Three contestants were the grand winners at She’s Got Talent, the female-only competition organized by the New York Region of NCSY on Feb. 28, but it was the sold-out show itself that left the audience and participants abuzz.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
“My only goal was to inspire and give confidence to the audience, and I accomplished that,” said performer Tova Rosen of Cedarhurst, New York, who recited an original poem, “I Am Not My Body.”
Contestants competed within three age divisions. During the show, audience members voted for up to ten performers by texting names to a specific number. The top two vote recipients per division qualified as finalists. Winners were then decided by a panel of entertainment professionals—ranging from a Jewish celebrity to Broadway choreographers, songwriters and actresses.
She’s Got Talent was the brainchild of Carol Rhine, director of development programming and community engagement for the New York Region of NCSY. With the enthusiastic support of Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl, director of the New York Region of NCSY, Carol and her colleagues were determined 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 unique strengths within the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Kohl. “She’s Got Talent was an extension of that and we’re thrilled at how well the event was received.”
“Looking out into the audience of close to 600 attendees, it was a bit overwhelming—but so gratifying—to know our message of empowering Jewish women and raising awareness of the inner strength and beauty we possess was realized,” Carol Rhine expressed.
Winners of She’s Got Talent include Batya Black and Shoshie Dubin, ages 8 and 9, a dance duo from the Five Towns; Karni Abell, 15, a vocalist who flew in from Ra’aana, Israel; and vocalist duo Shani Isaacson, 19 of Philadelphia and Emmi Polansky, 18 of Woodmere, New York.
She’s Got Talent featured a variety of acts and included performances by all-girls dance troupes from Magen David Yeshiva High School, Yeshiva of Flatbush and SAR Academy in Riverdale, New York.
Allison Josephs, of the popular Jew in the City website, was one of the judges. “We were pleasantly surprised by some performers,” she said. “Many came on stage with great confidence; others were obviously nervous. Everyone did a great job and some of them really blew us away as they got into the moment.”
Once the music began, Karni Abell felt she was telling a story. “As I sang, it was if I was davening—expressing myself to the audience,” she shared. Nervous of what the judges would ask her in front of the large audience, Karni described how music has helped her throughout her Aliyah process. She channeled those emotions into her performance.
Karni came for the experience more than anything. “I didn’t come all this way to win,” she said. “I didn’t expect to win. I did it for fun, for myself. I love singing and I don’t have anywhere else where I can perform before an audience.”
Karni was so surprised when her name was announced as a winner, she broke into tears. She was immediately hugged by her fellow performers.
Dress rehearsals were held in the days leading up to the show. Musician Nochi Krohn provided customized background music, video and lighting to enhance each act. Photographer Naomi Abeserah of “Moments by Naomi” captured all the special moments of the evening, especially the “red carpet” before the show.
“NCSY gave these young women a platform to showcase their talent,” said Mina Black, the artistic director of She’s Got Talent. “To many this was their first opportunity to compete at this level, and for some it was the first experience to compete and showcase their talent for an all-woman audience with the proper guidelines,” she said.
As a proud mother, Adele Dubin of Woodmere was so happy for her 9-year-old daughter Shoshie to have the opportunity to perform. Together with her friend Batya Black, Shoshie created their own dance routine with some help from their sisters. “They worked hard and practiced a lot. They had a ton of fun dancing together and She’s Got Talent made Shoshie want to be on stage even more. The audience really energized her.”
Although she planned to perform by herself, judges advised Shani Isaacson to partner up with another contestant, Emmi Polansky. She’s Got Talent coordinators gave performers stage advice and feedback to prepare for the final show.
“The environment was not competitive, everyone was complimenting each other,” said Shani. “We had older girls helping out the younger girls. Everyone worked together and cheered each other on.” Backstage, they would give each other chizuk. “We held each other’s hands and kept it fun,” she added.
Rosen, who is a 10th grader at the Torah Academy for Girls (TAG) in Far Rockaway, was inspired to write a poem based on a friend’s struggle with an eating disorder. “I think the message I tried to convey—that we are not only our bodies—most girls can relate to,” she told the judges. “I have no doubt every single person has an internal battle within them.”
The audience overwhelming agreed, giving Rosen a standing ovation after her performance. “No matter if I were to win or lose the competition nothing feels better than winning respect and pride,” she said. “I felt connected to every member of the audience and I felt that I touched a lot of hearts.”
From the reaction of the audience to the environment on-and-off stage created by the participants, the NCSY staff felt that She’s Got Talent touched something in the Jewish community. “She’s Got Talent became more than just a talent competition. It brought girls and women from different backgrounds, schools, professions, and stages of life together, while giving them the opportunity to express themselves creatively in a warm, unifying experience,” reflected Carol Rhine. “We are looking forward to next year’s show.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.