Back in April we invited high school and middle school students to complete the following sentence: “The thing they don’t tell you about Israel is…” as part of our inaugural essay contest. The entries trickled in, and intriguing reponses quickly appeared in our inbox. We want to thank all of our contestants for working hard on their essays and the educators, youth advisors, Jewish community professionals and parents who helped aspiring writers perfect their entries. We are proud to announce our prizewinners and honorable mention selections.
In her first place essay, Dalia Zargari describes her emotions as she attends a ceremony marking the end of her older brother Daniel’s basic training in the Israeli army. Judge J.J. Goldberg wrote that “by highlighting the author’s own split identity as a child of Israelis raised in American culture, [the essay] very effectively contrasted the aspects of Israel that are familiar and easily grasped with those that are foreign and surprising. It is both an important, insightful comment on the Israeli experience and a strong, lively piece of writing.”
Second Place (tie):
Daniela Mirell introduces readers to the various cultures, languages and people that call Israel home. At the Western Wall, Daniela expected to see a crowd of mainly Orthodox men. Instead, she saw a snapshot of Israeli society — people of all different ages, nationalities and sizes. She continued to see diversity as she traveled to the Dead Sea and Tel Aviv. “I think that many people who talk about Israel don’t realize how diverse it is, and I’m glad that this writer paid attention to that and seemed eager to engage with a wide range of people,” said judge Ben Sales.
Ilana Solomon boldly blends her personal experiences with insightful commentary in her essay analyzing the struggle for women’s rights at the Western Wall. Ultimately she concludes that the struggle at the Wall is really part of the broader debate in Israel over what role religion should play in everyday Israeli life. Judge Gabe Weinstein wrote that “the essay takes a mature look at a difficult topic in Israeli society. More importantly it got readers thinking about the deep fissures between religious and secular Israelis that could potentially cause significant conflict in future decades.”
Rachel Forman vividly describes her emotions as she and an Israeli friend connect with a child at a hospital in Rishon LeZion who did not speak Hebrew or English. Though Rachel and her Israeli friend did not speak Arabic, she writes how they were still able to brighten the girl’s day. Judge Gabe Weinstein wrote that “the writer illustrates that when people strip away religious, linguistic and ethnic identities, we are capable of forming beautiful and profound relationships with each other.”
Congratulations to our Honorable Mention winners Eric Formica, Hila Mimoun and Lilly Blumenthal.