Ezra Geller, a seventh- grader at Krieger Schechter Day School, was celebrating his bar mitzvah in Israel with his father and grandfather when he received a late-evening phone call from Head of School Rabbi Moshe Schwartz.
Schwartz contacted Geller to inform him that an essay he wrote about a Holocaust survivor’s commitment to observing Shabbat, even while fleeing the Nazis, won first place in the national 2018 Better 2 Write Contest. For Geller, the recognition came as quite a surprise.
“I didn’t know there was a national competition, so I didn’t expect that I would win,” he said.
During the 2017-’18 school year, seventh-graders from KSDS participated in Better Together, a program that took the students to the Edward A. Myerberg Center in Pikesville once a month. During each visit, two students were partnered with one senior and afforded the opportunity to get to know them.
“We got to interview them, we got to learn about them: their life, their job, how they grew up, where they grew up. Stuff like that,” Geller said.
Later in the school year, the students’ experiences with the seniors were included in the writing prompt for an essay assignment. Geller said, “The question for the essay was, ‘How did one of the seniors help you better understand one of the Ten Commandments?’”
The senior who made the biggest impact on Geller was Jacob Apelberg, a Holocaust survivor from Poland.
“When I spoke with Mr. Apelberg, he talked about Shabbat a lot, and how he observed Shabbat to his greatest ability while trying to escape the Nazis during the Holocaust,” said Geller. “It was really meaningful for me to hear a story like that from someone who has really encountered that, especially since I’m part of the last generation that will be able to hear a story like that firsthand.”
In his essay entitled “To Keep and to be Kept,” Geller writes, “Mr. Apelberg and his family were able to celebrate the fact that although the Jews were once slaves in Egypt, and although they were suffering in Nazi Germany, they were really free people because only free people have a free will to observe Shabbat.”
Geller is not the only KSDS student to receive accolades this month. On May 23, BGE awarded KSDS fourth- graders $10,000 along with a trophy to Mr. Alex Thaler, the Lower School science and mathematics teacher, and his class for creating the grand prize-winning video in the company’s Wires Down Video Challenge.
The annual contest encourages elementary schools to create their own version of BGE’s popular “Wires Down” electric safety commercial for the chance to win between $500 and $10,000 to fund a school enrichment project.
KSDS will use the grand prize to support its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. A portion of the prize will also be donated to the Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids, which provides Baltimore City school students and their families with food for the weekend.