|Yavneh graduates Sarah Linder, second from left, and Shoshana Edelman, far right, were honored earlier this summer as finalists in the 2010 Level 1 Kaplun Foundation Essay Contest. Courtesy Nancy Edelman|
As Teaneck residents Shoshana Edelman and Sara Linder start high school this month, they already have a significant academic accomplishment under their belts. The 2010 graduates of Yavneh Academy in Paramus were feted at a summer luncheon at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan as finalists in the 2010 Level 1 Kaplun Foundation Essay Contest. The other four finalists hailed from South Carolina, Illinois, Massachusetts, and East Brunswick.
Each of the girls won $750 for her essay on the topic “My favorite hero or heroine, biblical, historical, or contemporary, and his or her influence on Jewish history and/or Jewish values.” Shoshana chose American poet Emma Lazarus, while Sara chose Jewish women’s education pioneer Sarah Schenirer of Poland.
Established in 1955, the Morris J. and Betty Kaplun Foundation is a non-profit philanthropy named for World War II refugees. Its annual essay contest for junior high and high school students encourages young people “to treasure our Jewish heritage, reflect on our Jewish values, and better understand our contribution to civilization and culture,” according to the foundation’s website.
Every student in Yavneh’s seventh- and eighth-grade classes was assigned to enter the contest.
“It was a requirement, but I thought, ‘I am actually going to put some effort into this and if I make it, that’s great,'” said Shoshana. “I have always loved to write.”
As an aspiring lawyer, she first thought about writing about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Instead, she settled on the poet whose words are immortalized on the Statue of Liberty.
“I realized I could relate to Emma Lazarus more, especially how she coexisted with her Jewish and Zionist identity,” said Shoshana, the daughter of Nancy and Daniel Edelman. “That was something I could get more substance out of.”
Shoshana, who enjoys drama and dance, was the captain of the Yavneh debate team and hopes to continue debating at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan this fall. She used her prize money to purchase a laptop. “It was an honor to place,” she said.
Her classmate Sara had never heard of her subject, Sarah Schenirer, who revolutionized education for Jewish girls in Poland between the two world wars. It was her aunt who had suggested the topic.
“I like that she pushed herself and started from pretty much nothing,” said Sara, the daughter of Helene and Andrew Linder. “She made a school and taught so many people. Because of her, I can learn what I want to learn – even gemara [Talmud].”
Like Shoshana, she had approached the assignment with the aim of trying to win the grand prize. Still, she said, she was very surprised to be named among the six finalists, whom she enjoyed meeting at the kosher award luncheon.
Sara, who is starting Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, likes drama and taekwondo. She deposited her prize money in her savings account while she contemplates how to spend it.
To read the girls’ essays, go to Kaplun Foundation honors Yavneh graduates for essays.