By Rabbi Arye D. Gordon.
The Milken Family Foundation and Bureau of Jewish Education held its 4th Annual Jewish Educator Awards Student Essay Contest. Participation is open to middle and high school students at all Bureau of Jewish Education affiliated schools.
Two winners are selected, one from a middle school level (grades 6-8) and one from a high school level (grades 9-12).
Yakov Leebhoff, an 11th grader at Yeshiva Ner Aryeh, was the contest winner from the high school level. Zevi Gersten, a 7th grader at Emek Hebrew Academy was the other winner.
(L-R) Dr. Gil Graff of BJE, Contest winners Yakov Leebhoff, fromYeshiva Ner Aryeh, and Zevi Gersten, of Emek Hebrew Academy and Richard Sandler VP Milken Family Foundation at Award Presentation.
Photo: courtesy Milken Family Foundation
The Winners receive a gift of $1,800 to the schools of the prize-winning essayists. In addition, each of the students selected has the opportunity to designate a $500 contribution to an approved charity of his or her choice.
The topic for the High School Gades 9-12 was:
Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” Using specific examples, describe how this quote is relevant to you as a Jew living in 5773/5774. The title of Yakov’s Essay was, “What is the “Right” Decision?”
As part of his essay, Yakov wrote, “In my life, I have sometimes come across situations where the “right” decision to make eludes me. In the end, however, it always is up to me to make a decision and hope that it was the correct one. Although I could probably take the easy way out and shy away from my responsibilities, as Hillel asks, “if I am not for myself, who will be for me?” As I approach adulthood, I cannot expect others to make the difficult choices, such as how to raise my children or make important business decisions. It is solely up to me to educate myself about my options and make the best possible choices for myself.”
Middlel School student Zevi Gersten had the topic, Imagine you were given $1,000 and could donate it to any person or organization. Whom would you give it to and why? What would you want them to do with it? The title of Zevi’s Essay was, “The Gift of Distraction”
As part of his essay, Zevi wrote, “Money is a complex notion. It has the power to destroy a civilization, yet it can save trillions of lives. If I had $1,000, I would give something I love to someone who needs it. I love and devour books. … In honor of my upcoming bar mitzvah, I have been contacting numerous publishing houses and gathering many books to donate to Chai Lifeline, so that they will distribute these books to children suffering with cancer. No scientist could calculate how much joy is in the air when a child is happily engaged in reading.”
Two worthy students engaged in kidush hashem. Their School, Rabbeim, Teachers and Parents, can all be proud of their contribution in molding these talmidim.
“The Gift of Distraction” by Zev Gersten.
Money is a complex notion. It has the power to destroy a civilization, yet it can save trillions of lives. If I had $1,000, I would give something I love to someone who needs it. I love and devour books. My nightstand overflows with all the books I have consumed. Reading must be genetic because my grandparents are avid readers, and everyone in my family reads passionately. I recently lost my grandfather to mesothelioma. He arrived to every chemotherapy treatment with several books in hand. Grandpa always said the best way to deal with painful chemotherapy treatments is by “escaping into a really good book.” In memory of my grandfather, I would use this money to purchase high quality literature books and distribute them through Chai Lifeline to children who struggle with cancer.Reading is the ideal way to escape the discomfort of chemotherapy. Many organizations generate hope and optimism in seriously ill children, but Chai Lifeline provides incomparable support throughout the child’s illness, recovery and beyond. Chai Lifeline is a dynamic organization that supports seriously ill children by bringing joy to the lives of young patients. One of Chai Lifeline’s guiding principles is that “seriously ill children need and deserve as happy and normal a childhood as possible”. I cannot think of anything more joyous then cracking open the binding of a brand new book.In honor of my upcoming bar mitzvah, I have been contacting numerous publishing houses and gathering many books to donate to Chai Lifeline, so that they will distribute these books to children suffering with cancer. No scientist could calculate how much joy is in the air when a child is happily engaged in reading, especially a child with cancer who faces great challenges. Reading helps us forget our troubles as we escape into another world. My grandfather was a loyal fan of Groucho Marx who once said: “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Whenever I receive a new book, this particular quote pops into my head, and I smile.Many organizations are available to bring smiles to a sick child, but Chai Lifeline is unique. One of their guiding principles is: “All services are free of charge to ensure that every family has access to the programs it needs. Chai Lifeline finds ways to bring joy to the lives of our young patients and their families through creative, innovative and effective family centered programs, activities and services.” I know my grandfather appreciated this organization, and he would be proud that I am taking an active role in supporting Chai Lifeline.It has been a privilege and an honor to be spending my spare time assisting Chai Lifeline. I look forward to seeing the smiles on the faces of young patients. I know my grandfather is with me and will be smiling down on me in spirit when I deliver all those delicious new books.