Nishmah brings homegrown talent to the stage

Nishmah’s ‘StL’s Got Talent’ event


Help start a group that shapes its future by listening to the voices and ideas of area Jewish girls and women. And don’t be flabbergasted if, inspired by the world’s reality-TV mania, you find yourself listening to localized Japanese drumming …rap from male veteran hip-hop artist Nite Owl, who doubles as an area preschool teacher … and the precise playing of 11-year-old Hava Polinsky, of Clayton, who first tried a violin at age 5 and “from the minute I started, I just loved it…”

Such has been the journey of Ronit Sherwin, executive director of Nishmah: The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project. Back in 2005 when she co-founded the organization with Karen Sher, now immediate past president, nowhere on their agenda did presenting “StL’s Got Talent” appear.

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Nishmah, which seeks to enrich the lives of Jewish girls and women through educational, spiritual and social programs, is supported primarily by individuals and family foundations.

Last year, Sherwin’s development board began discussing the public’s obsession with “all these crazy reality shows,” she says. Though Sherwin, a single mom by choice whose twins are now 14 months old, has little downtime for television, she was intrigued by the fund-raising potential.

Previously, Nishmah’s largest money-maker, a screening of “Making Trouble,” a documentary film about Jewish women comics including Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers and Gilda Radner, raised $3,000.

Now in its sixth year, Nishmah is like a Stage 2 start-up, Sherwin says, established but “still not absorbed in mainstream Jewish life, which has been a frustration of ours.”

The nature of some giving in the Jewish community, she continues, has been to support new and innovative projects, with people “always wanting to fund these young, sexy ideas.” To survive, many nonprofits have tried reaching beyond their traditional base.

Connected to neither TV’s “Britain’s Got Talent,” which introduced Scottish vocal sensation Susan Boyle to the world, nor to “America’s Got Talent,” “StL’s Got Talent” is just that – a one-night competition on Sunday, Feb. 13 for St. Louis and Missouri finalists. Judges, including pop opera singer Neal E. Boyd, a 2008 winner of TV’s “America’s Got Talent,” will award cash and prizes.

Despite Nishmah’s role, religious affiliation was never a criterion for the local competition. Nearly 80 acts auditioned last fall, whether in person or by submitting videos. The judges were Beverly Milder Magencey, founder and director of Beverly Milder’s Musical Arts; Dave Simon of Dave Simon’s Rock School; theater director and production manager Edward Coffield; hazzan, or cantor, Joanna Dulkin of Shaare Zedek Synagogue; and performance aficionado Barbara Opinsky.

Fourteen acts, including dancer John Roberts and the Washington University Amateurs, a vocal ensemble, will perform. As at similar competitions in other cities, winners typically receive no promise of further limelight.

But with celebrity status perhaps only a YouTube video click away, uncertain outcome is hardly a deterrent. “Appearing on ‘StL’s Got Talent’ is a great opportunity. You never know who could be in the audience,” Sherwin says.

For her part, she is counting on 500 to 600 audience members, a $30,000 fundraising goal and potentially, a new Nishmah program for Jewish boys and a lengthened work week for Nishmah Banot fellow Simone Picker, whose hours, despite her master’s degree in social work, have been reduced to 10 a week. Banot, in Hebrew, means “girls.” Nishmah means “listen.”

And “StL’s Got Talent”? With any luck, it means applause-fueled stairway to local, national and even international fame.


StL’s Got Talent

WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 13, doors open at 6 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m.

WHERE: William D. Purser Center at Logan College of Chiropractic in Chesterfield

HOW MUCH: $35 in advance, $40 at the door, $20 for children and students.

MORE INFO: To order online, go to:

Honorary chairs are Kim and Bill Miller and co-chairs are Lynne Palan and Jenny Wolkowitz.