An exciting extension of the partnership between the Milken Family Foundation and BJE is the Jewish Educator Awards Student Essay Contest. Participation is open to middle and high school students at all BJE-affiliated schools.
As with the Jewish Educator Awards, recognition of excellence is an important part of the competition, which presents an unrestricted gift of $1,800 to the schools of the prizewinning essayists. Two winners are selected, one at the middle and one at the high school level. In addition, each of the students selected will have the opportunity to designate a $500 contribution to an approved charity of his or her choice.
This year's topic asked students to discuss "Describe an Unforgettable Jewish Los Angeles Moment That You Experienced"
Sincere appreciation goes to the judges for their thoughtful review and deliberation in selecting JEA Student Essay Contest finalists.
JEA Student Essay Contest Judges
Susan Freudenheim, Managing Editor, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles/Tribe Media Corp.
Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles/Tribe Media Corp
Eileen Horowitz, JEA 2004
Luisa Latham, JEA 1993
Dr. Elaine Lindheim, Past President, BJE and Former Middle School English Teacher
The two winning entries are:
Making a Difference
Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy
My Los Angeles Jewish Experience
Milken Community High School
"Nathan, you’ve got a letter!" I had eaten my breakfast, brushed my teeth and was about ready to leave for school when my mother became excited. I sprang from my chair and raced to the living room. "Is it what I think it is?" I ripped open the envelope boldly imprinted with Mr. Nathan Bentolila. I had tried to be patient for the ten days I counted since I opened the blue door on the corner mailbox. My eyes popped out of my head when I realized that Robert Kohen, Senior Editor of Glencoe-McGraw-Hill, had replied to my urgent request.
Perhaps I should explain. Two years ago, at the beginning of 6th grade, my history teacher handed me Ancient Civilizations. Unlike your average 6th grader, I happen to love history, so I decided to skim through the book. Two facing pages titled "Links Across Time" caught my attention. The page on the right showed a picture of the modern Olympics next to a historical painting of Greek Olympians.
I glanced at the preceding page, which showed a photograph of two Israeli Army jeeps in a conflict; this was radically different from any other image in the text. What was the picture doing in my book? I read the caption: "Fighting today between Palestinians and Israelis. ..." I was horrified. The more I read, the more I knew that this picture was not supposed to be in any textbook. The description continued, "...one of the fiercest and longest conflicts." I was bewildered since this was actually a pretty modern conflict considered to be forty-five years old by some and one hundred years at most by others. Were millions of 6th graders and teachers across America reading and believing the words? Didn’t anyone notice this bias against Israel? I showed my parents, and they told me to look for other references or pictures of modern conflicts. I found none. My discomfort increased, and my questions intensified. The Arab-Israeli conflict was the only modern conflict referred to in the entire book.
My parents encouraged me to explore this further. After four months of searching the Internet and consulting experts on the subject, my research showed that there were over seventy conflicts going on worldwide. I decided to take action and write a letter to the editor asking why Israel had been singled out as the only example of conflict in today’s world. Even though I was pretty sure that one of the top educational publishing companies in the United States would certainly discard my letter, I knew I had to try. Apparently Fox News had previously tried to discuss Israel bias in textbooks and never received a reply. So, when I received an immediate response, I knew they had taken me seriously.
"Dear Nathan, We agree with your assessments and will change both photo and extended captions in further editions with something positive and unbiased." I, an eleven-year-old passionate Zionist, had truly made a difference.
There is nothing more fulfilling than the first few weeks of fall, the time we chant the story of Hagar and Ishmael, recite the Vidui, and pray that we are inscribed in the Book of Life. It is a time of year when we rid ourselves of the past and start over with a clean slate. The pure white robes worn by the cantors and rabbis, the blasts of shofar, and the cello playing "Kol Nidre" create a meaningful aura that separates this time from the rest of the year.
It was 11 o'clock in the morning and my family and I walked into the main sanctuary of the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the oldest house of Jewish worship in Los Angeles. Murals cover the walls, telling the story of the Jewish people throughout early history. One cannot help but be inspired. The choir being to sing: "Mah Tovu, how good it is to be here." The words of this prayer perfectly captured the emotions throughout the congregation, linking past generations to the present.
The rabbi announced that it was time to rise for Amidah. I rose with the rest of the congregation and then proceeded to walk down the long aisle until I reached the stairs leading up to the bimah, per the cantor’s instructions. I stood next to the president of the temple and chanted the rest of the Amidah until the Ark was closed. We finished our prayer and then I walked over to the podium to stand beside the cantor and rabbi. Thousands of eyes were on me. As I stood in the historic and holy sanctuary, between two of my mentors and spiritual leaders, I felt secure and excited to be part of this sacred morning service. The cantor leaned over and reassured me. I took a deep breath and prepared to lead the congregation in prayer. The piano played an interlude and I began to sing: "B’rosh Hashana yi-katei-vun, u’v Yom tsom Kippur y’cha temun, on Rosh Hashanah our fate is written on Yom Kippur it is sealed."
It was an auspicious way to begin the year, singing words of my ancestors in such a magnificent and spiritually enriching environment. Our rabbi spoke of how we must "hold the Torah high," a metaphor that inspires us to live full and meaningful lives. Singing these words in this sacred space was my way of "holding the Torah high." I felt particularly enriched as I walked down the steps from the bimah to join my family once more.
As the service concluded and we left the sanctuary, numerous friends and congregants approached me with compliments. I felt myself blushing, but greatly appreciated their sincerity and the trust that the cantor had placed in my abilities. I look forward to services next year and hope I will have the opportunity to sing once more. The temple is undergoing a major renovation, and High Holiday services will be held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown. I can only wonder if the history and sacred presence will transfer to the temporary location.