Whether it was discussing the Terri Schiavo case or debating whether students should get PE credit for participating on sports team, Leor Hackel had one goal for the weekly town hall meetings he lead as head of Shalhevet's agenda committee: to keep the students engaged and interested, and to encourage them to take the initiative, just as he had been inspired.
"The school teaches you to really care about your community and to do whatever you need to do for your community," he said. "Shalhevet gives students a lot of responsibility, and having it really helps you use it and take advantage of it."
Getting up in front of the entire high school every week was not unnatural for Hackel, who loves drama. He's had the lead in and directed several plays at Shalhevet, including "Tartuffe" and "Much Ado About Nothing," and last year founded a comedy improv club at school.
Hackel was captain this year of the Model U.N. team (which came in second to YULA), worked on the school paper and was also the gabbai at B'nai David-Judea's teen minyan.
Yeshiva in Israel awaits Hackel next year, and after that he's headed to Yale, where he plans to major in theater studies, cognitive science or English.
Taft High School
Michelle Ahoobim, student body president at Taft High School in Tarzana, isn't the type of person to keep things to herself. So in 11th grade, when she got turned on to Torah study and traditional Judaism, it was no surprise that she invited friends to spend Shabbat in her home, and dragged them along to the Torah study groups, run by the National Council of Synagogue Youth and the Jewish Student Union.
"I love it and I want to share it with everyone else, so I do what I can," said Ahoobim, who is also a varsity soccer player.
While taking on Shabbat observance and keeping kosher, Ahoobim has integrated her Jewish values with the work she does at school. As student body president, she headed up efforts to get her school involved in walks and runs for breast cancer research and other charities. Under her leadership, the school raised $5,000 in pennies for cystic fibrosis. She coordinated with the district to get much-needed benches and tables for Taft students who usually ate lunch standing or sitting on the floor.
Ahoobim also was an organizer for StandWithUs' Caravan for Democracy, where she got kids together to learn about Israel and socialize. She plans to stay involved in the Jewish community when she attends UCLA next year.
Milken Community High School
When Sami Reznik's mother suggested last December that he get his school involved in advocating for the people of Darfur, Sudan, he was reluctant.
"I wasn't one of those students who took a lot of time to get involved," admits Reznik, who played varsity basketball for Milken.
But $15,000 later, Reznik has become proof positive of what a student can get done with some good friends, a lot of hard work, a supportive administration and a passionate student body.
Reznik and his two good friends, Benji Davis and Jason Zarrow, launched Milken's Gift of Life campaign to build wells in Sudan. They raised a remarkable $9,000 in nine days through a raffle, sold green "Save Darfur" wrist bands and teacher holiday cards and even got the upper-school principal, Roger Fuller, to promise to shave his head as incentive (he did).
In two weeks, the campaign raised $15,000.
Reznik has a junior lined up to take over next year, when he is at Clark University in Massachusetts.
"I learned that a real community -- especially a community like Milken, but also the Jewish community at large -- has so much potential. I cared so much about this, and I was able to tell my friends that I care, and my friends told their friends, and then everyone cared about this."
Jessica Lane grew up in a family where Judaism was somewhere in the cultural background, but not central in the lives of either her Presbyterian mother or Jewish father. When she was 11, Jessica decided to study for her bat mitzvah at Temple Israel of Hollywood.
She is now in the leadership of Temple Israel's youth group. In her confirmation class, she studied Reform rabbinic responsa on issues of the day -- abortion, gay rights, social action. She has brought those values to bear on her work at Harvard-Westlake, where she heads up the Gay-Straight Alliance.
"My grandfather came out in the '50s, after he had my mother and her three siblings with my grandmother, so I was always raised in a way where gay relationships weren't strange -- people loved people, and it didn't matter," she said.
Lane is a member of Student Activists for Human Rights and on Harvard-Westlake's basketball team, is a National Merit finalist and plays the bassoon in the school symphony.
Next year she is attending Dartmouth, where she was drawn to the Women in Science program. She plans to major in neurobiology, and eventually get into the field of Alzheimer's research.
La Ca?ada High School
When Sara Heller found out that the first round of auditions for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Royal Court was on Yom Kippur last year, she arranged for a make-up date.
Sara is co-captain of the La Canada High School girls' volleyball team, which has won league titles for the last four years and made it to the statewide quarterfinals this year, with Sara, the setter, named as a co-MVP. She'll be on the volleyball team at Amherst College in the fall. She loves ceramics and arts, was an editor for the school yearbook, is in the National Honor Society and, in her early high school years, was active in B'nai B'rith Girls.
Most of her Jewish involvement comes from Temple Sinai of Glendale, where she tutors bar and bat mitzvah kids.
"I love the prayers, and I really enjoy reliving my religious school experience through the kids I am teaching," she said. "My bat mitzvah was one of the most influential things in my life in terms of giving me my identity and knowing who I am and who I want to be within the Jewish community."
Cleveland High School and Los Angeles Hebrew High
Barnard/Jewish Theological Seminary
Until her principal pointed it out a few weeks ago, Robin Broder had never calculated that she was spending seven hours a week at Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAHHS). It was just something she willingly worked into an already packed schedule: swim team, student government, various charitable projects, a women's group, a school service group and maintaining a 4.3 GPA.
Broder builds her Jewish identity at LAHHS, the Jewish Student Union that meets weekly at Cleveland High, and through United Synagogue Youth's (USY) Valley Beth Shalom Chapter. Robin spent a summer with USY traveling across the United States on the Wheels program, and another summer in Israel and Eastern Europe.
"In Wyoming we had a synagogue to go to and when I was in Poland the Jewish community was there to help us," she said.
But it's more than community that keeps her drawn to the tradition. "There is so much depth and so many layers to Judaism, and things you don't see if you are in shul twice a year. There is intense, philosophical, intellectual learning," she said.
Next year, Broder will attend the joint program at Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she plans to major in physics and philosophy.
Aaron Schultz spends several dozen hours a week immersed in studying Talmud.
"The one thing that should guide a Jew in his life is Gemara," Schultz said.
"Whatever you do in life you have to go beyond the letter of the law and have a positive influence on anyone you interact with, in the Jewish world or in the working world."
That philosophy also motivates Schultz in his work with the Etta Israel Center, where he volunteers with physically and developmentally disabled children and adults. He accompanies them on Shabbaton weekends and other social gatherings, and is the liaison to YULA to gather other volunteers.
Schultz headed up the school's champion Model U.N. team, where for the past two years they beat out 30 other schools in debates and policy questions. For the past two years he was named Best Delegate.
A National Merit commended scholar and a member of the National Honor Society, Schultz will attend Yeshiva University in New York as a Distinguished Scholar, after he spends next year at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.