Hebrew Academy seniors Gabe Apoj and Sara Fuchs were nominated this year for the prestigious Silver Knight Award given by the Miami Herald to recognize 12th grade students who not only have good grades but also contribute to their communities using their unique knowledge and talents.
“It feels really good knowing that all the work I put in for my project mattered, was appreciated, and made enough of an impact that the school felt that I earned the Silver Knight nomination,” Fuchs said.
In order to be nominated, a student must have a minimum unweighted GPA of 3.2 and show that they unselfishly use their talents to help others. The official awards ceremony is this Wednesday, May 17th, where the winners, nominated from both public and private schools across Miami-Dade, will be announced. No Hebrew Academy student has ever won the Silver Knight Award.
Sara Fuchs was nominated for the award through her work with the Miami Beach Commission for Women. She created a Web page for the commission to inform the community of the services they offer to women.
“The Miami Beach Commission for Women’s purpose is to help the women in our community, to make sure that the women are getting fully represented, and to find out about issues that affect the women in our community,” said Fuchs, who will be attending NYU’s Gallatin School in the fall. “We take it to the city of Miami Beach and this way we help improve the lives of the women in that community in every way.”
Fuchs, who has been a member of the commission for 2 years, is the youngest member in the history of the city. She was motivated to start her project because of her passion for gender equality. She said that being raised largely by a single mother opened her eyes to gender inequality in the workplace.
“I’ve been inspired to knock down the gender barriers and make society more of an even playing field. And nothing as superficial as gender should ever come in the way of anyone’s opportunities,” Fuchs said.
Senior Gabe Apoj was nominated for his work done in Ecuador helping indigenous women process and sell agave.
Apoj began his project at the beginning of high school, traveling to Ecuador frequently. He helped a cooperative raise funds, sell agave products in the United States, and figure out the logistics of importing and exporting. He also designed a methane powered boiling machine. Retaining energy in Ecuador is fairly expensive, so this particular machine is powered by methane, which is easily accessible through horse and cattle manure. Through his efforts, Apoj made it easier and more efficient for the women to mass produce and manufacture agave.
“I thought it would be fun to go overseas and make an impact in another country and in that way I could also grow as an individual,” said Apoj, who is headed to Harvard in the fall.
In the beginning of 2016 there was an earthquake in Ecuador, which led to the eruption of a volcano and volcanic ash permeating the air and penetrating the soil. As a result, Apoj teamed up with a chemistry professor to do research and see if this ash would negatively affect the agave plants. They deduced that it seems as though there is no effect on the product, and the agave is successfully being sold in Ecuador and in the United States.
Apoj explained that his Judaism has affected his desire to give back.
“Judaism has influenced my whole life,” he said. “Everything I do, I try to tie it in to making the world a better place. My values lead me and my values are based on Torah, such as Tikun Olam.”
Both Apoj and Fuchs plan to continue their work in making the world a better place.
“You hear about women in the work force in the U.S. and how they struggle to break through the glass ceiling, and also how in, not only in the media but through culture, you assume that most of the agricultural business is dominated by men,” Apoj said. “But going there and seeing how this cooperative only employs women was definitely something incredible, and I knew then that I wanted to continue working with them because I’d be making an example to other organizations, not only in Ecuador but across the world, that women can be involved in any sector they wish to be a part of.”
By: Tehila Moore (11th Grade), with additional reporting by Rena Kahn (11th Grade)