By Ofir ben Shitrit
The story of my career as a singer began when I was three years old. During a family vacation in Eilat, I got up on stage and—spontaneously, to my parents’ shock—sang Ofra Haza’s song, “T’filah.” That was the first sign to my parents that I carry the “music gene.” When I was five, I started playing the violin and continued to study violin for seven years in the music academy.
When I was twelve years old, during my bat mitzvah trip to Europe, I decided to replace my classical violin with a cool black guitar. I took my guitar with me almost everywhere, even to the ulpana, where I have studied for the past six years. It was a wonderful way for me to bring joy and happiness to boring school breaks. I wrote songs and won the ulpana singing contest, the “ulpanigun,” each year.
I have always felt a strong passion to sing, but was hesitant about taking the first steps forward. One day, though, my aunt heard about audi- tions for the TV show “The Voice” and convinced me to try out. Within a few weeks, I found myself standing on stage singing Ofra Haza’s famous song, “Od mehaka la-ehad” in front of four popular Israeli singers. It was a great surprise for me when I passed the first audition. I chose Aviv Gefen to be my mentor; choosing this secular rock star was a clear professional decision. At that stage, I did not realize the impact this choice would have on
the audience. Only at a later stage did I understand that many people were highly interested and followed our relationship closely, questioning whether people from two different worlds—the religious and the secular—could speak with each other and build a bridge of music as a shared interest.
Today, I can say clearly that Aviv was the best mentor I could ever have had. We were able to learn about each other with great respect and curiosity, and we won each week until the final four, when I finished in second place.
The experience was empowering and enriching, and I was highly motivated to learn and win. The reactions from the general Israeli public were mostly supportive and very positive. In the media, I was presented as role model and heroine. However, there were also other voices—those of religious extremists, who called me a “fake religious Jew” and a “shame to the Orthodox community.” Orthodox newspapers and magazines featured heated discussions on the halakhic prohibition against women singing in public: “kol b’isha erva” (T.B. Berakhot 24a). I remember the intensive period during which I was running from one interview to another, trying to explain halakhic issues to the world, when I simply wanted to sing.
Unfortunately, my participation in “The Voice” was considered by my school, the ulpana, to be an action contrary to the halakhic spirit. Consequently, I was suspended for two weeks from school; however, with the help of the Ministry of Education, I was able to return and graduate.
Obviously, singing on “The Voice” went far beyond my simple dream. I didn’t change my religious views and faith in God. On the contrary—I am now stronger in my faith and believe that I have the great privilege to do a kiddush Hashem and present the beauty of the Jewish religion and tradition on different stages and platforms. I am grateful for the wonderful voice Hashem gave me to make people happy.
Currently I am serving my country in Sherut Leumi (National Service) through the Jewish television channel, Orot, whose purpose is to facilitate and foster dialogue and understanding between religious and secular people. My work with Orot provides me a great opportunity to learn more about the media from the other side of the camera. I am interviewing and writing, and am responsible for the content presented. Therefore, I use this platform to convey my message that the Jewish religion is a way of life and is there to promote, light, and guide every aspect of our life—including singing, dancing, and anything we have a passion to accomplish. I have found the media to be a very interesting and challenging field; however, I have no intention of leaving my first love: music.
I was fortunate and honored to be invited to the last JOFA Conference in December. I met wonderful people and a warm community who opened their hearts and homes during the Chanukah vacation. I was surprised to find out that, despite the distance, many of them knew my story and had followed me during the season of “The Voice.” I still keep in close contact with many teenagers from New York and am grateful to have friends overseas. To be honest, before the conference, I never thought about the term “feminism” or regarded myself as a feminist, although on many occasions I was presented as such. Today, I can clearly say that I belong to the Jewish feminist approach that is being conducted in light of the Torah. This approach combines women’s involvement and development equally to those of men without violating the way of the Torah.
I am now intensively working on my first single and plan to release my original songs during the coming months. I am
very meticulous in my work and would like to bring something creative, new, and unique of my own that people will
remember for years. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive family and close childhood friends in my day-to-
day life who provide me a safe environment and enable me to keep my feet on the ground. Singing and creating music
are the most important things in my life; I have been able to enjoy the fame in the right proportion, without giving up my routine responsibilities and activities.
Ofir ben Shitrit was a finalist on the Israeli talent show “The Voice” and is currently doing Sherut Le’umi in the field of