HAIM will forever be our Jewish pop icons. The three sisters — Este, 32, Danielle, 29, and Alana, 26 — have reached super-stardom in recent years. They released their sophomore album, Something to Tell You, in July 2017, and are about to set off on a “Sister Sister Sister” tour.
But before these Jewish sisters were in a famous band… they were just normal Jewish kids from Los Angeles. As one profile from 2013 explains, “they dream of singing in Israel, crave their mother’s kugel while on tour and love Barbra Streisand.”
Their parents, Donna and Moti, never pushed their daughters into entertainment. Mordechai, known as Moti, was born in Israel and he was a professional soccer player. He was also in a military band, but explains, “After three years in a military band, I said to myself, ‘How much more can I drum in Israel?'” Moti moved to the United States in 1980 after he was recruited by an American league.
As this 2013 Fader profile points out:
The sisters clearly admire their father, Moti, and often break into impressions of his bad advice and vanity. ‘Even if it’s just a hobby, like drumming, he thinks he’s the best at it,’ says Este, 27, the oldest and tallest with bold, maraschino lips. She adopts a deep Israeli accent and punctuates an impression of their father with a cocksure shrug: ‘You’re a painter? I paint. I’m like Picasso. I’m better than Picasso.’
Donna, their mom, grew up in Philadelphia. She won a singing contest on The Gong Show in the 1970s. After Donna and Moti met and married, they “performed in a cover band with another couple, first as the Mommies and the Daddies (a riff on the Mamas & the Papas), then as Boomerang (a cutesy reference to the oldies’ return), eventually landing a regular gig entertaining at Club Meds, which became the family’s means to vacation.”
The girls grew up listening to Ofra Haza (“The Israeli Madonna”) cassettes from their grandmother. While they don’t go to Israel super often, Alana explained, “I’ve always felt like a deep connection to the country.” In a different interview she said, “There is something in Israel that I can not explain, energy that you can feel maybe only in New York, energy that enters you into your body and flows through your veins. You always feel comfortable there, it’s a feeling that even if you get lost, you’re safe.” Este added: “Israel is my family. I hear the word Israel and I am automatically happy, we grew up listening to Israeli music all the time.”
They adore their mom (and their mom’s kugel), telling The Jewish Chronicle, “our mother makes the best sweet kugel. We also love making latkes all year round.” They also grew up doing very normal Jewish kid stuff (besides eating latkes), like playing AYSO Soccer.
Soon, Moti suggested they form a band with their kids, called “Rockinhaim.” Donna remembers, “It was such a crazy dream that came to reality.” The band wasn’t a “bid for fame, but strictly recreational.” As Alana told Spin, “Doing Rockinhaim was more of a fun family activity. People thought we were cute. It was never like a really serious thing.”
As Danielle explained to Vogue, “Dad played drums, Mom played guitar, Este played bass, and Alana played everything else.” She’s also said, “I think I always thought it was kind of cool [to play music with my parents]. Sometimes I would get embarrassed about song choices.” (The first song they learned was “Mustang Sally.”)
Rockinhaim played its first show at Canter’s Deli in Fairfax, Los Angeles. The sisters later recounted that “for their first ever show they played at a Jewish deli in Hollywood and were paid in matzah ball soup.”
As the sisters grew up, they started their own band in 2007. After they begin, Moti remembers, “we had to beg people to come” to their shows. They considered calling their band “The Bagel Bitches,” but eventually just went with their last name. And they weren’t worried about being visibly Jewish or Israeli; Este said in 2013, “The bottom line is that we are proud of who we are and we have no intention of hiding our background and identity.”
Sidenote: Their fans call themselves the bagel bitches.
They still lived with their parents in 2013 when they released their debut album, Days are Gone. As Rolling Stone writes, their parents’ living room holds a special magic for the sisters. “Over the years, the room had transformed into a practice space and recording studio, as their father Moti filled it with instruments and gear he’d purchased at estate sales and flea markets.” Este explained, “All of our band rehearsals until recently were in our living room, and we wrote every song in our living room.”
Their parents, of course, are such an important part of the sisters’ lives. As one profile from 2017 explains, Haim has “an unwavering and constant appreciation for their parents being cool and supportive when they were younger and even cooler now, with [Moti] and Donna joining them on tour during real estate lulls, where [Moti] kicks around a soccer ball with other bands and Donna making sure everyone has had enough to eat backstage, creates an impenetrably wholesome and polite comportment…”
Above all, their love and appreciation for their parents feels genuine. Este says, “Sometimes I think the bands we tour with like our parents more than they like us.”
Este told Buzzfeed that she couldn’t remember any Jewish female pop divas growing up: “Who was a hot, babe-in Jewish girl who was doing her thing? I can’t even recall. Am I blanking?” Yet, Este goes on to say, “it wasn’t a conscious thing that I sought out, to find a Jewish role model.” Conscious or not, for many young Jewish women now, the Haim sisters have become icons.