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Students, Faculty and Alumni Illuminate Yeshiva University Hanukkah Dinner

Students, faculty and alumni who embody the mission of Yeshiva University were recognized as “Points of Light” during the dinner portion of Yeshiva University’s 88th Annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation, held at New York City’s Waldorf=Astoria on December 16.

Points of Light Dr. Marina Holz and Helen Unger.

“There are so many lights that shine brightly at Yeshiva University. Tonight, we focus on individuals who serve as exemplars of the past, present and future of Yeshiva University,” said President Richard M. Joel, who invited each Point of Light on stage to light a symbolic candle on a menorah.

The Points of Light included Helen Unger, a senior at Stern College for Women, and Dr. Marina Holz, assistant professor of biology. Unger grew up in Cleveland, Ohio where she attended public school before enrolling in Stern College’s S. Daniel Abraham Honor’s Program. Under Holz’s tutelage, Unger’s research in the breast cancer field has won numerous awards, including the Toby Eagle Memorial Scholarship in Cancer Biology and a position in the highly selective Sloan-Kettering Undergraduate Research Program. Unger is also the first YU student to receive the Thomas Bardos Science Education Award for Undergraduate Students.

“I wanted an environment where being an Orthodox Jew wouldn’t be at odds with my secular education,” Unger said of her decision to attend Yeshiva University. “Moreover I value a small learning environment, and the direct mentorship I received at YU more than speaks to why I chose to come here.”

Daniel Simkin, a sophomore at the Sy Syms School of Business, began his university studies in his native Venezuela, but longed for a place where “I could walk around wearing a kippa and feel Jewish,” he said.  After he discovered YU on a visit to a friend enrolled in the school, Simkin taught himself English so that he could attend. His entrepreneurship activities on campus include creating the Latin American Business Club and “Hope Book,” a collaboration with his YU classmates to develop an inspirational book for children with cancer, sparked by his own struggle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma as a child.

Standing: Nachum Segal, Grace Meng, President Richard Joel, Rivka Abbe and Gavriel Brown. Seated: Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Emily Miller, Daniel Simkin, Marina Holz and Helen Unger.

Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program student Gavriel Brown spent nine days helping out at Washington Heights’ 192nd Street Shelter after Hurricane Sandy hit and coordinated the shelter’s daily volunteer flow and general operations to make sure evacuees were cared for. Brown is The Commentator’s features editor and serves as the editor of the Chronos Historical Journal of Yeshiva University as well as design editor and staff writer for Kol Hamevaser, the Jewish thought magazine of YU’s student body. During his studies in Israel, he was a full-time volunteer at Save a Child’s Heart Foundation and volunteer emergency medical technician with Magen David Adom.

Grace Meng, a 2002 graduate of YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a member of the New York State Assembly and the youngest Asian-American ever elected to the New York State Legislature. A dedicated public interest attorney and grassroots political activist, her top priorities are children’s health and education, improving the quality of life for senior citizens, and helping small business owners achieve their American dream. Meng will be sworn into Congress representing New York on January 3.

Emily Miller is an MD/PHD student at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine whose groundbreaking discovery in Ebola research may lead to the disease’s first treatment plan. The breakthrough came during her four years in Dr. Kartik Chandran’s laboratory when they identified a protein on healthy cells which can act as a portal for the deadly virus, which kills up to 90 percent of infected patients.

Gavriel Brown and President Richard Joel

Rabbi Benjamin Blech is an internationally recognized educator, religious leader, author and lecturer who has taught at YU since 1966. A graduate of Yeshiva College and YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Blech studied under Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and has written many books about Judaism and philosophy. His recent work, If G-d is Good, Why is the World So Bad? has been translated into Portuguese and Indonesian, where it has had a powerful reception in the wake of the country’s tsunami. He is a recipient of the American Educator of the Year Award.

Radio host Nachum Segal ’84YC began his broadcasting career at YU’s own radio station, WYUR, in 1981. He assumed leadership of Jewish programming at WFMU Radio in 1983 when he became the host of “JM in the AM: Jewish Moments in the Morning,” and his presentation of music, news and community events have accompanied tens of thousands of listeners through their morning routine for more than three decades. Segal has used the show, as well as his recently-launched Nachum Segal Network, to champion important causes and highlight key conversations within the Jewish community. “My experience on campus at Yeshiva College helped mold me and many of my colleagues in Jewish leadership roles,” he said. “I have the same hope for my son, who is a sophomore at Yeshiva.”

At only 17, Yeshiva University High School for Girls Senior Rivka Abbe recently launched a radio show on the Nachum Segal Network, “Teen Spirit with Rivka Abbe,” addressing issues that concern Jewish teens and empowering them to become active advocates for themselves and for Israel in and out of their communities. She recently brought together 250 Jewish students from high schools across the New York region to introduce them to the mechanics of lawmaking, Israel advocacy and lobbying on YU’s Wilf Campus. The next day she led the group to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and the administration and discuss US policy concerning Israel.

“I really want to do something to help the Jewish world, so whatever I go into—whether it’s politics, advocacy or medicine—will involve that,” said Abbe. “There are so many things that I’ve accomplished at Central that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anywhere else, and I’m so grateful for that.”