Ma'aleh Adumim

Sarah Spielma gave up a budding career as an opera singer because of her desire to adhere to kol isha - the religious law which holds that a woman's voice in song should not be heard by men.

Sarah Spielman  88 298 (photo credit: )
Sarah Spielman 88 298
(photo credit: )
Sarah Spielma, 30, gave up a budding career as an opera singer because of her desire to adhere to kol isha - the religious law which holds that a woman's voice in song should not be heard by men. In a solo show she performs for female audiences, Spielman recounts through song the spiritual journey that led her to make this momentous decision: "It was a long, painful journey, but in the end, kol isha turned into a gift. It liberated me from my ego and enabled me to express my soul in song." FAMILY HISTORY Spielman inherited her musical talent from both sides of her family. Her Israeli-born mother sang in musicals and met her husband, Monty Fisher, while taking singing lessons in London. The Fisher musical tradition began with Spielman's grandfather, Max, who founded the London Jewish Male Choir, in which all eight of his sons sang. Spielman's father, Monty, became the most famous. "My father was an operatic tenor. He worked as an accountant but sang every night in shows and made many recordings." While belonging to an Orthodox synagogue, the Fisher family was not observant. "On Friday nights we lit candles, made kiddush and ate chicken. That was how I identified myself as Jewish," recalls Spielman. Later, influenced by heder classes, Spielman became observant and her family slowly followed suit. BEFORE ARRIVAL Spielman attended North London Collegiate, a top girls' school in England, where she was able to develop her musical talent and beautiful voice. She went on to study Russian and Italian at Cambridge University. "I began Russian at school and was very enamored of Tolstoy. Ironically, since I had no real Jewish education, it was Tolstoy's religiousness and sense of morality that led me to become fully observant. Cambridge was terribly intellectual - the emphasis was totally on ideas and philosophy and there was a certain lack of morals, too. I slowly came to the conclusion that if you do not have a firm set of principles you can easily lose your bearings." It was while studying at Midreshet Harova in Jerusalem during a summer vacation that Spielman first learned about kol isha. "I was thrown into great turmoil. I loved singing and could not envisage giving it up. At the same time I could not see how I could be observant and not abide by kol isha simply because it didn't suit my lifestyle." Spielman spent the following year studying in Italy as part of her studies. She was due to sing in a Mozart Opera when she contracted severe pneumonia. "I couldn't breathe and began bargaining with God - OK, I'll keep kol isha‚ but I felt I was being punished. Then one Friday night, as I was lying in bed, I had a vision of myself singing for women in total happiness and completeness. I felt an immense wave of love from and for Hashem and a feeling of liberation. At that point I started to breathe again." Spielman returned to complete her studies at Cambridge and went on to do an MA in music at the New England Conservatory of Music. By the time she completed her studies, Spielman was certain of two things: she would no longer sing for mixed audiences and she wanted to make aliya. UPON ARRIVAL Spielman arrived in Israel in December 2001. She attended Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem and began to go out seriously with a young American she had met on her previous summer trip. The two married in June 2002. While pregnant and raising two small children, Spielman began the immense project of setting the tehillim to music by Schubert and Schumann. To date, she has set 11 tehillim to music and the concerts she performs for women - in seminaries and private homes - consist of a repertoire of Yiddish songs, opera and the tehillim. She also teaches voice and has started a women's choir. LIVING ENVIRONMENT After living in Nahlaot in Jerusalem, Spielman and her family moved to Ma'aleh Adumim to a spacious five-room apartment with a large balcony that offers a stunning view of the Judean desert. "We wanted to live near Jerusalem in a religious area where we could afford to buy a home. We found all this in Ma'aleh Adumim." ROUTINE Spielman gets up at around 6:00 a.m., dresses and feeds the children and takes them to their respective playgroups. She then prays, practices her singing, composes, prepares lesson plans or networks to promote her concerts. Once a morning she gives private lessons and leads a women's choir. She then picks up the children. "I like to pick them up separately in order to have individual time with them. Once I feed and put little Yaakov Zelig to sleep, I then pick up Neshama Rivka and we have lunch and talk together." When husband Doron is not traveling, fundraising for the organization Ir David, he comes home early and helps with the children. The Spielmans keep Shabbat and like to attend a variety of synagogues. CIRCLE "Our friends are mainly American immigrants like us. I feel comfortable with Americans - they are on the whole more open and emotional than the English. Most of our friends are observant but we also have secular friends and relatives and we consider it important to maintain a close connection with them." LANGUAGE Spielman is a linguist and sings in nine different languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, German, Ladino and English) but admits that she has not yet mastered Hebrew. Doron is fluent in Hebrew. FINANCE "We are managing. My parents helped us buy our apartment. My husband earns a decent salary and I earn a small salary teaching and giving concerts. I do mainly charity concerts but I take a percentage, that way I combine tzedaka (charity work) and parnassa (livelihood)." FAITH "Being observant to me means that God is involved in every tiny thing I do, even waiting for a bus. It means thanking God all the time and speaking of Hashem's goodness. This is what my singing is about. I set the tehillim to music in order to praise God and fill Israel with song." The Halacha of kol isha also has deep personal and spiritual meaning for Spielman: "A woman's voice is a reflection of her soul and of something very intimate which should be shared solely with her husband. I never felt comfortable giving my all in front of a male audience. With women I feel free to reveal my neshama." IDENTIFICATION "I was always very connected to the Jewish people. When I lived in England, I felt very Israeli. Now I feel like a first-generation immigrant, though also very much part of Israeli society." PLANS "I want to have a nice big, healthy family, please God, and sing for all different types of women audiences around Israel. Song is a wonderful connection to God. I want to bring uplifting, joyous music to people and one day I would like to sing in hospices and help to heal spiritually through the power of song and the tehillim." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: