Performing music is in Galeet Dardashti’s genes; the singer-songwriter is from a family of singers. Her late grandfather, Yona, was a renowned singer of classical Persian music. Her father, Farid, served as the longtime cantor in an Ashkenazi synagogue in suburban New York. What distinguishes Dardashti in this impressive roster is that she is the first woman in her family who has continued her grandfather and father’s musical legacy.

Dardashti will be returning to the Boston area to present her latest musical project, “Monajat,” in a unique interactive workshop at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline on Sept. 8. This pre-High Holiday program, “Knocking at Our Hearts,” is co-sponsored by Mayyim Hayyim, which recently received funding from CJP to focus on racial diversity within the Jewish community. In that spirit, Dardashti told JewishBoston that “Monajat” is a Persian poem that was either written by the poet Rumi or by someone imitating his unique style.

Over the years, Dardashti knew her grandfather had adapted the poem to sing at the beginning of Selichot services. “It was perfectly normal to him to bring in this Persian poem to services, which was more spiritual than religious,” she noted. “He recited the poem to shake off the slumber and worship God. Muslims wake up early for prayer, and he wanted to bring out the fact that there has always been a shared culture between [Mizrahi Sephardi and our Muslim neighbors].”


Dardashti’s interpretation of “Monajat” is a “reinvention of Selichot,” she said. “I took the pieces of the prayers I was most interested in, which included concepts of renewal and rebirth. I found other beautiful liturgical poetry not usually sung at Selichot and integrated them into the service.” This musical reimagining also connects the Jewish and Persian New Year. Dardashti observed that both holidays bring out themes of renewal and turning over a new leaf. There is a poignant moment in Dardashti’s performance when she sings along with a recording of her grandfather’s voice. “If my grandfather were still alive, I don’t know what he would think, but I suspect he might be very excited,” she said.

Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Dardashti performed with her family throughout the United States and Canada. “We were called ‘The Dardashti Family,’ and we were like the Jewish von Trapps,” she joked. In the early 2000s, Dardashti earned a Ph.D. in anthropology, but she never forgot her Persian roots or her family’s songs. Her formal return to music “happened organically when I was in graduate school,” she said. “I met musicians who wanted to play music with me, but I also wanted to relate that music to my research.” As a result, she founded Divahn. Dardashti was the lead vocalist of the women’s Mizrahi group and recorded their eponymous album with them.

Galeet Dardashti (Courtesy photo)
Galeet Dardashti (Courtesy photo)

Her second endeavor, “The Naming,” delved into the stories of biblical women as well as the women in her family. Dardashti had received a fellowship for emerging Jewish artists, as well as a grant from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, to complete the album. “The major women in the Bible—Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah—were Middle Eastern,” she said. “I wanted to bring that sound out and show this is our heritage. I am a Middle Eastern Jew, and I had a sound and a story to contribute.”

Dardashti ties together the story of Michal, King Saul’s daughter and King David’s first wife, with that of her great-aunt Tova in Iran. Childless like Michal, Tova was a learned woman who prayed with a tallit and put on tefillin without objection from her family or community. Dardashti explained that Tova took it upon herself to perform time-bound mitzvot, or commandments, reserved for men because she was not raising children. “My grandmother was also a powerful Persian Jewish woman, and we were not hearing the poignant influential stories of these strong women,” she said.

Dadarshti grew up in a traditional Persian yet egalitarian home. Her father was a Conservative cantor who was educated at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “It never seemed transgressive to my Iranian father to have me perform,” she said. “I chanted Torah, and he encouraged me to pursue music. He completely validated me. Women have told me how powerful it is to hear me singing music that has traditionally been sung by men. [But in recent decades] Sephardi Mizrahi Jews have taken a more Ashkenazi haredi direction. Sephardic women not being allowed to sing out loud is something new in that community.”

Dardashti noted that in “Knocking at Our Hearts” she will introduce piyuttim, or sacred poems, some of which have been part of the liturgy for centuries. “In the first half of the workshop, I’ll be introducing these piyuttim and showing how they can make prayer and ritual innovative,” she said. “In the second part, I’ll be presenting the work of Sephardi Mizrahi and Jews of color while diving deeper into some of their piyuttim. We’ll experiment with how to integrate Sephardi songs into communities that are largely Ashkenazi. The point is that we are made up of global communities. It is increasingly important for people to hear themselves in services, even if the synagogue they attend identifies as Ashkenazi. There are so many kinds of Jewish people.”

Learn more about “Knocking at Our Hearts” here.