Bigger isn’t always better.
We know this from Pirkei Avos, which advises us not to look at the container, but rather at what is inside, and from the old adage, “Good things come in small packages.” While those words can be applied to a wide range of objects and situations, they hold equally true for people, as demonstrated by three young adults whose accomplishments are proof positive that true powerhouses are often pint-sized.
Jewish music fans may be familiar with Edon from Shalsheles Junior, but it was his stint on America’s Got Talent at age 14 that really made the Chicago resident a household name. The youngest solo act ever to reach the semi-finals, the yarmulka-clad Edon wowed judges as he sang popular music while playing piano.
The fourth of five children, Edon’s musical talent was evident early on.
“Even as a baby, you could hear him singing in the crib and you could recognize the song he was singing,” Edon’s mother, Laurie Pinchot told Olam Yehudi. “Our whole family is into singing and harmonizing so he definitely had that exposure even when he was little and we have music on all the time.”
Edon’s journey to AGT began with a YouTube video of him singing while playing piano at age 11.
“My oldest was going away to Israel and Edon was playing piano and my daughter said, ‘Let’s put it on YouTube,’” said Mrs. Pinchot. “She started showing it to her friends and before we knew it he had a few thousand views with comments from kids all over the country.”
It was a cold call from AGT that got the ball rolling for Edon.
“We were never looking to put him out there,” noted Mrs. Pinchot. “They offered to fly him out to Austin to audition. We had never even heard of the show but my husband took a day off from work. It was a real adventure but we never expected it to go any further.”
The call back from NBC came as another shock, but the Pinchots made it clear to the producers that Edon couldn’t perform on Shabbos. His religious observance became a problem only once throughout the entire experience.
“They wanted my husband to sign a release form on Shabbos and told him if he didn’t sign immediately Edon was off the show,” said Mrs. Pinchot. “My husband refused and it turned out there was a frum woman in charge who waived the release form.”
Enthusiastic viewer feedback came as an unexpected surprise to the Pinchots.
“Edon got lots of letters but one really stands out,” said Mrs. Pinchot. “There was a girl from a small town in Texas who said she was the only Jew in her town. Seeing Edon wear his religiosity on national TV made her proud of who she was.”
A straight A student who just turned 17 this past spring and hopes to attend Yeshiva University, Edon has performed all over the world.
“We don’t want our son to be the next Justin Bieber,” said Mrs. Pinchot. “We wanted his experience on America’s Got Talent to build his confidence and build other people’s pride in their Jewish identity.”
His musical success may have given him exposure he never imagined but for Edon, Yiddishkeit will always come first.
“Edon has always seen that we all have things we love doing, but no one in our family has ever compromised on their core values.”
It was a friend of a friend of a friend who knew of Eitan’s passion for cooking and forwarded his parents an email saying that Chopped, a televised Food Network cooking competition, was looking for kid contestants.
“I thought maybe it would be fun,” said Eitan. “I filled out an online application, did a lot of phone interviews and I finally got the email that I was on. At first I didn’t believe it. Why would they choose me?”
While Eitan, a Teaneck resident, was eliminated in the first round, his Chopped appearance last fall was the springboard to a world of opportunity.
“That was the night that started my whole career,” said Eitan. “I may have lost, but really I won.”
Eitan, who began cooking at age eight, began developing his own recipes by the time he was 10. Over the past year, he has done cooking demonstrations in a variety of venues, has appeared on the Chabad Telethon, was honored at the Tzivos Hashem Power of Jewish Kids awards, has appeared on Jewish talk radio and hosted a local food and wine fEsteeval.
“I did a demo at Grand and Essex and they expected about 75 people, which is about what they had when Jamie Geller and Susie Fishbein were there,” said Eitan. “We had like 200 people. They had to keep setting up chairs and there were people outside the store watching on TVs.”
The now 13-year-old Eitan, who currently plans a career in the culinary field, said that he has had occasions where people doubted his abilities.
“I was at the Doubletree at Somerset on Pesach and there had been a problem in the kitchen that morning so they didn’t cut the vegetables for the Hawaiian chicken I was making,” recalled Eitan. “There were workers joking ‘this kid can’t cook,’ and they offered me a plastic knife. Then the guy who hired me came in and said ‘This kid can cook better than I can,’ and gave me knives to work with.”
“Eitan has always been full of creative ideas,” said his mother Sabrina Bernath. A regular contributor to Shopping Maven, a local magazine, he is actively working on putting together a cookbook.
“He started his own vegetable garden, but he doesn’t do anything little,” said Mrs. Bernath. “We have plum tomatoes, beefsteaks, red, green and yellow peppers, dill, cucumber, basil, cilantro and rosemary. When he sees the basil he keeps thinking pesto and he wants to put the rosemary in a smoker box.”
While Eitan frequently prepares supper for the family, he still has to answer to a higher authority: his parents.
“For the sake of shalom bayis we sit down and plan the week together,” explained Mrs. Bernath. “We talk about who will enjoy what and we do it together.”
Not a big fan of sports, Eitan has found a way to connect food with what is generally the most popular activity for boys his age. As manager of Yavneh Academy’s basketball team two years ago and soccer team last year, Eitan helped out during games, kept score and played another important role in motivating team members.
“When they win a game I bring in food,” said Eitan. “I love feeding people.”
When West Hempstead resident Glenn Ackerman decided that getting his kids actively involved in ping pong would be a good family activity, he never dreamed that his two children would become nationally ranked.
Or that his little girl would make headlines as a sixth grader by walking away from a national match because it conflicted with Shabbos.
At just eight years old, Estee watched her older brother train with her father and decided she wanted to join the fun in the family basement. Her home practice evolved into sessions at local table tennis clubs and leagues.
“Before we knew it she was playing five to six days a week for two to four hours a night,” said Glenn Ackerman.
Estee was an anomaly in the world of table tennis.
“Forget about Jewish people playing ping pong, there are not many American girls who do this,” said Ackerman.
Over time Estee caught the attention of sports equipment company Killer Spin who sponsored her and she accumulated various wins and medals, both alone and playing doubles with her brother Akiva. Throughout her many trips to tournaments, with matches generally scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays, she and her father discussed what they would do if she were ever scheduled to play on Shabbos.
“We only entered her in Sunday matches,” said Ackerman. “Has that held back her development? Without a doubt. The fact that she goes to a yeshiva that ends at 5 while other kids she plays against get out at 2? Without a doubt. For all the kids she competes against, table tennis is their life. For Estee, the Jewish religion is number one and table tennis is number two.”
Ackerman said that both he and Estee understood why special accommodations couldn’t be made for Shabbos observance at the National Table Tennis Tournament.
“They only had the venue for a limited amount of time and there were 800 people playing,” said Ackerman. “They couldn’t stop the whole tournament just for her.”
Despite having to forfeit that important match, Estee’s star continues to rise in the world of table tennis and she has many more wins under her belt. She has played against tennis great Rafael Nidal, cooking whiz Bobby Flay and just months ago she pranked New York Cosmos assistant coach Alecko Eskandarian and emerged victorious in all three instances. She was honored by the Orthodox Union with their Shabbos Inspiration Award and took home another at the annual Jewish Kids Got Talent competition.
“She won that not for playing ping pong but the fact that she put the paddle down in honor of Shabbos,” said Ackerman.
Balancing her rigorous training schedule with her schoolwork is par for the course for Estee, who is now 13 and starting her first year in high school.
“She does homework either when she gets home from school, in the car or during downtime at the clubs,” said Ackerman.
What’s next for Estee? While the Ackermans have their collective eyes set on the 2017 Maccabi games in Israel, an even larger goal looms in the very near future.
“In January or February we try out for the Olympics,” said Ackerman. “We would like to win a medal for the United States and while we hope that it is her, if not, she wants other players to see how hard she trains and to know that she will be cheering for them the loudest.”
Despite her Olympic dreams, religion will always come first for Estee.
“Don’t think that Mr. Ackerman doesn’t know how good his little girl could be if she practiced on Shabbos,” said Ackerman. “Estee keeps trying to improve but the goal is always to see her be the best she can be within the parameters of Judaism.”