If you check out the website created by Perl Wolfe and Dalia Shusterman for their musical partnership, you will immediately note that the two Crown Heights women define themselves as a “Chasidic Alt Rock Girl Band” – a phrase that sounds almost like an oxymoron. Then again, would you expect anything less from a duo that chose the totally in-your-face but highly ironic moniker “Bulletproof Stockings”?
Both Dalia, age 40, and Perl, 27, are talented musicians. Neither ever expected to find herself living in Crown Heights, let alone becoming the first Orthodox women to stage an all-female public concert at a New York City rock club. The road to Arlene’s Grocery, where they suddenly found themselves at the center of the media spotlight, is yet another stop on a totally unexpected journey.
“I was always into music,” said Perl, who grew up in a Lubavitch home in Chicago and began taking piano lessons at age six. “I never performed, wasn’t in bands and I never wrote original music. They made me be in choir in school productions though I always ran away from it and honestly, I thought if I had to do music professionally it would be boring.”
Dalia’s early years were almost nothing like Perl’s. Raised Modern Orthodox, her love of music led to an early career touring with various bands, but she walked away from that as she increasingly found it incompatible with her religious observance. Dalia married a Chabad rabbi she’d met in Crown Heights and the couple moved to Los Angeles and had four boys. After her husband’s death three years ago, Dalia moved to Crown Heights for a fresh start.
It was after the failure of her second marriage that Perl found herself in the midst of a spiritual crisis and she began to reevaluate her life.
“Music just began to fall out of me,” she said. “I had no clue what was going on. There was music in my head and melodies just started spilling out. I would run to my computer to capture it and then I would start writing lyrics and piecing everything together.”
Suddenly Perl realized she had written a song. And then another. And then another.
It was through her music, Perl said, that she discovered what she was and who she wanted to be.
“I was contemplating my spirituality and what I wanted in life and the lyrics helped me realize that I really did want to be frum, that I am a chassid, that Torah is my life, and that I believe that Mashiach is coming. I wasn’t trying to write lyrics, this just came out and this was really me.”
Perl, who had been living temporarily with her parents in Chicago, said she can recall the exact moment her life changed forever.
“I have this clear memory of standing in the basement having an epiphany,” said Perl. “I was going to create a women’s band and play for women only. That was going to be my shlichus. I said, ‘Hashem, you better find me a really amazing female drummer.’ ”
A short time later, Perl’s wish came true.
“I was working as a makeup artist in Boro Park and had my first opportunity to play for a group of women at a fundraiser. Someone asked me what I did and I just blurted out I was doing music and needed a female drummer for an upcoming gig. I had no idea why I said that but she told me she knew a female drummer, a widow with four kids, who had just moved to Crown Heights.”