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St. Louis native among finalists in Jewish Star competition

Greta Rosenstock has a warm personality, a 1,000-watt smile and a golden voice. She also celebrates Judaism through music and song. Those qualities helped move the 23-year-old former St. Louisan into contention as a finalist in the 2019 Jewish Star Talent Search.

Jewish Star is a talent competition not unlike “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent,” but with a decidedly Jewish slant. Contestants must submit a music video featuring a Jewish song and their vision about impacting the Jewish community through music.

Winners of the Jewish Star competition will be announced Nov. 25. They’ll get a boost to their musical careers with prizes including private mentorship from a nationally recognized Jewish celebrity recording artist, a studio recording session, exposure on Jewish Rock Radio and a trip to the 2020 Songleader Bootcamp National Conference, an annual event held at the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis.  

One year ago in the first Jewish Star competition, another St. Louisan won the young adult (19-26) age bracket. That was Lucy Greenbaum, music and youth engagement coordinator at Congregation Shaare Emeth. Now, Rosenstock hopes to follow in Greenbaum’s footsteps.

During the 2018 Jewish Star competition and again this year, nearly 70 entries were submitted from all over North America. The contestants’ video performance and vision statements were evaluated by a team of judges, including Noam Katz, Rick Recht, Naomi Less, Joe Buchanan, Peri Smilow and Josh Warshawsky. They determined the final 12 — six in the young adult bracket and six in the teen (14-18) category. The six grand prize winners will be decided by internet voting, which is open through Nov. 21.

The finalists are talented musicians with striking poise and incredible voices. Still, it can be stressful to create a video and perform flawlessly. 

Carly Abramson, 24, from Nashville, begins her video by crossing her fingers and hoping aloud that she nails her song on this attempt. When Rosenstock watched her fellow competitor’s video, she immediately felt a kinship. Greta needed eight takes to create her final version, accompanying herself on piano. 

“I’ve been performing basically my whole life,” Rosenstock said. “Singing is natural for me but doing a video is a whole different form and it’s a challenge to get the right take.”

The song she chose was composer Laurie Akers’ rendition of “Y’hiyu L’ratzon.” Akers is also the cantorial soloist at Congregation Or Shalom near Chicago.

“I’m kind of a novice writing songs, and a friend of mine recommended Laurie Akers so I reached out to her and she said she would be honored for me to cover one of her pieces,” Rosenstock said.

Greta isn’t the only Rosenstock with musical talent. Her sister Maggie and her brother Jacob are excellent singers. Her parents are also talented musicians.

“I played drums with the Purdue University marching band for four years,” said Greta’s father David. “I sometimes say maybe Greta got some rhythm from me but her ability to sing and perform, that’s all from her mother Lisa — she toured with a college group and she had lead roles in “Peter Pan,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” so Greta grew up around Lisa being on stage.” 

Like her mom, Rosenstock found her musical calling early in life. In 2013, the Jewish Light’s Ohr Chadash Teen Page wrote about her as a “singing sensation” while she was a junior at Parkway Central High School. 

While her voice and presence made an impact with the Jewish Star judges, she was equally compelling in her vision.

“My musical philosophy is focused on connection. I believe music, especially Jewish music featuring our ancient language and inherited liturgy, provides an opportunity for us to connect to our inner selves, those around us, and the divine presence,” she said. “I hope to utilize my voice to bring communities together by sharing Jewish music. I hope to engage audiences in participatory singing, providing a platform for connection and fulfilling aesthetic experiences for all.”

In 2018, Rosenstock earned a B.A. degree in music education from the University of Kentucky, where she was the student director of the female a cappella ensemble. She currently works in New York City as a religious school educator and singer.

Greta’s talents were on display at Shaare Emeth on Nov. 7 at Jewish Rock Radio Live Across America — St. Louis Sings, an all-star line-up of local Jewish musicians. The event was led by Rick Recht, executive director of Jewish Rock Radio and the mastermind behind Jewish Star. He believes Rosenstock has the skill and stage presence to be successful in the music business.

“From a performance standpoint, Greta is extremely engaging and interactive,” Recht said. “She utilizes her body language in addition to her vocal and instrumental skills to really make a connection with the audience. She’s got an ‘it’ factor.”

The Jewish Star competition is designed to give young Jewish musicians like Rosenstock a career boost in a competitive industry. Recht said the talent search was wildly popular in its first year.

“Over 17,000 people voted (last year) for the Jewish Star top 12, and many of the contestants were women, which we saw as a huge victory because we’re trying to bring in more female Jewish talent to the world,” Recht said. “Jewish Star is really about identifying and cultivating and supporting a new generation of young Jewish leaders who use music as their vehicle and a really effective vehicle.”

Recht expects participation will only grow in this year’s Jewish Star competition.

“There’s a real excitement among the public and the teens and young adults who are part of it, and an excitement in St. Louis because we have Greta, who is outrageously talented,” he said.

Recht said every young adult who entered in the contest is automatically enrolled in Jewish Star Academy, which provides live monthly webinars with some of the top Jewish performers teaching skills.

“It’s really cool that they can meet virtually with these Jewish stars to learn about songwriting and touring and the business end of it,” Recht said. “They’re also able to collaborate and exchange songs, and there’s a mentoring program — all kinds of ways we’re supporting them and offering this to everyone who enters Jewish Star, not just the winners.”