Parents and pundits, you may breathe a sigh of relief. The Class of 2006 -- or at least The Jewish Journal's not-so-random sampling of the class of 2006 -- will put to rest any notion that this plugged in but wireless, overscheduled but doted upon and supersavvy but still so na?ve iPod generation is resting on a sense of inflated entitlement.
These graduating seniors, and surely dozens more who could have made it onto these pages, are doing everything they can to shape a world they want to call home. They have rallied thousands of high school students and adults on behalf of refugees in Africa; they have pushed the school system to meet their standards of morality; they have taught kids to read, raised money for AIDS orphans, interviewed Holocaust survivors, built houses with their own hands and pledged themselves to defend our country.
They come from day schools, public schools, independent schools. They are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, and all are Jewish in ways that defy definition. They are our future, and that future is looking just fine. -- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Eduation Editor
Taft High School
For the past two years, Zac Ellington has routinely dedicated 35 to 40 hours a week to prepping with the Taft Academic Decathlon Team. This year, it all paid off when Taft won the 2006 Academic Decathlon National Championship.
Ellington is also the winner of a full-tuition Posse Scholarship to Grinnell College in Iowa, where he wants to study environmental science. He plans later to go dental school and become an orthodontist.
An African American, Ellington said he has always had to assert his Jewish identity strongly. His temple, Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, has always been a big part of his life.
"I've always had to work to maintain my Jewish identity because I'm black.... Growing up, that's made me more Jewish. Because people don't expect it from me, that's made me associate with it all the more."
A music lover, Ellington wants to learn a new instrument at Grinnell next year -- he already plays the bass guitar and trumpet. He also plans to try fencing. Currently, he spends his time tutoring high school and middle school students in math and English. -- Lisa Hirschmann, Contributing Writer
Saugus High School
Thanks in great part to Ari Berlin, a senior at Saugus High School, the William S. Hart Union School District in the Santa Clarita Valley no longer keeps students in school on Rosh Hashanah. Berlin advocated that Jewish holidays be "student-free days" in letters to his local newspaper, school principal and district board members at the beginning of the school year.
Berlin began a casual Jewish group at Saugus while in 10th grade, which brought together Jewish and non-Jewish students alike to experience Jewish rituals, cuisine and customs.
"I think the culture of it is the best part," said Berlin, who will attend Yale University in the fall and wants to major in ethics, politics and economics. "Learning all the holidays and the traditions -- my family has always shared that with me, and I share that with other people."
Berlin was not particularly interested in politics until his junior year, when he attended the Presidential Classroom Inaugural Program in Washington, D.C., which provides high school juniors and seniors with political education and leadership training.
Prior to his trip to Washington, his main academic interest had been science, with which he has had great success. He worked as a research intern at Caltech and took part in the UC Davis Cosmos program as both a student and peer mentor. Berlin said his time in Washington motivated him to draw more attention to science and math in politics. -- LH
New Community Jewish High School
Claremont McKenna College
When asked what inspired him to run the Los Angeles Marathon while still in high school, Elan Feldman said, "That I've never run it before. It's one of those things that you see, and you wonder if you could yourself."
He has also run on the cross-country team at New Community Jewish High School, earning first team all-league honors, and has played on the lacrosse team, all the while managing a full load of advanced placement classes.
Feldman is a leader. He has been student body president of New Community Jewish High School for the past three years, helping to set the foundation for student government at the new high school. He wants to study economics, government and leadership next year at Claremont McKenna College and will be interning for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this summer. In the past, he has interned for Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).
For Feldman, being Jewish is "about helping another person. The whole idea of tikkun olam. Do anything you can to help another person."
While not religious, he describes himself as a community-oriented Reform Jew. He has served as vice president of the Temple Judea Youth Club and is a member of NCJHS's Israel Advocacy Club. -- LH
Alexander Hamilton High School
Elana Goldstein discovered that the Los Angeles Unified School District was not living up to its commitment to take part in a process that ensures its physical education uniforms are not made in sweatshops. This led her to testify against the district in court.
Goldstein first became interested in workers' rights through working for the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which Goldstein describes as "a Jewish ACLU." She is also on her Temple Youth Group Board at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where her mother, Laura Geller, is senior rabbi. Goldstein also works as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp in Malibu.
Goldstein explains her interpretation of tikkun olam as "more advocacy, volunteering your time, volunteering your money, stopping the conversation and starting the action."
Goldstein credits her Jewish upbringing with teaching her to respect social justice and liberal values. "I was allowed to question everything in my home, which I think is a fundamentally Jewish value," she said.
Goldstein is also ranked fourth out of 700 seniors at Hamilton High School and will attend Brown University in the fall. --LH
Kenny Gotlieb has been interested in science ever since he had a mural of the planet Earth, while growing up. Now he is on his way to Harvard University, where he wants to study physics, biophysics or math-applied economics.
He has a long list of academic accomplishments. He is a National Merit Scholar, a member of Harvard-Westlake's Cum Laude Society and has taken part in a directed thermodynamics study at Harvard-Westlake on how to make refrigerators more efficient.
His accomplishments outside of science also abound. The grandson of Polish Holocaust survivors, he won a grant from Harvard-Westlake to travel to The Netherlands last summer to do Holocaust research. He took the train between cities, interviewing scholars, museum curators and Jewish survivors and their rescuers.
He fondly recalled meeting Tieme Beubing, a hospitable Dutch man who hid both Jews and American pilots who had been shot down during the war. Based on his research, Gotlieb created a Web site about the Dutch resistance during World War II as an independent study this past semester. -- LH
Milken Community High School
Undecided about college (currently on waitlist at Stanford and George Washington Universities; has been accepted at American University)
"The Function and Expression of the miR 171 Promoter in Embryonic and Seedling Arabidopsis Development." That is the name of the 20-page report on RNA that made Thais Miller a semifinalist in the 2006 Intel Science Talent Search.
But despite her obvious knack for biology, Miller, a senior at Milken Community High School, said she wants to study sociology or literature in college. An avid writer, Miller composes poetry, short stories and is even working on a Lolita-esque screenplay about a love affair between an overage movie studio executive and a young and na?ve Hollywood starlet. She is the co-president of Rites of Passage, a poetry club at Milken.
Her list of talents doesn't end there. When Miller's parents took her to a music store at the age of 4, an unwitting employee placed a toy violin in her hands, only to find that young Thais refused to part with it. Today, she practices and performs with her teacher and plays the electric violin in Milken's jazz band. When the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's Keynote Brass Ensemble came to Los Angeles in 2003, Miller performed with it as part of Milken's Chamber Ensemble.
Miller believes deeply in community service and serves as a teacher's assistant at University Synagogue. This summer, she is working at the Human Relations Commission, an organization she admires for its promotion of tolerance. -- LH
New Community Jewish High School
Shira Shane has an eclectic collection of interests. Film, musical theater, Buddhism, art, languages, surfing and international relations are just a few she rattles off with enthusiasm.
In addition to being the top student in her graduating class at New Community Jewish High School, she speaks Hebrew fluently after living in Israel with her family for three years and is studying Arabic and French.
Shane founded Teens Against Genocide (TAG), a social justice organization that now encompasses 25 high schools. On April 23, TAG rallied on behalf of the crisis in Darfur in front of the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles, grabbing the attention of local congressmen.
After running for her school cross-country team this year and training extensively, she completed the Los Angeles Marathon on March 19. She has also played on her school's lacrosse team for three years.
Shane, who is Conservative, said her Jewish values come into play every day and allow her to connect to friends.
"They've guided me as a person, given me guidelines as to how to live my life," she said. -- LH
Milken Community High School
U.S. Naval Academy
Not many college-bound seniors can say they co-founded both the Young Republican and Young Democrat clubs at their high school. But because Ruben Zweiban found himself part of a Republican minority at Milken Community High School, he co-founded a club for the Democrat majority, as well, in order to encourage healthy and fair political debate.
Zweiban will attend the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis next year, a feat he accomplished by winning a nomination from Rep. Howard Berman (D-Sherman Oaks). Each United States congressperson gets only one constituent admitted per year.
One of the biggest challenges about being at Annapolis, Zweiban believes, will be combining a rigorous training and school schedule with the faithful practice of Judaism. Zweiban grew up in a Conservative family, observing Shabbat and all major holidays, and he is heartened that the Naval Academy recently opened a synagogue.
An excellent student with a 4.5 grade point average and a full load of Advanced Placement classes, Zweiban wants to study international policy at Annapolis. Already a Hebrew speaker, he is interested in learning Arabic as well. He wants to pursue a career in the Navy, and eventually, he hopes, at the Pentagon.
Zweiban has always been fascinated by the military. At age 13, he began attending the Navy League Cadet Corps, a one-week boot camp. He also participated in the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps, which simulates a month of Navy Seal training. Only 19 of 42 participants completed the training, and Zweiban was one of them. -- LH
Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim
University of Pennsylvania
Every Friday afternoon, Elizabeth Rubin has back-to-back standing appointments.
First, she heads over to Melrose Avenue Elementary School as a volunteer for Koreh L.A., a Jewish Federation project. For two years, she's been devising games and offering incentives to help struggling first-graders learn to read.Then she visits a toddler through Chai Lifeline, an organization that provides support for families with chronically ill children. When Rubin started visiting early this year, the little girl would cry when she walked in. Now, she cries only when it's time for Rubin to leave.
Rubin has been playing basketball at YULA since the ninth grade, and last season the YULA team made it to the league playoffs and won the national title at a yeshiva tournament in Florida. She also plays volleyball, is editor of the school newspaper, a counselor for the B'nei Akiva Zionist youth movement and won an academic prize for women in science and engineering.
As one of five high school seniors nationwide chosen to be an Orthodox Union Joseph Lieberman Scholar, Rubin participated in several political and leadership events in Washington and around the country.
Rubin will spend a year in yeshiva in Israel before going to the University of Pennsylvania, where she might study education, urban studies or communications. And she wants to be a mom.
"I like having a full life," said Rubin, the oldest of six children. "There is never any down time, and always something going on." -- JGF
Marlborough School and Wilshire Boulevard Temple
As the community service representative to Student Council for Marlborough School, Elizabeth Green set out to raise $20,000 to build a school for AIDS orphans in Zambia.
But then Hurricane Katrina hit, and $5,000 and most of the students' community service energy were directed at the Gulf Coast. Left with just one semester, she still she managed to supervise the raising of $29,000 for Zambia.
Green has been involved in community service since she was 6 years old, when she got pet stores to donate dog food to homeless pet owners. She worked at HopeNet food pantry in the Mid-Wilshire area and at the age of 15 ran the Honolulu Marathon, raising $8,000 for AIDS Walk L.A.
Green honed her inclination for tikkun olam at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where she has been a student since fourth grade. She participates in the weekly madrichim program, discussing Jewish values with other teens then mentoring eighth graders.
She received the Bureau of Jewish Education's Arakhim Award for outstanding character traits, and at Marlborough received awards this year in community service, environmental science and history.
She will attend Northwestern University and hopes to study creative writing and environmental science. And she will continue community service.
"I have a sense that I don't necessarily deserve all the opportunities I have, and that a lot of people who find themselves in difficult situations don't deserve what they have either," said Green. "Community service brings an awareness that there is a world beyond yourself." -- JGF
Columbia/Jewish Theological Seminary
To become an Eagle Scout after six years of being in the Boy Scouts, Seth Samuels mustered a team of 49 volunteers and raised $5,000 to refurbish the home of an indigent, elderly woman in Pasadena last year.
With the help of Rebuilding Together, Samuels supervised the work site to install new pipes, a wheelchair ramp, a security fence, new flooring, sidewalk concrete and cabinets.
This summer, he's taking those skills to Louisiana, where he and some friends will work to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged area.
Samuels' hands also tend to more delicate tools -- such as his cello, which he plays for the Shalhevet orchestra, where he is also assistant conductor and tenor section head for the choir. He's starred in musical theater productions with United Synagogue Youth at Adat Ari El and has been a counselor at Camp Ramah, a bar mitzvah tutor and big brother to Shalhevet middle schoolers.
Next year he hopes to study psychology and Talmud at a joint program at Columbia and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Samuels is an AP Scholar (he aced three exams in one year) and won the Manhigut Award for leadership from the Bureau of Jewish Education, a citizenship award from United Synagogue Youth and scholarship from the National Committee on Jewish Scouting.
For Samuels, the scouting and other work he does all fit together.
"It has to do with believing in God and being a religious person, but also working for the betterment of the country and the people in this country. It's about being a better person." -- JGF