(Photo: Rami Zarnegar)
Odeleya Berlin: A Musical Trailblazer
BY AVIGAYIL ZAYIT
In a musical world that has traditionally been dominated by men, Odeleya Berlin has blazed a trail as a female, religious, halachically observant singer. Today, she performs in front of packed halls of thousands of women, success that has been years of effort in the making.
Odeleya was born into a musical family in the Israeli town of Elkana. Her father, Moshe Berlin, is a popular Klezmer performer, and Odeleya began to learn piano at the age of four. “When I was in high school, I was in a band with a group of friends, and we wrote music and sang together. As soon as we graduated most of them moved on to other things. I think they chose not to pursue their musical passion because there was no concept of becoming a singer as a religious woman.”
Odeleya’s tentative first steps into the field were accompanied by constant doubts; she wondered if this path could actually be successful. “When I finished my Sherut Leumi (national service), I created a band called Tefillat HaDerech with some other female musicians. I reached out to a cultural center in the Shomron to perform there for a women’s only event, but they didn’t know how to process such an idea, so the performance never happened.”
“I chose to study to be a music teacher at Michlalah College in Jerusalem. There just weren’t options for religious female musicians, so most of my friends who were exceptionally talented went into more traditional fields like education and social work. Today the situation is dramatically improved – there are more programs for music in both high schools and musical colleges, and each year more and more religious women attend and graduate from these programs.”
Together with a band named Bat Kol, Odeleya produced her first CD, and gradually her career began to build momentum. “For my first live performances, I would arrive with my little run-down car packed with all the speaker systems and instruments myself, and I was literally setting up the entire show on my own. I was making pennies, but I felt that my career was beginning to develop.”
After a few years of performing, Odeleya created an event called Ochila – a women’s only night of song and prayer during the weeks leading up to the Yamim Nora’im. When the program debuted in 2008, 180 women attended. In 2021, over 4,500 women attended Ochila performances, with concerts both in Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv.
Odeleya also looks to use music to break down barriers between different sectors of Israeli society. “When I first organized concerts, I made sure that the fliers were distributed to reach both Zionist and Chareidi populations. Rather than focusing inwards on my own community, I want my music to create a shared experience and dialogue between communities.”
Her latest project is called Sofash Im Shir, Songs for the Weekend, a list of Jewish and Israeli songs that relate to the weekly parasha. “I feel connected to Jewish music with every fiber of my being, and in this project I want to share this passion with the world. I grew up close to the wellspring of Jewish experience and song, but this wellspring belongs to the whole Jewish people. I want to bring this connection to everyone, whether they live by the spring or are occasional visitors, and to touch as many hearts as possible.”
● A version of this article was originally published in Hebrew in Olam Katan.
Avigayil Zayit is the editor of the Makor Rishon website.