CROWN HEIGHTS — In the more than three years that the Hasidic rock band Bulletproof Stockings have played together, the two women who founded the group always aimed to perform for exclusively female audiences.
As soon as they met in 2011, keyboardist and singer Perl Wolfe, 28, and percussionist Dalia Shusterman, 40, knew they wanted to create a "women-only space" to play their music. About once a month, they do just that, performing blues-inspired alternative rock at city bars, clubs and events, often joined by cellist Elisheva Maister and violinist Dana Pestun.
But as more people started listening, their girls-only gatherings drew some heat. Often "guys making nasty comments online" complain because they are excluded, Wolfe said. Others criticize the motive for the female-only concerts, saying Wolfe and Shusterman, both observant Hasidic Jews, were attempting to cloister themselves away from men in order to abide by Jewish law.
That, Wolfe said, is simply untrue — yes, Jewish men are not supposed to hear the singing voice of women outside their immediate families, but the onus is on men "to choose to abide by that or not."
“There’s no mitzvah [rule] for women to not sing publicly. There’s no mitzvah for women to not perform,” she said.
“There would be no issue for us to open our audience to men," she said. "We’re choosing not to because we realize that women really feel empowered and strengthened by each other when they have time to connect … and rock out without guys there."
For the most part, the response has been positive from their audience, often a mix of Jewish and secular women, which reflects Shusterman and Wolfe's own backgrounds. Both women grew up in observant Jewish households, but spent time living non-religiously as adults before joining the Hasidic community in Crown Heights.
“They’re really digging it, so we’re just going to keep doing it," Shusterman said of her fans.
Interest in Bulletproof Stockings — a nod to how some people describe the opaque tights worn by many Orthodox Jewish women — has ramped up since summer, they said, after the Wall Street Journal profiled the band and the television network Oxygen filmed them for a reality show episode.
This Saturday, the group will perform at Bar Matchless in Greenpoint where they’ll debut new material they hope to record into a full-length album sometime next year — their first since releasing their EP, “Down to the Top,” in 2012.
Wolfe wrote most of the songs on that record as she processed her second divorce in early 2011, she said. Much of their music obliquely reference that experience with literary, highly metaphorical lyrics reminiscent of Fiona Apple or Florence and the Machine, like these from "Vagabond's Wagon":
A myriad of excuses begin to clog the mind
As he finally stands upright
And even still he has to pause and gaze outside
Before leaving the vacant cage
As Wolfe wrote those lyrics, Shusterman’s husband died in April of 2011. The two women did not know each other at the time, but they believe the two events linked them spiritually, making it that much easier to forge a connection when they met later that year.
“It was this crazy thing. Our paths are so parallel,” Shusterman said.
Now, the two women live together in a Crown Heights apartment where Shusterman's drum kit and Wolfe's keyboard share space with stacks of toys and books from Shusterman's four elementary school-age sons. When the boys aren't keeping them busy, the two women practice, book gigs and respond to interview requests to spread the word about why they perform.
"We just hope people get our message and that they’re respectful of what we’re trying to do," Wolfe said.
“If the women are really responding well to this women-only space, we need to give them what they want."
Bulletproof Stockings will perform at 8 p.m. at Bar Matchless at 557 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn on Saturday, Dec. 6. Tickets for the women-only show are $8 at the door.