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Jewish Journal

Issues-oriented, with a heart: Daniella Wenger

by Ryan Torok

June 11, 2014 | 12:52 pm

Milken Community Schools
Going to: UC Berkeley

In a way, what Daniella Wenger wants out of life is simple: She wants it to be interesting.

And she’s willing to work to make that happen, as she did earlier this year when she helped bring a day of TED-style talks to her classmates at Milken Community Schools. Under her leadership, philanthropist and school namesake Michael Milken headlined a series of brief, intellectual monologues on topics as wide-ranging as the Arab Spring and couture fashion.

[See the other outstanding graduates here]

“What I loved from our speakers at that event was that everyone was interested and everyone was interesting, and being interested and interesting is what TED is about — intellectual curiosity,” she said. “And that’s something throughout my life, whether I’m studying art history, business or peace and conflict studies, I want to pursue.”

Wenger grew up in the San Fernando Valley, a member of a tight-knit Jewish family that celebrates Shabbat every Friday. She has two sisters, and her grandparents live next door. A Jewish day school student all of her life, Wenger attends — and became a bat mitzvah at — Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. As a Milken sophomore, she participated in the
ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, which seeks to empower young women with leadership skills. Interacting with American and global leaders left a deep impression.

“It is literally a room full of female leaders willing and wanting to inspire action and there to inspire us, and never before have I been in a room with so many people wanting to help me and wanting me to do well and wanting me to be successful and change the world because they believed that I had the power to effect positive change,”A Wenger said.

For the past four years at Milken, she has worked to raise awareness about genocide through Yozma (Hebrew for “initiative”), the school’s social justice leadership initiative. This year, she was co-chair of the Jewish World Watch Yozma, which takes its cues from the agenda of the Encino-based anti-genocide organization. 

“Daniella is the most outstanding youth activist I have known in my six years at Milken Community Schools,” said Carolyn Reznik-Camras, Yozma director.

Wenger is no slouch in the athletics department either. At 5-foot-9, she puts her height to good use as a member of the school’s varsity volleyball team. She has also served as coach for the Special Olympics in bocce and tennis. 

This fall, Wenger will attend UC Berkeley, where she hopes to study business economy in the school’s Haas School of Business Undergraduate Program. She also hopes to study peace and conflict resolution.

The conflicts in Israel and Africa are both passions for Wenger.

“I’m interested in Israel, because it’s an issue very close to my home community,” she said. “And I’m very connected to Jewish World Watch and their mission and their organization and the conflicts going on in Sudan and Congo, because they are urgent.”  

Milken social sciences teacher Laura Sanders-Masset said Israel was a topic of conversation between her and Wenger during the bus ride home from the school s recent graduation night at Disneyland. 

“At 2 in the morning, from Anaheim to Los Angeles, Daniella talked the whole way about Israel education, what its purpose is, what it should look like, kind of a back-and-forth, both agreeing and challenging each other,” she said. “So she’s a very issues-oriented young woman.”

Wenger is always challenging herself, too, apparently. Even her iPhone is currently set to Spanish, which is a language she has been studying and hopes to continue learning next year.

“People always say that it’s weird,” she said of her iPhone’s language setting. “[But] I thought it would be interesting.” 

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