Annual Hanukkah Dinner Highlights Eight of Yeshiva University’s Best
At Yeshiva University’s 87th Annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation, held December 11 at the Waldorf-Astoria, President Richard M. Joel recognized eight people who exemplify YU, and called each one up to light a candle on a symbolic menorah. “There are many lights that shine brightly at Yeshiva, and we have made it our tradition to identify eight points of light who serve as exemplars of the past, present and future of Yeshiva University, and of our hopes for tomorrow,” he said.
The Points of Lights included a pair of Yeshiva College students, Yair Saperstein and Menachem Spira, two award-winning science majors and Roth scholars at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who founded a program called START (Student, Teachers and Reasearchers Teach) Science, in which YU students volunteer to teach science in local public schools.
Saperstein, of Lawrence, NY, is a member of the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program and was a recipient of the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. In addition to being a trained cantor at YU’s Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music and winning numerous piano awards, he is also a member of YU’s Debate Society, and received awards for excellence in Talmud and having the highest GPA of any junior.
Spira, a native of Atlanta, GA, has conducted research at Einstein, the Emory University School of Medicine and at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He is a teaching assistant at YU, holds leadership positions with the Chemistry Club and the Medical Ethics Society, and writes for several science publications. He also works with disabled children, as a volunteer for Kids of Courage, Yachad and Camp Simcha Special.
Joseph “JB” Bensmihen, an alumnus of Yeshiva College and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, was recently appointed to the Yeshiva College Board of Overseers. Born with spastic cerebral palsy, he overcame a doctor’s prognosis that he would be unable to walk and operates Boca Home Care, a Medicare-certified home health agency in Florida. A father of four and a former president of Boca Raton Synagogue, he also runs the David Bensmihen Charitable foundation, which provides scholarships for deserving students in his fathers’ memory.
Heather Wright Bliss is a social worker and psychotherapist pursuing a PhD at Wurzweiler, who overcame a cancer diagnosis and now channels her skills toward helping children in the foster care system. In recognition of her work, she was one of two recipients to receive the prestigious Vincent Fontana Foundation Grant.
Jennifer MacLean is a third-year student at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, whose work for the Innocence Project, using DNA extracts, helped exonerate a jailed man who had served 20 years of an 80-year sentence, after being wrongly convicted of a rape and murder. MacLean is also involved in Cardozo’s Student Life Committee, the Mental Health Working Group and in the Battered Women’s Uncontested Divorce Program.
Rabbi Reuven Brand is an alumnus of Yeshiva College, Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and the Wexner Kollel Elyon of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He now leads YU’s Torah MiTzion Kollel in Chicago and also founded Lman Achai, a student organization dedicated to the needs of Jews in Israel.
Daniel O’Neil is a fourth-year student at Einstein who spent 11 months working with disadvantaged populations in Kisoro, Uganda. As part of the Chronic Disease in the Community project, he trained health workers to provide villagers with a medical education on hypertension, diabetes and asthma.
Avital Chizhik, of Highland Park, NJ, is a student at Stern College for Women studying journalism, whose non-fiction and creative writing has won numerous awards and been published worldwide. On campus, she is active in the World Zionist Organization, The Commentator and the Political Science Society. A participant in the CJF’s service learning mission in Kharkov, Ukraine and summer camp in Arad, she also worked as a research assistant for Professor Linda Shires.
Concluding the lighting ceremony, President Joel paid tribute to the honorees: “May their flames grow and may we continue to bask in their light.”