Plainsboro teen Sophia Goldberg was shocked at how little some fellow students knew about Jews and what happened to those in Europe during World War II.
“Having been raised in a Jewish home, surrounded by our religion and traditions, I almost went into culture shock when I started high school and discovered that I was one of only two Jewish students,” said Sophia, now a rising senior at the Mercer County Technical School Health Science Academy. “I was completely surprised to learn that very few of my classmates knew or understood what the Shoa meant.”
Most teenagers would probably have avoided a topic that tough, but Sophia, the daughter of Holly and Dan Goldberg, took it on as a challenge.
She began to speak up at every opportunity, asking her classmates about their own background and beliefs, and telling them about hers, and about the horrors of the Holocaust. She invited questions and discussion.
So impressed was her history teacher by her efforts, that he nominated Sophia for the annual Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Award sponsored by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, the Mercer County Holocaust/Genocide Resource Center in West Windsor, and Kidsbridge Tolerance Museum, located on The College of New Jersey’s campus in Ewing.
Sophia was chosen to receive the award, along with second-grader Dylan Meyers of Lawrenceville (see NJJN, June). The girls were honored at a ceremony on June 5 at the commission/resource center’s annual conference.
Kidsbridge executive director Lynne Azarchi described the two youngsters as “UPstanders,” people committed to spreading understanding and mutual respect.
In a brief speech to the gathering, Sophia said, “I found that the best way to promote Holocaust awareness and acceptance of cultural diversity is two-fold: being open to sharing information about our history, culture, and faith and being open to learning about my classmates’ history, culture, and faith.”
She congratulated Dylan, and the two families decided there and then to walk together in the Walk2StopBullying organized by Kidsbridge on June 8.
“We were delighted to be honored with her,” said Dylan’s mother, Julie Davidson Meyers. “Sophia is a wonderful, talented young woman, and thanks to Kidsbridge and the Holocaust commission, it was a day we will not soon forget.”
For those who know Sophia, her efforts to spread understanding are totally in character.
Admitting to “kvelling a little,” Holly Goldberg provided NJ Jewish News with a partial list of her daughter’s activities: They include being a member of the National Honor Society, an active Girl Scout now working toward her Gold Award, and a volunteer with The Friendship Circle, a Chabad-sponsored organization that has teens helping special-needs children, and with Attitudes in Reverse, which strives to reduce the incidence of teen suicide and the stigma related to mental illness.
Sophia is also musical and spends a lot of time volunteering at Har Sinai Temple in Pennington, where the family are members. She plays in its band, performs in the annual Purimshpiel, and sings in the choir.
“We are very proud of her,” said her mother.
For all her various interests, when asked what’s important to her, Sophia had a simple answer. “I always love to hear someone say thank you, no matter if it is to me, or to someone else,” she wrote in an e-mail. “There are times when a thank you is all that’s needed to pick someone up from a tough time.”
Her parents, she said, both work very hard, “and when I show appreciation for them, even a small amount, they just seem to perk up, as I do.”
Getting the award was another kind of thank you. She said, “I felt absolutely amazed and surprised but most of all overjoyed.”
This summer, she is working on a simplified kosher cookbook for people with special needs. In the fall, aside from regular school, she will be involved with Gesher LeKesher, the teen mentoring and leadership program sponsored by the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, and will serve as an intern with The Cambridge School, a school for children with learning differences.
As for college, Sophia said, “I hope to study psychology and perhaps music as a minor. I would love to work with young adults as a therapist and try to make their lives a little easier.”