Five Atlantic County high school students honored at Beth Israel during first annual ‘Spirit of MLK Awards’

Joining Rabbi Michael Feshbach and Beth Israel President Linda Karp on stage were the award recipients (from left), Fatumata Kamara, Anna Vicente, Christopher Wright, Naseem Adderly, and Hannah Jakos.

Joining Rabbi Michael Feshbach and Beth Israel President Linda Karp on stage were the award recipients (from left), Fatumata Kamara, Anna Vicente, Christopher Wright, Naseem Adderly, and Hannah Jakos.

If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was alive today what changes would he want to see in America? This is the question that Beth Israel posed to area high school students for its first annual ‘Spirit of MLK’ contest. All nine local high schools were invited to participate, and of them five accepted.

Students were challenged to think about the lifetime and inspirational words written and spoken by MLK and combine them with the ongoing needs of the present day. Winners included Naseem Adderly (Atlantic City High School), Fatumata Kamara (Atlantic County Institute of Technology (ACIT), Hannah Jakos (Egg Harbor Township High School), Anna Vicente (Mainland Regional High School), and Christopher Wright (Pleasantville High School).

Each student received a $180 scholarship as well as a copy of the book “Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish Community” by Rabbi Marc Schneier, which was published in 1999.

Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach called each winner to the stage to read their essay. Adderly’s wish was that MLK’s dream is continued by ensuring that others suffer less and each individual is granted a second chance. Honor and integrity should be highly valued. Adderly had never been to a synagogue before, but was struck by the beauty of the building and the comradery in the temple. A senior in high school, he plans to attend college after graduation.

In Kamara’s essay, she challenged the community to help youth and anyone who is struggling. Standing up and showing the youth that it is going to be okay, and follow MLK’s messages because they will guide us in the right direction. Kamara also plans to attend college in the fall.

Jakos’ message included the addition of all minorities’ history into education and in greater detail than what already exists. Mainland senior Vicente answered the question by advocating for equality for women by making feminine hygiene products accessible for all. Vicente will attend college in the fall and has aspirations to become an occupational therapist.

Finally, Wright’s message stressed that young leaders from his generation and even younger must stand up. “Choose me… call on and respect young leaders who are silent. Otherwise, I cannot speak,” he said. Unsure where he will go to college in the fall, Wright hopes to be a lawyer in the future.

Rabbi Feshbach shared, “the students were all impressive; they were accomplished, articulate, poised, hopeful…and, without coordination, they brought their energy to a wide range of important topics, which were linked but not identical to one another!”

The ceremony also included a non-traditional Shabbat service with scripture, prayer, and song, along with speeches and writings of MLK, including his “I have a dream” speech.

Rabbi Feshbach recently decided to start this tradition, taking inspiration from a similar program they used to do at the synagogue he worked at in St. Thomas. He shared, “The idea seemed so powerful on many levels—it connected us with the meaning of the holiday, it built bridges between communities of faith and all the schools on the island, and it promoted the aspirational and inspirational ideals of Dr. King in a new way, focused on the needs of today. We had no idea if this could be ‘replicated,’ but it seemed too powerful an initiative not to try to bring with me to Beth Israel and to the wider community living here.”

Councilmember for the City of Atlantic City Kaleem Shabazz delivered a keynote address for the evening. He advocated for all the young people to put their best foot forward as leaders. “We anoint you as leaders to solve problems; we have your back and we support you,” he expressed. Shabazz commented that antisemitism and Islamophobia are two of the greatest barriers we have in this country to equality, and as young leaders it is important to engage in the struggle to overcome hate.

Both Rabbi Feshbach and Shabazz have been strong supporters of each other since the rabbi moved here one year ago. Rabbi Feshbach has noted that Shabazz is one of the first ones to call and offer support when something negative happens, such as the antisemitic flyers in Brigantine. Shabazz attended Rabbi Feshbach’s installation, has welcomed him on his radio program, and invited him to speak in Shabazz’s class at Stockton. Rabbi Feshbach also presented the keynote address at A.M.E Church in Atlantic City on MLK Day.

Rabbi Feshbach hopes the initiative will grow to include all nine of the public high schools in this part of Atlantic County, plus Ocean City High School. His hope is that it becomes rooted in local awareness, “something students anticipate and strive for, something the winners proclaim with pride on college applications, an annual event fully on the radar screen of educators, civic leaders, public servants and faith leaders throughout the community.”

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