Wednesday, January 22, 2020

There is plenty of talent in the Highland Park/Edison community, as was proven at the first-ever Girls Got Talent event held on Sunday evening, September 2, at the Bartle School auditorium in Highland Park. Community women and girls spent their Labor Day weekend watching the many talents represented while raising money for tzedakah.

The audience entered the auditorium amid background music, which set the mood for a festive evening. Friends greeted each other in the audience as the performers balanced excitement, stage fright, eagerness and anticipation.

The event was opened by Ahuva Morris, event organizer, with thanks to the community for its support and to the girls who made the talent event possible. Befitting the female-centric event, an opening d’var Torah noted that leaving Egypt was in the merit of the righteous women, and we were able to receive the Torah because we left Egypt. Could we not also say we received the Torah because of the righteous women? Today’s Jewish woman keeps the spirit of the Jewish family alive and has the power to allow Torah values to shine.

Acts ranged from singing (a cappella and accompanied by music) to dancing, instrumental performances (keyboard, flute, violin), to comedy, gymnastics, painting and even a performance by someone who did a rhythmic cups routine followed by roller skating and walking on her hands. The wide range of musical styles and accompaniments included modern, traditional, Broadway, chasidic and original compositions.

Many people fear public speaking or performing. Much credit goes to the nearly 25 acts that performed on stage in front of nearly 200 people. This year the participants were mainly from the Highland Park/Edison community, but there were also two sisters who formerly lived in the community and are grandchildren of an Edison resident. It is hoped that the event will grow into an annual event that will attract girls from across the greater Jewish community and around the state. Created as an event mainly for pre-teens, performers ranged in age from 8 to 13, but the hope is that there will be additional events for other age groups, including adults.

Participants received a swag bag for their participation. As an added incentive, the name of one lucky participant was drawn to receive a gift basket of gift certificates from local businesses and other treats.

Independent judges representing various artistic pursuits had a difficult time selecting the winning acts. Rivka Shavelson of Passaic brought her talents as a gymnast and pianist to the judge’s table; the community’s own Robyn Black brought her BFA in musical theater skills; and Bracha Jaffe, international recording artist from Woodmere, New York, lent her musical knowledge.

The biggest challenge was the technical aspect, said Morris. Getting the participants’ music in the proper format and cut to the time of their performances was key. Luckily, Yaakov and Ginny Kafka took over the job of running the sound and music production. Yaakov donated the use of the equipment from his band, “Simple Man,” for Ginny to run during the event. “From microphones to organizing the music, I couldn’t have done it without them,” said Morris.

In truth, all the participants were winners as the proceeds from the event went to Hachnassas Kallah, with the event raising nearly $1,000. When asked how this tzedakah was chosen, Morris simply said that she gave her daughter the choice and this was the one she selected.

Morris said that the program began to take shape when her 10-year-old daughter asked if she would ever be allowed to perform on the show “America’s Got Talent.” Morris’ answer was that the TV show was not an environment that supports or nurtures a religious lifestyle. Pre-teens are at the age where many halachic restrictions begin to apply to young girls, and Morris didn’t want to take the creative expressions of singing, dancing, drawing and writing away without providing an equally appealing religiously permitted option.

“There are so many girls who have great talents and skills, but don’t have a place to perform and shine that’s permissible by religious Jewish standards. We wanted to provide a setting where the girls who have something they are particularly good at or interested in can build that talent and perform and shine,” Morris said. Thus, Girls Got Talent was born, and looks forward to future growth as it becomes an annual event.

By Deborah Melman