Shira Kline, 35
Teaching Jewish kids how to rock.
05/09/11
Shira Kline
Shira Kline

Shira Kline never thought she’d be doing what she’s doing: performing music for young Jewish children. “I’m a daughter of a rabbi,” Kline said. “As a kid, I made a promise that I wouldn’t be a professional Jew.

“That didn’t work out,” she added.

Not that she’s complaining. As the founder of the children’s Jewish music band ShirLaLa (www.shirlala.com), Kline says that she has discovered her true path.

But it took a while. Kline studied theater in college and used to think she’d be a director. She also played guitar and entertained becoming a rock star. “Once upon a time I was in an Afro-Cuban funk band,” she said, not all that wistfully.

But she found that both artistic careers prevented her from celebrating certain Jewish traditions. “I gave up my pursuit of theater because of my passion for Shabbat,” Kline said. “I never thought it would be such an issue.”

She had another love too — for children. After college, she taught at the 92nd Street Y nursery school and worked at Jewish summer camps. Still, several years out of college, she had no clear direction. Then a mentor suggested she get serious about her future.

“We sat down and he said, ‘Do you want to be a circus performer?’ ‘No.’ Crossed that off the list. Then he said, ‘Do you want to be a nursery school teacher?’ I said, ‘Not really.’ That came off the list too.”

She didn’t want to pick any one passion over the other — children, music, Judaism — however, “so I merged them all together.” ShirLaLa was the result, founded 10 years ago, and it has since become a phenomenal success.

The band plays Kline’s own songs, most of them imbued with Jewish teachings. It has performed at Jewish venues around the world: the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Limmud conferences in England, and The Jewish Museum in New York.

Kline has found that the minds of children are surprisingly receptive to complex Jewish ideas. Some of her songs convey kabbalistic ideas like ein sof — God’s infinitude — for instance, but covertly. “For me, I’m not so much interested in them understanding these things intellectually as I am understanding them experientially.

“Their imagination is so grand,” she added, “it’s so wide, that all these very complex ideas of Kabbalah they intuitively get.”

Favorite music groups: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Rude Mechanical Orchestra.