2019 Seek Peace and Pursue It Award Press Release

The Avi Schaefer Fund (ASF) is proud to announce the recipients of this year’s Avi Schaefer Seek Peace and Pursue It Award, honoring students, academic faculty, staff, or university administrators who have stood up in a public way for peace, justice, and compassion on their college campus. These outstanding campus changemakers share, express, and put into action the values that Avi Schaefer, z”l, lived.

ASF is pleased to share the names of the ten 2019 awardees from across North American: Amna Ahmed, Brandeis University; Becky Cibulskis, North Carolina State University; Dr. Paul Bueno DeMesquita, University of Rhode Island; Tal Shahar Frieden & Rachel Gold, Brown University; Kevin McIntosh, Grand Valley State University; Josh Leckner, Towson University; Kelsea Mensh, Virginia Tech University; Rebekka Rosen, Susquehanna University; Chief John Thomas, University of Southern California

“We applaud each of the awardees for ‘being the change they want to see in the world’, finding ways to bridge divides and create community,” noted Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer in congratulating this year’s awardees.

In recognition of their work and achievements, each awardee will be celebrated by their campus community in local events, and receive an original artwork created by acclaimed studio artist, Laurie Gross, mother of Avi Schaefer.


Founded in 2010, the Avi Schaefer Fund (ASF) creates spaces where those with divergent views can engage and listen to each other’s narratives, fostering an understanding of our shared humanity. ASF is dedicated to empowering young people to be change-makers, cultivating opportunities for informed and nuanced dialogue, and creating a culture of civility and optimism.

Additional information about each of the awardees, as provided by the nominators on their campuses, follows below.

Avi Schaefer Seek Peace and Pursue It Award – 2019 Recipients

Amna Ahmed, Brandeis University, has touched the entire campus community at Brandeis University with her positivity, friendly personality, and passion for dialogue, peace, and understanding. Simultaneously serving as the President of the MSA (Muslim Student Association), Co-President of Common Ground, Brandeis’ Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group, and on the Student Interfaith Council, Amna works tirelessly to plan events that break down barriers and bring students of different faiths together. She teaches Brandeis students that friendship, or a mere conversation, is possible with every other student. Amna deserves to be recognized for her dedication to peace and dialogue, and she will surely be missed once she graduates this coming May.

Becky Cibulskis, NC State is one of the preeminent people on campus providing a safe haven for interfaith and religious dialogue. While both working full-time within the University’s Office of Global Engagement and pursuing a graduate degree, she is also the staff advisor for Better Together (an Interfaith Youth Corp initiative). Through a grant Becky secured, she is organizing student leaders across campus to attend the Ripple Conference, a student-led interfaith conference at Elon University. After the terror attack on Pittsburgh she changed the planned programming to allow the Hillel campus director to share her personal and professional experience. Additionally, she has put together a monthly, year-long series on Worldview Diversity and Interfaith Engagement for faculty and staff. Becky always goes above and beyond to be a positive and engaged member of the community.

Dr. Paul Bueno DeMesquita, University of Rhode Island (URI) is the Director of URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. The Center has been a frequent collaborator with URI Hillel. Every year Paul and his wife Kay, who also teaches nonviolence courses at URI, enthusiastically attend and participate in the Avi Schaefer Shabbat Dinner at Hillel. Paul also speaks at Hillel’s annual Holocaust Memorial Vigil. This fall, Paul spoke at the vigil Hillel organized after the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting. Since 2009, Paul has directed the annual URI International Nonviolence Summer Institute which includes several hundred members from over 45 countries and 28 US states. Paul is a true mensch, a gentle soul with a pure heart, and an inspiring presence at the University of Rhode Island.

Tal Frieden, Brown University, has sought and pursued more than peace: Tal is the very a model of interfaith solidarity and social justice work. As a coordinator of the Hillel Initiative on Racial Awareness and Justice, a founding member of Friday Night Jews, and key participant in Toward Liberation Together, Tal has turned inwards and made the Jewish community at Brown stronger by their compassion and openness, and has, by example, continually pushed our community to turn outwards and do better by our siblings and allies in other communities. Tal is a leader on campus and in the broader world who will continue to do amazing work here and beyond.

Rachel Gold, Brown University is relentless in her search for deepened understanding of herself and others and in her pursuit of peace – with herself and with others. We all learned and grew so much more than we bargained for through the planning of our Avi Shabbatot. She led with exceptional integrity, tenacity and grace, navigating politics and policies that sometimes felt quite hurtful and hard. The humility, rigor and sensitivity with which Rachel approaches her search and pursuit of peace are disarming and contagious. We’re eager to see where her huge heart carries her.

Josh Leckner, Towson University is the current president of the AEPi chapter on campus. Last spring, 3 fraternity brothers we physically assaulted verbally abused. Josh hasn’t stopped in defending the Jewish presence and importance on campus. At the beginning of this school year he organized an anti-hate rally that gathered together nearly 500 people. Josh brought in a well-known Reverend to speak and raised nearly all the funding on his own to ensure the success of the event. His stalwart commitment to justice and religious freedom on campus, make him so deserving of this award.

Kelsea Mensh, Virginia Tech University, co-founded an organization called One Less Stranger (OLS), along with the head of the Muslim Student Association. OLS seeks to change the dialogue on diversity and inclusivity by embracing the notion that change happens locally, fostering growth, understanding, and less strangers. The first event had over 150 people come from all different organizations and backgrounds. She has been a part of the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega for three years and received the Tracy Vogler Award for completing 100+ hours of service in one semester while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. She has done long-term volunteer work in Peru and Mexico with UBelong and served as a humanitarian fellow with IsraAID in Puerto Rico for two months. She will go to the Dominican Republic for two years with the Peace Corps in March.

Kevin McIntosh, Grand Valley State University has been a coordinator for the Campus Interfaith Resources for a little over a year, working effortlessly to create a coalition between the faith-based organizations. He also was an incredible resource during the Pittsburgh Shooting, and continuously supporting the Jewish students on campus– making sure that we feel safe and included on campus every single day.

Rebekka Rosen, Susquehanna University has been very involved in Hillel since her freshman year and is the founder of Susquehanna University’s chapter of Better Together (through Interfaith Youth Corp). She works so hard to ensure each club’s success, running many of Hillel’s interfaith Shabbats. She is constantly helping both Hillel and Better Together build bridges between not only each other, but other diversity groups on campus.

Chief John Thomas, University of Southern California (USC) is the chief of campus police and has made the safety of all students, faculty, administration, and other members of USC’s community his top priority. One of the first emails the USC Hillel Executive Director received a on the day of the Pittsburgh shooting was from Chief Thomas. The subject line of the email read “you are not alone” and offered any support necessary. Following the Pittsburgh event, Chief Thomas was asked by the Chief of the LA Police Department to help coordinate a city-wide briefing on faith-based security issues. Chief Thomas recommended that the event be held at USC Hillel and he was instrumental in bringing together partners from throughout the city. Chief Thomas is always present for Hillel and all campus organizations. He truly is the model of bringing the community together for the sake of peace.

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    rhoda colman


    brought happy tears to my eyes to hear about such wonderful people. Thank you.


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