Benjamin Edelman and Eliana Suldan, both of whom live in Teaneck and both recent graduates of Yavneh Academy of Paramus, were among six finalists in this year’s national Kaplun Foundation Essay Contest on the seventh- to ninth-grade level.
Benny was awarded the grand prize of $1,800, which he’s using to finance a belated bar mitzvah trip to Israel next month with his father, Daniel. Eliana won $750.
“I love to write; it’s very fun for me to express my thoughts in words,” Benny said. “And I love being able to articulate my thoughts in complex ways.”
The theme of this year’s contest, which drew 300 submissions from middle-schoolers across North America, was “My Jewish Values: How They Can Help Me Make the World a Better Place.” Benny wrote about his experience interacting with residents of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh through a Yavneh visitation program supported by a Legacy Heritage Fund grant, “Better Together: Connecting Generations.”
“I made my essay into a personal narrative because I thought that was much more real than just stating statistics,” said Benny, the youngest of four siblings. In 2010, his sister Shoshana, now a 19-year-old rising sophomore at NYU, was a finalist in the same contest for her essay about the American poet Emma Lazarus.
“My kids are blessed to be really great writers,” Benny’s mother, Nancy Edelman, a teacher of English and art history at Torah Academy of Bergen County, said. “They are pretty passionate about certain things, and that comes through in their essays.”
“What impressed me most — and what I am proudest of — in both Benny’s and Shoshana’s submissions was not so much that they wrote award-winning essays on their own,” their father added. “It is that they formulated and shared deeply thoughtful ideas about their own lives that enabled others to benefit from their wisdom and sensitivities.”
Even before Benny’s essay was declared the winner of the Kaplun contest during a gala luncheon at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, it already had won first place in the Better 2 Write/Tov L’chtov essay contest associated with the Better Together grant. The prize for this contest is up to $5,000 toward a Jewish summer enrichment or experiential program. Benny hopes to use it next summer.
Both he and Eliana will be freshmen at the Frisch School in Paramus come September.
Honorable mentions in the Kaplun essay contest went to Yavneh eighth-grader Talya Wimpfheimer, who has now graduated, and soon-to-be eighth-grader Gittel Levin. Both come from Teaneck. Each year, all seventh- and eighth-graders at Yavneh are encouraged to submit essays to the contest, which is sponsored by the Morris J. and Betty Kaplun Foundation to strengthen Jewish heritage and values. There is also a high-school level in the contest.
Barbara Rubin, Yavneh’s middle school associate principal for general studies, said the Kaplun contest “allows our students to participate with children from all over the country in public and private schools, and gives our students the opportunity to enhance their writing and explore topics specific to our Jewish culture and heritage.”