5.23.14 Issue

by Sherrie Saag, Communications, Jewish Federation of Omaha

Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote, “All education ‘worthy’ of the name is education of character.”

Last spring, U.S. Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar and CEO of Mission Continues, Eric Greitens used Buber’s words as the foundation of his commencement address at Tufts University. To those listening, he issued a unique challenge, meant especially for America’s millennial generation.

“Consider sacrifice, serving one’s country, and living magnanimously. What kind of positive difference can I make in the lives of others? If you live each day to answer that question, you will live a life Aristotle considered, ‘greatness of soul.’”

Our community’s high school graduates are about to embark on their own journeys of “greatness of soul” as they pursue higher education, careers and adult roles in society. This year, the Jewish Federation of Omaha is pleased to recognize Rachel Saag and Tyler Siegel with the Robert and Ellen Gordman Jewish Teen Leadership Award.

Their positive difference as leaders in B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) has made an impact in our community.

This year, Rachel served as Mid America Region (MAR) Council N’siah and Tyler as MAR Council Gadol. Both believe their involvement in BBYO has been an invaluable experience: providing them with leadership and mentoring skills and the ability to plan programs, recruit members and organize community service projects and fundraisers.

As Ediar BBG and Mother Chapter, AZA #1 leaders, both Rachel and Tyler emphasized membership recruitment and retention. Tyler recruited more than 26 teens to BBYO in the past two years.  Rachel chaired a successful new member convention in 2012 and when, late in 2013, one chapter was struggling with significant drops in attendance, Rachel organized phone trees and an overnight Shabbat campout that gave girls personal attention and re-energized chapter activity.

Tyler and Rachel, left, Co-Presidents of the Mid America Region at Winter Regional Convention in Omaha.

Tyler and Rachel, left, Co-Presidents of the Mid America Region at Winter Regional Convention in Omaha.

As sophomores, Rachel and Tyler brought back the vintage “Mr. AZA” fundraiser to the JCC campus. Spoofing a beauty pageant, AZA members compete in talent and formal wear, all to raise money for chapter activities and BBYO in Israel. This year’s event takes place May 27 in the JCC Pavilion.

Rachel and Tyler represented the Omaha Cornbelt Council with attendance at International Conventions and Executive Retreats. Locally, they participated in council executive meetings, met regularly with local chapter boards and ensured that AZA and B’nai Brith Girls remained strong throughout the school year.

Rachel graduated last week from Elkhorn South High School where she was a member of varsity show choir, concert choir, and National Honor Society and performed in school plays and musicals. Through the program South American Sister Schools, she established a shared learning exchange at Elkhorn South with a school in Quito, Ecuador. Rachel traveled to Israel as part of the 2011 Maccabi Arts Fest and performed in Jerusalem.

Her American History teacher wrote, “Rachel is an exceptional young woman with great integrity and outstanding intellect. She communicates with confidence and clarity and is one of my highest level thinkers.”

Rachel will attend Indiana University in the fall and plans to study economics and finance at the Kelley School of Business. Her ideal career will one day combine asset management with public policy initiatives.

Soon-to-be Westside High School graduate, Tyler is captain of the varsity tennis team and editor of Westside Wired, the school’s online news source. As a leading member of DECA, Tyler placed first in the financial division of state competition and was a finalist in an International DECA competition.

In a letter of recommendation, Tyler was described in this way, “He applies himself with persistence and dedication and often goes beyond what is asked of him. These qualities made his leadership in youth group shine. He is also extremely kind and compassionate and BBYO members looked to him as a role model.”

Tyler will attend the University of Michigan this fall to study electrical engineering and, possibly, business. His future career interest includes either developing sustainable systems for electronics or research into the implementation of fuel cells in consumer devices.

As BBYO leaders, Rachel and Tyler embody its principles: to learn, lead, serve community and explore Jewish identity. For this reason, they are being honored with the Robert and Ellen Gordman Jewish Teen Leadership Award. The entire community is welcome to join Rachel, Tyler and all the honorees at the Jewish Federation of Omaha Annual Meeting on Monday, June 2 at 7 p.m. in the JCC Theater.