‘She’s Got Talent’ Finale This Sunday

By Batya Rosner

When Karni Abell’s family made aliyah to Ra’anana last year, the 15-year-old left her friends and her childhood home in Chicago, but one thing came with her: her music. Although she’s thrilled to be living in Israel, Karni credits music with helping her through the initial rocky transition of moving to a new country.

And so Karni was thrilled when she heard about “She’s Got Talent,” an all-girls talent competition sponsored by New York NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union’s international youth movement. The competition, to be held this Sunday, February 28, will allow women of all ages to showcase their talents in front of a live audience, with winners receiving a cash prize.

Karni jumped at the opportunity to audition. Her choice of song was Sh’ma Israel by Israeli singer Sarit Hadad. For her, the song described the challenges she experienced during aliyah. “I love singing,” she said. “Before I discovered She’s Got Talent, I had no place else to channel my feelings through music.”

The idea for She’s Got Talent came from New York NCSY regional director Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl’s desire to show female public-school students that creative outlets were possible within the framework of modesty.

“The mission of NCSY is to help Jewish teens identify the ways in which they can express their own unique strengths, talents, and abilities within the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Kohl. “In this way, She’s Got Talent is really just a broader extension of that same vision. It’s extremely satisfying to see the number of women and girls for whom this project is offering a bandstand they’ve always dreamed of having.”

“We believe that our event is unique and truly reflects the message of empowering Jewish women and raising awareness of the inner strength and beauty they possess,” added Carol Rhine, New York NCSY director of development programming and community engagement, who is the coordinator for She’s Got Talent.

As soon as the competition was announced, more than 100 performers participated in the open auditions; those who could not attend in person were allowed to audition via Skype or through a video submission. After initial reviews, 70 applicants remained and then applicants were further narrowed down to 30 contestants.

The show will feature a variety of performances, from song and dance to comedy and gymnastics. The evening will also feature all-girls dance troupes from Magen David Yeshiva High School, Yeshiva of Flatbush, and SAR Academy in Riverdale. In addition, a star lineup of talented observant Jewish women will also perform, including singer Bracha Jaffe and Danielle Jacobs, best known for her comedic character “The Rebbetzin.” Comic Leah Forster will serve as master of ceremonies, and judges include blogger and media personality Allison Josephs of Jew in the City; Rachel Klein, a NYC-based theater director; Remy Zaken, a professional theater actress; Dawn Hillen, a Broadway choreographer; and Beth Ertz, a Broadway producer.

While most performers live in the New York area, many, including Karni Abell, are flying in for the contest.

The ability to perform in public has been something that vocalist Rivky Saxon of Pittsburgh has dreamed about for years. Before reaching bat mitzvah, Rivky enjoyed karaoke but gave it up at age 12 due to kol isha, the prohibition of singing in front of men. “I go to a wonderful Orthodox creative-arts summer camp and know that there are many girls my age who are talented in the performing arts and need kosher outlets for their talents,” she said.

Mina Black, She’s Got Talent’s artistic director, understands how Rivky Saxon feels. Interested in dance from a young age, Mina, 36, found opportunities to incorporate dance and hone her skills while remaining connected with her Torah values. Today, she is a freelance dancer, a fitness instructor, and a dance teacher. “Most of my work is to inspire young artists to connect to G‑d through their art and their music,” said Mina, a mother of four.

As artistic director, she watched and judged all the audition performances. Mina worked with contestants and gave them advice on stage presence and explained the importance of paying attention to the audience. “Every contestant deeply lives through her music, her dancing, and feels a strong love for G‑d and Judaism,” Ms. Black reflected. “I feel blessed to be a part of their journey.”

The audience will help the judges determine the winners by voting live at the show for their favorite contestants.

“I am grateful to She’s Got Talent for providing me with this chance to perform for an all-female audience,” shared Rivky Saxon. “I hope that girls like me will have more opportunities to perform in the future.”

The competition is a Nochi Krohn production and has garnered the support of the Shalom Task Force, YU Connects, Jerusalem Online U, Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (Long Island and Queens chapters), and Sharsheret.

The event is to take place at the Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School, 1609 Avenue J in Brooklyn at 7:00 p.m. The show will serve as a fundraising event for New York NCSY through sponsorships and ticket sales. Tickets for the show are available online at www.shesgottalent.org.

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