By Sharon Paz
In a moving End of the Year Closing Ceremony on Sunday, May 2nd, West End Synagogue’s Beit Miriam student, Sawyer Stein was presented with the 2021 Simon and Alven Ghertner Award for Excellence in Hebrew.
Sawyer Benjamin Stein, son of Danielle and Bryan Stein and grandson of Carol and Dr. Rob Stein of Nashville and Viviane and the late Ronald LaFave of Vermont was chosen as the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Simon and Alven Ghertner Award for excellence in Hebrew, now in its 76th year. Both Frank Ghertner and Dorothy Ghertner Miller, grandchildren of Simon Ghertner and children of Alven Ghertner, zichronam L’vracha, were present for the program. The award was presented to Sawyer via zoom by Frank Ghertner. The Ghertner Award is a distinct award presented to the outstanding 7th grader each year and recognizes the importance of Hebrew reading proficiency for every generation of Jewish students. Among Jewish teens nationwide, so few excel in Hebrew to the extent that our students do. We are so fortunate to have young people in our school and congregation who have ability and who work hard to excel, reading Torah, Haftarah and leading services for us.
Sharon Paz, Director of Lifelong Learning and Cantor Sarah Levine shared their observations of Sawyer. Paz shared,
“We have had our eyes on Sawyer since he was in 2nd grade. He had mastered the alef bet and could decode well back then. In 4th grade we noticed his competitive nature, he liked being the first one in class to master new Hebrew material and to correctly read the prayers. Throughout his early years, his teachers of Hebrew and T’filah noted that he enjoyed learning Hebrew and singing the prayers (davening).”
This award places emphasis on the effort and skills mastered in preparation for becoming Bnai Mitzvah and takes into account Hebrew language skills. Cantor Sarah said,
“It has been a joy to watch Sawyer’s growth over the past two years. Beginning in 6th grade, with the Torah service, Sawyer took great care and patience with sounding out the difficult Hebrew. When we got to Ashrei, he was a bit daunted by the task of mastering the more challenging biblical Hebrew. But with a smile the whole time, and focus, Sawyer was determined to smooth out the pronunciation of every syllable. He was able to chant Ashrei fluently by the end of 6th grade! Come bar mitzvah lessons and 7th grade, Sawyer paid attention and corrected his own mistakes. He was diligent in listening to what he was reading and took feedback with ease and with a smile. Sawyer did a phenomenal job at his bar mitzvah mastering a difficult Torah reading and finishing his haftarah with very little help from me.”
This award comes with a gift from the Ghertner Family. Many thanks to Frank Ghertner and Dorothy Ghertner Miller who oversee this award on an annual basis. The Closing Ceremony included reflections on a pandemic year—a most unusual year of teaching, learning and celebrating.
Saturday evening, May 15, WES celebrated the graduation of nine students from Beit Miriam. During the program two special awards were presented: NATHAN DAVIS AWARD FOR THE OUTSTANDING STUDENT IN THE GRADUATION CLASS AND THE SANDRA KLEIN GOLDSTEIN AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING COMMUNITY SERVICE.
The Nathan Davis Award for the outstanding student in the 2021 graduating class was presented to Abigail Claire Landa by Charlotte Seloff, granddaughter of Nathan Davis. Seloff noted that,
“Nathan Davis was Morah Sharon Paz’s great-great grandfather and president of West End Synagogue from 1931-1934. His main interest was the Jewish education of the children in the Religious School. Little did he know that his great-great granddaughter would one day be the Director of Lifelong Learning for the Synagogue.”
The annual award, endowed by his family, was first presented in 1936 to Sylvia Levine Manas, of blessed memory, and the second in 1937 to Frances Kaminitz. The award recognizes a commitment to Jewish Life, academic excellence, leadership, honesty, being co-operative, respectful and active in Jewish Youth Activities and West End Synagogue. The honoree is selected by the professional staff with input from his/her teachers through the years.
This year’s honoree, Abby Landa, was described by her teachers as being a very engaged student throughout her years at Beit Miriam with a keen sense of curiosity. She has a command of T’filah and a commitment to our school. She was a great teacher aide in 4th and 5th grade T’filah (prayer) and stepped in as teacher half way through the year. Abby has attended Camp Ramah Darom for 6 years and plans to attend Ramah Darom for a 10 Day Gesher experience, a taste of the Ramah Darom 2020 summer program that was cancelled due to COVID, and then will participate in the Ramah Seminar Israel summer program. Abby was selected as a 2021-2022 Kenneth Leventhal, “Stand With Us,” intern. StandWithUS is a high School and College Campus Israel education group whose members learn to fight hate and anti-Semitism, while educating and inspiring the next generation of pro-Israel voices.
At Franklin High School, Abby is academically outstanding. She is involved in two programs: Youth in Government, a classroom for civic government, and Model UN which introduces students to the world of diplomacy, negotiation and decision making. She was Model UN General Assembly Vice President in 2021 and will be president this coming academic year. In addition, she will serve as the Youth in Government Red House Floor leader for 2021-2022. Abby is a member of the Young Democrats, Spanish Honors Society, and the History Honors Society at Franklin High School.
Ethan David Bengelsdorf was the 2021 Beit Miriam graduation class recipient of the third annual Sandra Klein Goldstein Award for active and meaningful Community Service. Ethan is a sophomore at Franklin High School.
This annual award was established in perpetuity by Bernie Goldstein and his children, Steven, Ronna and Stewart and their children in loving memory of their wife and mother, Sandra Goldstein, whom they describe as an Ayshet Chayil, a woman of valor. The award honors an outstanding student in the graduating class of Beit Miriam at West End Synagogue. She advocated, “Tikkun Olam,” giving back, and valued involvement in the Jewish and non-Jewish community. It is the family’s hope that this award will serve as inspiration for West End Synagogue high school students to increase awareness and promote Tzedakah and community service, as core trait of the Jewish Faith.
The past 15 months have been challenging for students to be actively involved in Community Service projects. So, this year we looked inward. When Ethan’s brother Jake took his college courses online from home this year and thus agreed to teach at Beit Miriam over zoom for a semester, he needed Ethan’s help in the virtual classroom.
It is a challenge to teach T’filah to a class over Zoom. There is no opportunity to sing together and practice what you are learning. Ethan volunteered to help him. Ethan would take half of the class into a breakout room in both the 4th and 5th grades every Wednesday afternoon and teach students the Friday night, Kabbalat Service. When Jake left in the second semester, Abby Landa stepped in as a paid teacher and Ethan continued to help her the same way. When Abby had to miss a Wednesday or two even at the last minute, Ethan said he could handle the class by himself. And he did. We salute Ethan for a full year of volunteer teaching for Midweek Hebrew. The students loved all three of their teachers. It was a seamless transition for the students and a life saver for the school! Ethan is Ramah Darom camper of many years and the 2021-2022 Ein Gedi Sub Regional Vice President of USY. He served on the 2020-2021 USY Religion/Education Regional General Board and serves on the Bnai Tzedek Board of the Jewish Community Foundation. Ethan also served as Parliamentarian for Model UN at Franklin High School.