Encino Local Makes Final 12 for ‘Jewish Star Talent Search’

November 5, 2019

Encino native Stephanie Sussman has been selected as one of the Top 12 finalists for Season 2 of “Jewish Star Talent Search,” a competition for Jewish teens ages 14-18 and young adults ages 19-26 in the Jewish community who have a passion and desire to impact the Jewish world through music. 

The 12 finalists were selected from a few hundred applications. They all submitted original music videos along with a written vision statement about how they want to impact the Jewish world musically. The finalists were judged by fellow celebrity Jewish performers Noam KatzNaomi LessJoe BuchananPeri Smilow Josh Warshawsky, and Rick Recht, creator of the “Jewish Star” talent search.

Besides being a “Jewish Star” finalist Sussman, 16, is currently president of the USY Chapter at Valley Beth Shalom and was nominated by one of her counselors at Camp Ramah in California.  

The junior at Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills is also involved with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and AIPAC.

Sussman told the Jewish Journal over the phone she found out she was a finalist while checking her email about an AIPAC conference she was attending this week.

“Suddenly I saw I had an email from Rick Recht and thought ‘no way,'” Sussman said. “There is no way I could be a finalist.”

Sussman sang “Arise” by Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, a song she said Warshawsky wrote following the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Music Festival shooting in Las Vegas. Before she even knew the song’s origins she resonated with the melody and lyrics and chose to perform it for her second-round audition.    

Recht, who also developed Jewish Rock Radio (JRR), created “Jewish Star Talent Search” to support a new generation of Jewish artists and encourage them in their Jewish musical careers. He said Jewish artists are “ambassadors” for Jewish education and told the Journal why Sussman stood out to him.

“[Stephanie] has this extraordinary energy and passion. She’s articulate about her goals for how she wants to impact the Jewish world,” Recht told the Journal. “I also saw her ability to interact. That’s something that is really important for a Jewish artist to succeed. The ability to interact, the ability to engage, to use body language in a way that is going to jump off the stage, or screen in this case, and make someone feel something.”

Sussman said singing Jewish music is important to her because it allows her to connect to prayer in a way that’s meaningful.

“Jewish music has always been the way I connected to prayer,” Sussman said. “I’ve had experiences where someone has introduced a new tune to a prayer, and I listened to it in a completely different light because I’m not the most fluent in biblical Hebrew and I don’t know what it all means but hearing it brings another dimension to it and makes it make more sense to me.”

Winners of “Jewish Star” will receive a private mentorship from the Jewish celebrity recording artists; a professional studio recording session to record an original composition or a cover song from a pre-approved list of Jewish music artists; and featuring the artists on a Jewish Rock Radio show broadcasting the songs they recorded.

They will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the 2020 Songleader Bootcamp National Conference (SLBC) for immersive coaching. Prize winners will also perform live at SLBC. SLBC was launched in 2009 by Recht and Rabbi Brad Horwitz (Director of the Jewish Community Center’s Helene Mirowitz Center of Jewish Community Life) to create immersive, inspirational, and strategic Jewish leadership programs for Jewish clergy, educators, and songleaders.

Recht said everyone who entered the competition, regardless of winning, was automatically enrolled in the Jewish Star Academy, a program for Jewish teens and young adults can have the opportunity to learn with Jewish educators on how to become stronger Jewish songleaders.

Sussman said making the top six would be a major stepping stone in her music and social justice career.

“I’m figuring out what I want to do, what college I want to go to, what I want to major in and what I want to do with my life,” Sussman said. “I think ‘Jewish Stars’ made me realize that when it comes to social justice and advocacy…I want to be the girl singing with the guitar on stage and like be that person instead of someone who is lobbying. Words can do so much to convince someone of something but song can give you goosebumps and make you cry when words can’t do that. Song is really emotionally appealing to people and part of why I connect to it so much.”

Public voting is now open through Nov. 21 on the JRR Facebook page where you can vote for Sussman. The six grand prize winners will be announced on Nov. 25. Learn more about Jewish Star Talent Search here. 

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