Nina’s Story: Making Music Together
“The videos started before I met Yoni. Yoni was making them with his friend for a few months, as a cool way to enter Shabbat and share their music with people. When I met Yoni- it was a minhag, every week they would sit down and make a video. After we got married I joined in and the three of us would make pre-Shabbat videos together. At a certain point, because of the logistics of where we were located, it became too difficult and realized we couldn’t continue. This experience gave us the inspiration to continue to use that tool and platform of social media, to start making music together as a couple. I feel like social media can be seen in a negative light- but our experience has been being able to sit in our living room and reach hundreds of thousands, and even millions of people, who we would have never met on a regular basis, and have an impact on them through our music. It’s really incredible.
It’s a special way to enter Shabbat- we hope the videos bring people that feeling of “YES! Shabbat is here.” We started with covers, singing songs that everyone would know, but we always had this dream of sharing our original music that comes from our soul. That’s why releasing our debut album, “Emet Pshuta”, has been so exciting and special for us.
One of the challenges of being so active on social media is the overexposure- feeling like part of the anonymity that you had is gone. In one hand it makes us so happy to be able to share our music and to receive feedback about the impact of what we are putting out there- it gives us so much motivation to continue. On the other hand, there is something really nice about privacy, which is challenged where you are constantly sharing a piece of yourself with the world.
We always joke that Yoni and I aren’t really social media people in ‘our essence.’ We’ll have really intense days where we have concerts and interviews and events, and at the end of the day, we will realize that we haven’t documented any of it. It doesn’t come naturally to us to constantly share, and update our social media pages on what we are doing. In one way it’s nice, because it allows us to maintain some privacy, but it definitely is one of the challenges we engage with.
You are always only getting a part of the story, in the sense that as genuine as we try to be- it’s not the same as meeting a person face to face. When you watch a video, you only get one note of the emotion of the song in the video. You don’t get the complexity and reality of what is going on behind the scenes. I hope we can get across something real. It’s hard, because that in social media, there is always a piece of the story that is missing.”
“When the videos took off it was exciting and scary. I remember there was an erev Shabbat, after Nir Barkat and Naftali Bennet shared our Yerushalayim video, people were responding to it. I remember looking at Yoni and being like, “Whoa, this has gotten out of hand.” In the best way possible, like we had some Godly intervention here- that it was larger than us, larger than we imagined it to be. It was so exciting because it felt like it was the beginning of an adventure. But it was also scary, because once you lose control over something, it can take you to places you didn’t expect, and the journey can surprise you. It demanded a certain amount of flexibility to be ok with that.
Around two months after Ashira was born, it really took off and people were sending us messages, ‘Where are your concerts?’ and we were like, ‘Of course we do concerts!’ and we were thrilled that there was this big demand. I was nursing Ashira every 2 hours, and I would nurse her before the concert, and after the concert, and I would have her in a back room with a babysitter or one of our parents- it was a very crazy few months- really year and a half, since this whole story started. It was a turning point, being taken on this journey that I hadn’t really planned on or asked for but I guess I had been dreaming of.
We always had a dream and we took a leap putting our videos out there. We both had been singing and writing music for as long as we can remember, and we love making music together. We felt that we could make something that was larger than either of us, so we jumped and said, ‘Let’s try and do this for real.’ So we opened up our ‘Yonina’ Facebook page and we started posting videos there every week and were delighted and shocked when it took off. I remember telling Yoni, ‘You know, if we work really really hard, I bet in half a year we could get 5,000 likes on our page.’ He thought that was a lot of likes- but by that goal we had set for ourselves, we had hit 100,000 likes. It was really something we could never have imagined. ”
“My main personal inspiration has been a woman called Ra’aya Muskal from an Israeli folk band named Alma. She is also in a band with her husband and good friend, and growing up she was always my model of a religious woman singing professionally. Personally, it has been a struggle and a journey and always a big question, my whole life since my bat mitzvah. At different points in time, I chose to act differently. For the vast majority of my life, I didn’t sing in front of mixed audiences, for the reason of Kol Isha (the prohibition against women singing in front of men), because I really wanted to do what was right halachically, and what Hashem wanted me to do.
When I was 17, I was first exposed to a psak halacha from Rabbi David Bigman from Maale Gilboa, who explains that certain elements of tzniut depend on larger society, and how much society is exposed to certain elements. For example, in the past it was not allowed halachically for a man to walk behind a woman in the street, because women generally were not walking in the streets at all. As society changed, and we were more accustomed to things, in certain cases they aren’t as sensitive halachically. According to his psak, these days that Kol Isha is considered, “Davar Haragil Bo,” something that people are accustomed to, most men are accustomed to hearing women talk and sing, so Kol Isha becomes more of a question of how that singing is done, whether in a sexual, exposing way, or in a modest manner.
When I first heard this opinion, I was intrigued by it, but at the time I still decided to not sing in front of mixed audiences. A year and a half ago, after Yoni and I had gotten married, a rabbi who we were close to in Tel Aviv had come out with a very similar psak, and at the same time, hearing that echoed again, I was a married woman, who wanted to sing with her husband, and to me it felt very wholesome and modest context. That is kind of what pushed me into the water, and showed me that there were valid halachic opinions out there, that I related with, and that allowed me to find peace between my passion for Judaism and my passion for music. Of course every person should go according to their rabbi, but for me- it gave me that answer to the question that had been nagging at me my whole life, which was, ‘What am I supposed to do with this gift that I was given, this voice that has power to impact people- and something that is really a deep part of my existence- how can I reach people and still do that within the framework of halacha?’ Those halachic opinions gave me the safety to go ahead and explore this dream with Yoni, but that being said, it doesn’t mean I don’t ask myself, ‘Did I do the right thing? Am I making the right choice? It’s a question that goes with me wherever I go, this inner dilemma that has been with me my whole life.”
“Working and co-parenting with my spouse can be tricky. It’s also a blessing, and very special. Someone once told me, ‘You do what you love the most, with who you love the most,’ which I thought was a beautiful way to put it. On the other hand, working together can be difficult and intense, we spend a lot of time together working, when we’re not working we’re with our baby, and then we also try to spend time together without working. We try to remember that we are separate people and make sure to spend some time alone, too. There is a lot of decision making and we don’t always agree on everything. We do our best to remember that we don’t work for each other we are married to each other. In that sense, creating together, each one of us has a separate vision, different musical styles, and different talents and in many ways, we complement each other. We think of it as boot camp for our relationship, we challenge each other and have incredible experiences together and hopefully get to impact the world together. Which is really powerful.
In terms of our daughter, Ashira, it’s a lot of tricky parenting decisions. On one hand we get to be with her a lot more than the average parents get with be with their child, but then she is also on the road a lot more than the average baby is. We do our music full time, and we are both also part-time students. I am finishing up a degree in behavioral sciences and Yoni has a degree in Israel studies and is getting his teacher’s certificate. There is always juggling involved, but hopefully, it will be special for Ashira to grow up surrounded by music and traveling the world with us. She is definitely very social because she is always around a lot of people all the time. We try to have some time that we are just with her, and not doing a million things, time for dates with each other where we don’t talk about work.
We are constantly trying to figure out the right balance.”
“My music is my form of therapy. It’s how I express myself. Sometimes I will write songs just for myself when I am going through something, a certain dilemma, a strong emotion, positive or negative. For example, our song Rega Mechuvan, was the theme song of my life for a few months, trying to find that balance of our work, raising Ashira, trying to be with each other- that created this song about trying to live life with intention, of not just going through the motions. It’s how I let out what is in my heart, and hopefully, it can touch people, and help them go through whatever they are going through. Bring positivity to the world and a sense of meaning, and give people strength.
It would be incredible if we could keep doing what we love. I hope we can reach whomever we are meant to reach. I would love if we could continue making original music, starting with the album that we just released. The songs we write are so powerful to me, and I hope they are meaningful for the people listening to them. I hope for the future- more inspiration, more writing, more creating and more sharing with people.”
Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.
She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.
She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.
Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.
Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.