Teen honored for work with Israeli olim

Teen honored for work with Israeli olim

Alexa Smith addresses the gathering after accepting her certificate of accomplishment.
Alexa Smith addresses the gathering after accepting her certificate of accomplishment.

Alexa Smith, a Livingston High School senior and an active member of the Iris Teen Tzedakah Program and Diller Teen Fellows at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, is the winner of a certificate of accomplishment as part of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations.

In an April 15 ceremony in Roseland, the university presented her with the certificate for helping to raise $30,000 to benefit low-income Ethiopian-Israeli immigrants living in the federation’s Partnership2Gether city of Rishon Letzion.

The Princeton Prize in Race Relations has been awarded since 2003 to students in grades nine-12 who are working to increase understanding and mutual respect among all races.

Alexa began her work as a bat mitzva project at Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston five years ago in order to help Ethiopian Jews assimilate into Israeli society. 

The funds she raised — from her peers and friends, including through a dance-athon for middle-schoolers — were used to provide scholarships for 11 Ethiopian children to attend a private integrated preschool, as well to purchase bicycles for Ethiopian teenagers and subsidize social services for adult immigrants.

In addition, she received a $1,000 Iris Teen Tzedakah alumni grant for the NJ and Israel Diller students to work with Ethiopian-Israeli teens in Ramat Eliyahu, in federation’s partner community of Rishon Letzion. The teens undertook several community building projects, including creation of a mural depicting their shared hope for peace, an Ethiopian cooking session, and an outdoor adventure project. The grant was matched by Diller/Matnas Ramat Eliyahu for a total of $2,000.

Alexa is the daughter of Michael Smith and Sheri Goldberg, who serves as Israel and World Affairs chair at the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ.

In an e-mail to NJ Jewish News, Alexa said, “I was honored to be recognized for my work with the Ethiopian community in Israel and I hope to encourage others to get involved as well. It is important for us to all work together in unity while appreciating our diversity.”

The April 15 ceremony — where the keynote speaker was Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey — was held at Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, which provided space for the event in its Alan Lowenstein Conference Center and donated some of the refreshments.

At the presentation, Rabbi Peter Kasdan, religious leader emeritus at Temple Emanu-El, cited Alexa for “her amazing personality, commitment to treating everyone with respect, passion for justice, and leadership skills and for her tremendous success in motivating peers in her community to understand the role they each could play with her in promoting racial justice in Israel.”

The prizes and citations are awarded by Princeton University to high school students in 25 regions of the United States who “promote harmony, understanding, and respect among people of different races by identifying and recognizing high school age students whose efforts have had a significant, positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities.” 

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