Four Jewish acts featured at Nishmah event

Johanna Elkana

Susan Fadem, Special to the Jewish Light

Among the “StL’s Got Talent” contestants:

• Melodiously named “StL’s Got Talent” vocalist Johanna Elkana – whose “a’s” are pronounced as “ah’s” – always planned to study theater, until the time came to do it. “I kind of chickened out,” she recalls.


Ten years ago her grandfather, St. Louisan Jerry Zoole, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “I was very close to him,” she says. Rather than leave for New York, she enrolled instead in nursing school here.

Her grandfather died within six months. Her foray into nursing lasted a bit longer. “It just didn’t suit me at all,” she says.

Various schools and jobs, including studying at New Actors Workshop in New York and teaching preschoolers here, followed.

Elkana met her future husband, Adam Hale, an actor from Nashville, Ill., while he was performing in St. Louis. They married in 2006. After two miscarriages, she gave birth to their son Eitan, now 2 1/2. Cabaret at the prodding of fellow performer Stellie Siteman, a much-praised role as “Middle Sophie” (Tucker) in the New Jewish Theatre’s recent “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” and now a slot on “StL’s Got Talent” have refocused Elkana’s dreams.

“The difference between age 18 and 28,” her present age,” Elkana says, “is pretty huge. It’s the difference between a child and an adult. In hindsight, I needed to know who I was offstage before I could develop, learn and grow.”

• Singer Jason Jacobs, 23, and singer/guitarist Jeremy Lieb, 31, took their own path to the “StL’s Got Talent” stage, where they will they will perform as the Yey Big duo.

Though an opera major and a member of Straight No Chaser, the premier men’s a cappella group at Indiana University, Jacobs discovered he “didn’t want to do the same thing over and over. My preference is to do what I’m doing now, singing rock and pop.”

He and Lieb, a Chicagoan who originally came to St. Louis for a career in radio, began performing together about five or six months ago. They met through Moishe House and Next Dor here, both efforts to provide meaningful Jewish experiences for young adults. “We hit it off and ended up jamming and practicing together,” Lieb says.

Just before the “StL’s Got Talent” audition deadline, they shot an unrehearsed video on Jacobs’ iPhone.

When not performing with Lieb or “some older gentlemen” in a blues/rock group called Del Mar Blue, Jacobs confines himself to “kind of singing in my little cubicle every now and then” at the JCC, where he works in membership services. Lieb, the music teacher at Temple Israel and also a private guitar teacher, sees the potential the upcoming competition offers.

“It’s not just, ‘Hey those two guys sound good together,'” he says. “We know there’s something there. We’re honored to be among the finalists.”

•  Vocalist Kara Jacobson, 14, and violinist Hava Polinsky, age 11 and the youngest contestant, will be profiled Feb. 9 on the Jewish Light’s Ohr Chadash Teen Page.

Talent-competition preparation for Kara, a student at Parkway North High School who began singing back notes to her dad, Gene Jacobson, when she was “1 or 2, just kind of cutesy stuff, but I loved it,” has included physical workouts.

By working out your abdominal muscles, she explains, you “work out your diaphragm as well, which is the main point from which you sing.”

Hava, a student at Wydown Middle School, also plays viola, piano and drums, plus take hip-hop dance lessons and studies Hebrew. Of “StL’s Got Talent,” she says: “I practice violin almost three hours every night. I’m trying really hard to make this one of my best performances. I’m actually more excited than nervous.”