In Sheldon Low’s family, music has been something of an heirloom, passed l’dor v’dor. The St. Louis native, 36, is a third generation songleader. His grandmother sang with singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman, and his father sang at Camp Ben Frankel in southern Illinois. Naturally, Low started singing at a young age.
His big break came at a USY campfire singalong. Jewish rock musician Rick Recht was impressed by Low’s kindness and vocal talent, and he wanted Low to join his songleading sessions.
“Beyond his hard work and his musical ability, he is an absolute golden ubermensch,” Recht said. “Not only is his heart in the right place, but his feet are following.”
Low became Recht’s protegé. He interned for Recht, joined him on several tours and recorded on his label, Jewish Rock Records. It launched Low into a Jewish music career, complete with five full-length albums; more than 100 rock concerts, services and seminars; and his own record label, Hallelu Records.
Now, Low is headed back to St. Louis, where he and his wife, Hadar Orshalimy, 37, will perform for the communities that nourished and supported him on his journey to Jewish rock stardom.
Low and Orshalimy will lead a musical Shabbat service at Congregation Temple Israel on Aug. 2 as part of their 30-stop nationwide tour that began July 11.
Temple Israel Rabbi Amy Feder can’t wait to host Low and Orshalimy and to hear congregants join them in song.
“We are really excited about the idea that [their music] is relevant, participatory and singable,” she said.
Recht, too, is excited for the duo to return to St. Louis.
“They are not only superb vocalists, songwriters and musicians, [but] they start with such a special place of intention to make the world a better place and to put positive energy out there,” he said.
Low also will lead songs at Congregation B’nai Amoona’s Camp Ramot Amoona on Aug. 1, and the pair will perform private living room concerts on Aug. 1 and 3.
Orshalimy, like Low, started making music early. Everyone in her family plays an instrument or sings, and at age 4, Orshalimy joined them.
The Tel Aviv native has an impressive resume. She sang at receptions for Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and for former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. She led a service at NYC’s Temple Emanu-El when it hosted former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. And she competed on the first season of Israel’s version of “American Idol,” called “Kochav Nolad” (A Star is Born).
Orshalimy met Low when they were teenagers attending the Hava Nashira Songleading Workshop, a program hosted by the OSRUI Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin. But the spark didn’t come until college, when Low was earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Tufts University and Orshalimy was studying at Berklee College of Music, both in the Boston area.
Now, more than a decade later, the married couple have written and recorded four albums together.
Singing is woven into the fabric of their lifestyles, and they want it that way. It’s their way of spreading hope and love.
“Part of our purpose as artists, part of our role in this web of life, is to inspire and to bring hope,” Low said.
To do so, they keep their lyrics honest and pure, baring their lives to their listeners.
“I think a lot of our music is following the emotions and staying authentic to what we feel,” said Orshalimy.
Here’s what it takes for them to write a song: a pen or pencil, paper, computer, thesaurus, rhyming dictionary and unlimited veto power. It’s a system of checks and balances, and if one doesn’t like a lyric or melody, they’ll scrap it. Ultimately, they’ll develop a product they’re proud of and share it with eager listeners across the country.
On tour, they perform under two names: We are the Northern Lights for their secular indie-folk music, and Hadar and Sheldon for their Jewish music.
So far, they’ve released two EPs under WATNL, “Now or Never” (2017) and “Where Your Heart Is” (2018), and three singles as Hadar and Sheldon.
With their Jewish music, they hope to share messages about community building, group singing and tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Though they’re touring as a duo, Low and Orshalimy are also working on solo projects. This fall, Low will release two new singles, “Yedid Nefesh” and “If All of the World,” and Orshalimy will release an album of 10 jazz standards from Jewish composers such as George and Ira Gershwin, Joel Stein and Jerome Kern.
Orshalimy also sings at synagogues around New York City including Temple Israel and Temple Emanu-El. Meanwhile, Low is the artist-in-residence at Temple Israel in Manhattan, where he works at the religious school, helps lead services and infuses music into other community programs.
Sheldon Low and Hadar Orshalimy
WHEN: Pre-oneg with wine and light appetizers 6 p.m. and Shabbat services 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2
WHERE: Congregation Temple Israel, 1 Rabbi Alvan D. Rubin Dr.
HOW MUCH: Free, no RSVP required