If Adam and Eve had played hockey, they would have made a strong offensive duo because God made them a team. And Batman might not realize this but he practices the concept of “pikuah nefesh,” saving a life, when he protects the residents of Gotham City from the evil clutches of the Joker.
These are a couple of examples of the ingenious ways 18 students connected their life passions to Jewish sources and led to their being chosen as the inaugural group of “18 Under 18 Who Bring Jewish Learning to Life.”
The chosen 18 winners will be celebrated at an awards dinner on June 5, where they will receive a certificate of recognition and $250 State of Israel Bond.
The contest, which was open to all middle and high school students in Greater MetroWest, posed the challenge of writing an essay establishing meaningful connections between the students’ service activities, personal passions, or hobbies and specific Jewish textual sources. Fifty entries were submitted from public, private, and day school students.
The project was produced by The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life — the Jewish identity-building organization of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ — and generously sponsored by the Herb and Milly Iris Youth and Family Philanthropy Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Charged with the challenging task of selecting the top 18 essays were three judges: Abby Meth Kanter, executive editor of New Jersey Jewish News; Jeffrey Korbman, in his role as chief philanthropy officer at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ; and Vicki Weber, partner and chief marketing officer at Behrman House.
Each applicant was assigned an adviser to provide guidance throughout the process. The success of the project can be attributed in large measure to the knowledge, creativity, and dedication of the Greater MetroWest educators who gave generously and wholeheartedly of their time and expertise; they include Barry Bender, Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, Stacey David, Amy Dorsch, Rabbi Daniel Dorsch, Donna Amdur East, Rabbi Adam Gindea, Jessie Gindea, Rabbi Shmuel Greene, Robert Lichtman, and Rabbi Sharon Litwin. Shira Vickar-Fox was The Partnership’s project coordinator.
The 18 Under 18 challenge, said Lichtman, executive director of The Partnership, “motivated the young people to consider the things that are important to them and to reflect on how Jewish wisdom informs their choices and inspires their commitment. Our goal, regardless of who actually ‘won’ the contest, was to have young people engage deeply in Jewish sources and explore their relevance to the aspects of their lives that matter to them.”
Students wrote about an eclectic range of interests — art, gardening, music, tutoring, and social activism, to name a few. They adeptly and creatively connected their interests to sources that were ancient or contemporary. For example, Devora Slonim, a middle school student and hockey player at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, wrote about the value of teamwork. She cited the second chapter of Genesis that includes God’s creation of a help-mate for Adam. “God created the world with the intention that another human would never be alone, which is like working together — because you need to work together to reach your goals, which is what Adam and Chava did,” Devora wrote.
Cranford High School freshman Alexis Santoro, a sign language advocate, wrote about the meaning of the first word of the Sh’ma, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is One.” She interprets the verb “hear” to mean awareness and references a video created by Reconstructionist Rabbi Darby Jared Leigh, who is deaf. “The word ‘hear’ in the prayer can be translated into ‘pay attention’; it gives people without the ability to hear a chance to still give meaning to the prayer for them and touch them as it would the hearing community,” Alexis wrote.
All the applicants were deserving of praise. Congratulations to the 18 Under 18 and to those who received Honorable Mentions: Dani Bank, Annie Cannon, Liat David, Katie Dickman, Max Dickman, Zachary Forman, Samantha Gurth, Tziporah Isler, Zachary Israeli, Noah Kamens, Dori Kaplan, Rachel Katz, Abigail Klein, Jessica Klein, Max Kopla, Kayla Legatt, Erika Lilienfeld, Matthew Litman, Danny Lundner, Hannah Mamet, Ethan Markon, Maya Minsky, Jacob Nelson, Noa Popky, Andrew Rabinowitz, Emma Rothman, Jennifer Schaffer, Darcy Schleifstein, Sam Wanatick, and Lindsay Zuckerman.
All of the 18 Under 18 winning essays can be read on The Partnership’s website at thepartnershipnj.org/18winners.