2016-02-03 / Voice at the Shore

Avoda, a Jewish award for exceptional students, is now accepting applications

By ELLEN WEISMAN
STRENGER Voice shore correspondent


Awardees, (from left), Leana Reich, Jacob Leavy and Matthew Wisneski spoke at the Avoda luncheon in early January. Awardees, (from left), Leana Reich, Jacob Leavy and Matthew Wisneski spoke at the Avoda luncheon in early January. A year ago, Margate native Leana Reich had finished all of her college applications and was just starting her last semester of high school—a semester she had chosen to spend in Israel.

Although her college applications were safely out of the way, there was one more application she had yet to complete: the application for the Avoda Award, a grant of as much as $50,000 awarded to two Jewish high school seniors in Atlantic or Cape May Counties who show a high level of promise but need financial help to achieve their dreams for college and beyond.

Reich remembers sitting on buses and filling out the application over the phone with her mother, while watching the Israeli countryside roll by. She also remembers coming back from Israel at the end of May on the very same day that she was honored at a service for Avoda Award winners.


Avoda Award winners from 2013 (from left) Jordan Biagi and Louis Moskovitz spoke at the Avoda luncheon in December, along with 2012 awardee Ashlyn Laveson. Avoda Award winners from 2013 (from left) Jordan Biagi and Louis Moskovitz spoke at the Avoda luncheon in December, along with 2012 awardee Ashlyn Laveson. Most college seniors should have a less bumpy time filling out the Avoda application than Reich did. Now is the season for current high school seniors to apply for the 2016 Avoda Award, which is due March 1. Applications can be found through high school guidance offices and on the JCC website (www.jccatlantic.org).

What does it take to win the Avoda Award? “Financial need, academic merit and Jewish involvement,” said Yechiel Lehavy, a retired professor who is part of Avoda, a local club with about 120 members that has been giving out awards to college-bound seniors for the past 85 years.

Lehavy, who is on Avoda’s selection committee, also happens to be Leana Reich’s Avoda “mentor.” In addition to receiving money, Avoda Award winners are assigned a mentor who communicates with them throughout their four years of college. During her first semester at George Washington (D.C.) University, where Reich is majoring in international affairs, she and Lehavy communicated on a handful of occasions through calls and emails.

“He wanted to make sure that I was happy and enjoying school,” she explained.

“The club wants to make sure that they are making a good investment.”

Students’ ongoing contact with Avoda mentors helps brings the award winners into what club members call “the Avoda Family.” Not only do mentors monitor students’ grades and progress, they also advise and help students when needed. Students also report to the club as a whole at Avoda luncheons held several times a year when students are on break from college.

One of those lunches, held last month at Sofia in Margate, was attended by about 25 Avoda members, as well as by student awardees and their parents. Club members were obviously excited to hear about what the students were doing.

“These kids are amazing. They do volunteer work, they get good grades, and many are working as well,” said Jack Fox, CEO of the JCC in Margate, who is an Avoda member and a former club president. “I heard about the club my first day on the job [at the JCC] and wanted to get involved right away,” said Fox, who encourages others to join.

After lunch, the club heard updates from the three awardees present: Jake Leavy, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Matt Wisneski, a freshman at University of Delaware, and Reich.

One awardee who couldn’t attend sent a video instead. Jane Mittelman, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Temple University, spoke to members via ipad from Medellin, Colombia, where she was spending her winter break as a volunteer teaching English as a second language to children.

“I really do want to thank every single one of you,” said Mittelman. “Avoda is the reason I can go to school and not think as much about the money.”

She then gave a heartfelt thank you to Avoda members for always being interested in what she was doing. “You really have become a family for me,” said Mittelman.

To download the Avoda application or membership information, go to www.jccatlantic.org and follow the link at the top right corner of the page. Applications must be filled out online, then printed and submitted according to the directions on the site. 

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