Fourteen-year-old Melanie Aptekar cites the teachings of Theodor Herzl, father of the modern Zionist movement, as a motivating factor in her life.
Melanie’s essay on Herzl’s legendary quote on aspirations for Jewish statehood, “If you will it, it is not a dream,” helped her earn an appointment to the American Hebrew Academy Honor Society.
An international body that acknowledges eighth- and ninth-graders who have demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics, the arts, leadership, and service to their communities, the society is affiliated with the North Carolina-based Jewish boarding school. Aptekar is one of 100 students across the nation to be inducted into the society, said its director, Mark Spielman.
“I’m a big believer in dreams, but I think that you can’t just be handed the things you want in life. You have to work to accomplish your goals,” said Melanie, a freshman at Middletown High School South. She lives in Lincroft with her parents, Elise and Randy, and sister Courtney.
The community service Melanie was cited for includes her activities at Monmouth Reform Temple, where she is a student in the Hebrew High School program and a representative on the board of the youth group. She also volunteers at the temple helping younger students with their Hebrew lessons, and as an aide with MRT’s Bagels and Blocks early childhood program.
“The American Hebrew Society made a wonderful choice in honoring Melanie, and in doing so they honor all of us at MRT,” said Rabbi Michelle Pearlman. “We have a very active and engaged group of teens at MRT and are so proud of their leadership in our community.
“Even as a freshman, Melanie has distinguished herself among the leaders of our high school community. She is a valued member of our temple family and excels both in the academic study of Judaism as well as in her more informal leadership roles.”
Those accepted into the society receive an award certificate designed by world-renowned Jewish artist Mordechai Rosenstein and an opportunity to earn a scholarship to attend the academy.
Melanie said she first began delving deeply into Judaism during the year of study prior to her bat mitzva. “I didn’t feel attached to my community or my religion until I started studying and getting involved at temple,” said Melanie, who said she hopes one day to pursue a career in law or science. “I just love being part of my religion, and I want to pass that love on to other young people.”
Melanie’s commitment to Judaism has shaped her involvement with MRT’s religious school, said its principal, Judy Levine.
“She has a lot of curiosity about Judaism and is one of those really fun students who wants to learn as much as she can. She’s very attentive and supportive of other students,” Levine said. “Going to Hebrew school is not something she has to do — but rather something she really enjoys and feels very much at home with.”