Hillel named nine outstanding Jewish student leaders as the 2002 Student Exemplars of Excellence. Among the recipients are a West Point cadet and the founder of Hillel at Izhevsk State University in the former Soviet Union.
"These students exemplify Hillel's vision," said Hillel's President and International Director Richard M. Joel. "They are creating thriving Jewish campus communities."
The award was presented by Joel and Hillel Board of Director member Philip Cohen at the 2002 Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly.
The 2002 Student Exemplars of Excellence are:
United States Military Academy Cadet Daniel Helmer of Haddonfield, NJ.
"In an environment where it would be easy to not be Jewish, Cadet Helmer has not only chosen to identify himself as a Jew but to inspire other cadets to identify with their roots," said Hillel advisor Major Carlos Huerta.
Cadet Helmer has been instrumental in helping fellow cadets to worship, hang mezzuzot on their barrack's doors, and gain access to kosher food during Passover. He also conceived, organized and implemented the Jewish Cadet Hillel Spring Retreat that included a community service project to help the hungry and homeless.
Stanford University student Elizabeth Heydemann of Chicago, IL.
"She cares about others and the community; constantly seeks to learn more about Judaism; challenges herself and others to clarify values and commitments; and lives by her values," said Stanford Hillel Associate Director Adina Danzig.
Heydemann was elected president of the leadership board for this year. She plans model programs such as "Making the Links: Holocaust, Racism and Injustice Today," and "Sex and the Shtetl: Modern Perspectives on Sex, Sexuality and Sexual Orientation in Judaism." Heydemann headed the Stanford Jewish Women's Collective where she planned monthly Rosh Chodesh celebrations. She participated in an alternative spring break in El Salvador. When she returned, she planned and taught programs about her experiences in Latin America.
University of Pittsburgh student Aaron Juda of Bethlehem, PA.
"He has vision and people respond to his leadership and charisma," said Pittsburgh Hillel Executive Director David Terdiman. "He understands how to bring Jewish campus life to a variety of populations and how to celebrate Judaism on the campus."
Juda was the chair of the Hillel Student Initiatives Committee and a member of the Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life Board of Directors. He participated in the World Jewish Congress trip to Israel in November 2001 and in Hillel's Israel Advocacy Mission in May. He transformed Jewish leadership and activities while the Hillel student president, and is a strong voice for the Jewish students at Pittsburgh.
Rutgers University student Rebecca Leibowitz of New Providence, NJ.
"Rebecca defines passionate and purposeful. She has impressed each and every one of us with her talents, drive, poise, boundless energy, and commitment to a cause. For anyone who knows her, the choice is clear: Rebecca truly is an Exemplar of Excellence," said Rutgers Hillel Assistant Director Esther Reed.
Leibowitz planned and implemented a campus-wide "Day without Hate" program. She was dedicated to the First Year Students at Hillel (FYSH) where she encouraged and empowered students to become active in the leadership of Hillel. She was recently elected student president of Hillel, and is a strong advocate of Israel on campus. She organized an Israel rally on campus and she spearheaded a trip of 200 Rutgers students to the solidarity rally in Washington, D.C.
University of Texas student Adam Sowalsky of West Newton, MA.
"Sowalsky helps out whenever he is needed. He is the 'go to' guy at Hillel. He can always be counted on for a good idea, a creative solution, and a can-do attitude," said University of Texas Hillel Associate Director Margo Sack.
Sowalsky revamped the Hillel Web site, including on-line registration forms and the event calendar. He updates the e-mail list and sends it out each week. In addition, he has reworked the student database. He serves as the Orthodox Minyan chair and coordinates all Shabbat and holiday services. Sowalsky is one of five UT Hillel student executive cabinet members. He works with Texas congregations and youth groups to seek out incoming University of Texas students to help ease their transition from high school to college.
Boston College student Brian Lerman of Orange, CT.
"A Jewish student attending a Jesuit university faces challenges. Brian has worked to share the needs of the Jewish community with the administration and encourages partnership at every opportunity. He is able to think out of the box to help the administration provide alternative opportunities for Jewish students during times in which the rest of the campus is participating in religious celebrations," said Hillel of New England Director of Regional Student Services Ailene Gerhardt.
Because of Lerman's hard work and direction, Hillel was recognized by the Office of the Dean of Student Development for the 2001-2002 "Ever to Excel" award for the student organization that has had the greatest impact on the Boston College community throughout the academic year. Lerman is the president of the BC Hillel and the regional student board of New England. He is a member of the Hillel Council of New England's Board of Directors, the Israel Campus Roundtable of Greater Boston, and a part of the Soref Student Leadership Committee. Lerman also works on the school's yearbook, is a member of the Asian Caucus, the Organization of Latin American Affairs, Peer Education Network, and the Student Government Association. He has served as a big brother to the same child in the Boston area his entire time at Boston College.
Izhevsk State University student Pavel Zbar of Izhevsk, Russia.
"He has a unique ability to lead and a great ability to motivate and inspire others," said Hillel in the former Soviet Union Regional Director Jenya Mikhaleva.
Zbar has been a key leader the past few years. He is the co-founder of the Izhevsk Youth club and Hillel. He has been involved with the Jewish community of Izhevsk where he is the deputy chair of the entire community. He has worked as a group coordinator at some of the regional FSU seminars, and is the first young person to lead the Sukkot celebration for the entire community where he attracted 100 people.
Binghamton University student Liz Cohen of Staten Island, NY.
"From planning rallies, to teaching about Israel and writing articles for the university paper, Liz has been at the forefront of advocating for Israel and leading her peers," said Binghamton Hillel Director of Jewish Student Life Brian Cohen.
Cohen is the head of Binghamton's Israel Action Committee. She writes for the Hillel Binghamton student newspaper, Hatikvah. She is also a residential advisor where she ran Hillel programs in her dorm throughout the year. Cohen is also involved in the greater campus community and represents Hillel through all her campus activities. She most recently participated in Hillel's Israel Advocacy Mission in May.
University of Pennsylvania student Katie Jorgensen of Haddonfield, NJ.
"Katie started as an engagement student - and recently celebrated becoming a Bat Mitzvah at U Penn Hillel. This, as with everything Katie does, was a product of putting her whole self into it and she took on the responsibility with the greatest of seriousness," said Penn Hillel Associate Director Rachel Saifer Goldman.
Jorgenson served as the Jewish Life Liaison for one of the college houses. She co-chaired Hillel's New Student Orientation, where she oversaw a committee of 30 people. Jorgenson was a programming chair of the Half Shekel campaign. In her junior year, she served as the religious life chair - and oversaw many of the holiday programs. She always made sure each community was inclusive and welcoming. Most recently, Jorgenson was elected Penn Hillel president for this upcoming year.