The Robert and Ellen Gordman Jewish Teen Leadership Award annually honors two local teens who have demonstrated exceptional commitments to our community. Criteria for nomination includes active participation and demonstrated leadership ability in local youth groups, strengthening their organizations, developing future leadership and community involvement.

    This year’s recipients will each receive a one thousand dollar stipend for use towards a conclave, convention, Jewish summer camp, or Israel experience of their choice.  

    The Jewish Federation of Omaha is pleased to announce that this year’s award winners are Laura Kirshenbaum and Jordan Raffel.

    Award presentations will be made at the Jewish Federation of Omaha’s Awards Night and Annual Meeting,  June 7 at 7 p.m. This year’s event will be held in the new Alan J. Levine Theater. Alive stream will be available. More details to follow in the coming weeks!

    Laura Kirshenbaum is a senior honor roll student at Burke High School and a member of Temple Israel. She is the daughter of Jennifer Tompkins and Matt Kirshenbaum.

    A leader amongst her peers, Laura has served as OTYG president for the past two years and was social action vice president her sophomore year. A dedicated student at Hebrew High throughout her high school career, she has also given back to her community through working as a preschool madricha at Temple for the past two years.

    Temple Israel Youth Engagement Coordinator, Ben Cohen, shares the following: “Laura works hard, manages her time well, and takes responsibility for her actions and decisions. As Temple Youth Group President, she supervises eight of her peers, creates programs and recruits new members. She is a self-starter who takes the initiative, keeps track of her tasks, and follows up with her fellow board members and adult advisor frequently. She works as a teacher’s assistant for our pre-kindergarten kids in our religious school. She is an incredible role model and the children adore her and look up to her. Laura is a brilliant programmer. She creates both formal and informal Jewish educational opportunities. Through the youth group, she organized our High Holy Days Food Drive, which raised nearly $3,000 worth of food for the Omaha community. Laura created and taught a six class course about Judaism and local politics for our teens. She taught about policy issues on the city and state political levels. She led her peers to write their local representatives in the City of Omaha and the Nebraska unicameral. Laura not only seeks justice in our world, she strives to make sure justice and tikkun olam is at the forefront of whatever we do as a community. She embodies the spirit of thinking globally and acting locally.”

    In addition to her Temple activities, Kirshenbaum is also an accomplished dancer and musician who is passionate about the arts. “I have been in dance for 15 years and have been with the JCC’s Dance Training Company for the past five years.” She has also worked as an assistant pre-ballet teacher for kindergarteners at the JCC for the past two years.  

    “Dance has the most supportive group of people I’ve ever met and dance studios feel like home to me. While the COVID-19 pandemic reduced dance opportunities, I took classes in my kitchen for a while over Zoom, which I am grateful to have had but I am extremely glad to be back in the studios now!”

    Kirshenbaum has also been a chamber orchestra representative on Burke’s instrumental music leadership team for the past two years and served as her school’s NHS Vice President for the last year. “In addition to volunteering with NHS, I am involved in the set crew at my school where I help build the sets for the drama productions. I am also active in math club, book club, French club, and Harry Potter club. I love to read and watch YouTube as well as baking cookies and doing puzzles. I have worked at Subway for almost 11 months and was a poll worker for the 2020 elections.”

    While Kirshenbaum has certainly kept busy over the past year, the impact of the pandemic certainly threw a wrench into the high school senior’s activities and schooling.

    “There are many activities that I was looking forward to in my last year of high school that have not resumed. For example, I really love playing violin in the orchestra pit for our school musicals. Unfortunately, our last scheduled show was cancelled a week before its performance last year and there is no pit this year. As far as school, my living room suddenly morphed into a classroom (which I don’t think my mom was thrilled about),”  she shares with a laugh before continuing.  

    “Almost all of my tests are taken online and although I began going back in person part time in late October and full time in January, we still have online students in almost all of my classes. For the most part, I feel that I still learn well online, but a lot of my classes have had to cut down the amount of content taught this year because our classes were shortened and we had lots of days off while we were fully remote. I would say one of the most challenging parts of school this year was going through the college application process at the beginning of the year without being able to discuss it with my friends as much as I would have been able to otherwise.”

    In the end though, Kirshenbaum is optimistic. “Thankfully, the pandemic hasn’t made much of an impact on my future plans. I plan to study Biochemistry at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln this fall and hope to continue dancing in college.”

    Upon finding out that she had been selected for this year’s Teen Leadership award, Kirshenbaum shares that she was “beyond excited! I am incredibly honored to have been chosen and although I don’t have any specific plans on how I will use the award stipend, I know it will be extremely beneficial to helping me expand my understanding of Judaism and to help me stay connected to the Jewish community throughout college. I would like to extend a thank you to all of the adults in the Jewish community who have supported me through high school and am looking forward to contributing further to grow our community.”

    Congratulations to both the outstanding Robert and Ellen Gordman Jewish Teen Leadership Award recipients.