Gavriel Brown’s Essay on Hurricane Sandy Awarded First Place

Gavriel Brown, Yeshiva College junior and member of YU’s Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program, won first place in the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. The annual competition challenges college students across the country to submit thought-provoking personal essays that raise questions, single out issues and are rational arguments for ethical action.

Gavriel Brown

Gavriel Brown was awarded the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics

Brown’s winning essay, “Losing Self, Finding Self,” focuses on lessons he learned while volunteering, and eventually coordinating many services, at a Washington Heights shelter after Hurricane Sandy.

“Hurricane Sandy taught me that you don’t need to fly half-way around the world to do meaningful and urgent community service. Sometimes, the most pressing needs are right under our noses, in local schools, in shelters, in community centers,” said Brown, an English major from Silver Spring, Md.

He added: “Elie Wiesel has always stood out as a literary hero and a humanist par excellance. His works sit on my bookshelves and, growing up, he taught me that silence, neutrality and indifference, are the ‘epitome of evil.’ To receive an award from him is humbling, to say the least.”

Brown is the current news editor of The Commentator, the official student newspaper of YU, and was selected as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper for the upcoming 2013-14 academic year. His volunteer work at the shelter was recognized at Yeshiva University’s Annual Hannukah Dinner, where he was selected as a “Point of Light.”

“My days at YU are immersed in words—sacred and profane, inert and alive,” said Brown. “As a student journalist, I’ve seen how words can effect change. As a student of literature, I have watched how words can carry deep and unexpected meanings. My professors have sharpened my pen and challenged me to ‘think higher, feel deeper,’ to borrow Elie Wiesel’s mantra.”

Brown’s professors and mentors offered nothing but praise for the young writer.

“Gavriel is intellectually curious, open and hungry,” said Dr. Joanne Jacobson, professor of English at Yeshiva College. “He is full of boundless energy and yet also quietly introspective. He is the kind of student who reminds faculty why they wanted to be teachers in the first place.”

Dr. Adam Zachary Newton, University Professor and Stanton Chair in Literature and Humanities at Yeshiva University, was gratified to see some of the critical reading that Brown did in his class reflected in the prize-winning essay.

“In the same book by ethical philosopher Emmanuel Levinas that Gavriel cites repeatedly in his essay, from a section specifically on teaching, we are told that ‘attention is attention to something because it is attention to someone.’ Gavriel’s essay demonstrates the power of that principle; one hopes his writing will continue to draw from that well, through its attentive willingness to be dislodged in repeated sojourns ‘toward the Other.’”