Seventeen-year-old Ellie Dubin brought a little magic to schools with little or no funding for the arts when she started the program Kesem Shel Shir.
The name, which the group translates as “the magic of music,” connects schools in need with the arts and musical theater. Its first production was “Cinderella,” which took place at an elementary school in Los Angeles. The second, “High School Musical,” was held at a middle school in Israel and brought together children of different faiths.
“During the performance in Israel, of the two main characters, one was Jewish and one was Arab, and they ended up holding hands together, and the symbolism of that was so amazing,” Dubin said.
The same could be said of Dubin and the other recipients of this year’s Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. Since 2007, the annual awards from the Bay Area-based Helen Diller Family Foundation have been focused on the Jewish concept of repairing the world. Ten students are chosen to receive the award, five from California and five from other parts of the country.
The recipients will be recognized at a celebratory luncheon in August and will be awarded $36,000 to use to further their philanthropic work or their education.
This year, three winners hailed from the greater Los Angeles area: Dubin and Jordan Elist of Beverly Hills and Ido Kedar of West Hills. Each of these teens has given back to the community in a unique way.
Dubin wants to expand her program as well as build partnerships with humanitarian organizations to help bring Kasem Shel Shir to other countries. She plans to take it to a rural school in Costa Rica, where the students will perform a musical that will be a compilation of popular songs.
Elist, 18, founded the nonprofit organization Save a Bottle, Save a Life five years ago. The group collects bottles and cans to recycle for money that is then donated to food banks across Los Angeles. Elist founded the program five years ago after he was volunteering at Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program.
“I realized that food was running low, and the food bank was forced to give families a short supply of groceries,” Elist said. “From that moment, I knew I wanted to create an organization to help families just like the ones I had seen that day.
Save a Bottle, Save a Life has raised more than $22,000 since then and has donated in excess of 30,000 pounds of food to pantries across the city. Elist said he plans to pledge the full amount of the Diller money awarded to him toward supporting the agricultural development of land in Israel.
Kedar, 17, who is autistic and nonverbal, has developed a public forum to educate people about nonverbal autism. He has delivered dozens of speeches, published a book, “Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison,” and runs a blog, idoinautismland.com.
Kedar said in an e-mail he was once in what he describes as classes for lower-functioning students with autism.
“Before I could communicate, I had people describing me to me, but being wrong,” Keder said. “Imagine if you understood everything but could not speak or control your body enough to show it.”
Kedar learned to communicate through an iPad or a letter board, which he caries with him, and is now a full-time student in general education classes at Canoga Park High School. He said he feels obligated to teach his old classmates how to effectively communicate. Kedar believes the only reason that they can’t is because they haven’t been taught properly, which provoked him to help people with autism show their true abilities.
All three students said they plan to attend college. Elist will be attending the University of Southern California and will be double majoring in business administration and international relations. Dubin will be starting her senior year at Beverly Hills High School, and Keder will be going into his junior year this fall.
Dubin and Elist and are both seeking out members of the community to help carry on their projects after they leave for college. Keder plans to continue educating people as well as raising awareness about his project.