The Kimberly Dawn Ellis Scholarship commemorates Ms. Ellis, who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in December 1997. Ellis was a law student at Pepperdine University, and a garden was created on campus in her memory.
Her parents, Sy and Marilyn Ellis, established a scholarship to help high school students get into college while honoring the daughter they lost. This scholarship is awarded to one student annually to high school seniors who are involved in their Jewish communities. Ellis’s parents have moved away since then, but the scholarship is still provided.
“It is a chance for us to remember our community members,” said Jason Moss, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation.
Elizabeth Emmerich was the first to receive this award in 1999, and this year the 20th recipient will be awarded the scholarship at the Jewish Federation’s 26th Annual Meeting in January 2021. A committee determines who should receive it based on several criteria. The winner must be well-rounded; some of these students were involved in the Jewish communities locally, while others were involved in the larger community.
“Each scholarship [application] requires an essay about what Judaism means in their lives,” Moss said. Regardless of the student’s experience with Judaism, it needs to somehow have affected these students positively.
Sara Charney received the scholarship in 2011, shared her Jewish background, saying, “I was very grateful when I was chosen for this scholarship.” Now a speech-language pathologist in Arizona, Charney is a speech specialist and devoted Jewish woman. She started her education at a Jewish preschool but graduated from a public high school and was involved with United Synagogue Youth throughout her high school career. She attended Sunday school and became a Bat Mitzvah along with her twin brother. Charney frequently attended Friday night and Saturday morning services at her synagogue, and was part of the choir there. In addition, she attended Camp Gan Shalom, where she was also a counselor for multiple summers.
Charney then attended Occidental College where she pursued her degree in Cognitive Science and Linguistics. She continued her Jewish involvement in the community by being the Social Chair of Hillel and organized fundraisers at her school. She added, “I was inspired to continue my Jewish engagement within the Jewish community.” She also attended Birthright during her Junior year of college. In addition, she said, “I think it’s great that scholarships like these are offered to students.”
Abby Schlecht, who is studying Conservation Biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry also feels thankful to have gotten the scholarship back in 2018. She attended the Weizmann Day School in Pasadena, and then switched to public school where she felt that she needed to get more involved with Judaism. Like Charney, she, too, was a counselor at Camp Gan Shalom. She was president of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center’s chapter of USY in high school for two years.
She became a Bat Mitzvah and regularly attended services as a young child, so she felt that she needed to continue that way of life.
In college, she is a member of Hillel. “Through getting active in the Jewish community, I got a better sense of my Jewish self.” The skills and connections that she made in her childhood and high school helped her reach out to the Hillel. “I still feel compelled to engage in the Jewish community, regardless of where I am and where I will live in the future.”
Benjamin Schwartz, who received the scholarship in 2016, had an interesting Jewish upbringing as well. “Judaism is an integral part of my Jewish identity,” Schwartz said proudly. He was one of the few Jewish students at his school and was the go-to guy whenever someone wanted to know something about Judaism. He attended synagogue frequently and tried his best to absorb all that he could about Judaism, so that he could teach his fellow classmates. Schwartz tried finding faith in everyday activities, and the more he learned the more it became a part of him. “Teachers who believed in me helped me identify with it easier,” he said.
After he became a Bar Mitzvah, Schwartz took more Judaism classes, where he had some spiritual teaching about what faith means. He was even in the Jewish Youth Orchestra where he played clarinet. During this time, he got to know Jason Moss as well as the Jewish Federation.
Schwartz attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and studied the History of Public Policy and Law as well as Environmental Studies. In addition, he studied Biblical Judaism and was active at his Hillel. Through his boss, he became involved with J Street, a non-profit liberal advocacy group.
Although these recipients are quite different from one another, the scholarship is what connects them and has helped them go far in life.
Rachel Stern is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.