Winners of the Inaugural Avi Schaefer Seek Peace and Pursue It Awards Announced


June 4, 2018 – Santa Barbara, CA – The Avi Schaefer Fund (ASF) is proud to announce the winners of the inaugural Avi Schaefer Seek Peace and Pursue It Awards, to recognize campus changemakers who share, express, and put into action the values that Avi lived. The award honors students, academic faculty or administrators who have stood up in a public way for peace, justice, and compassion on their college campus.

ASF is very proud to share the names of the eleven winners from nine campuses across North America:

Amr Arcoub, Trinity College; Hannah Ellen, Union College; Emerson Finkle, University of Rochester; Uma Kalsoon, Union College; Alana Kessler, American University; Caiti Lively, George Mason University; Miriam Roochvarg, North Carolina State; Ashley Schnaar, Michigan State University; Merall Sherif, Colorado State University; Dr. Elizabeth Sink, Colorado State University; Dr. Melanie Wilson, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University

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.   Each awardee will be celebrated by their campus community in local events and receive a specially designed and created artwork for this honor by Laurie Gross Studios – the mother of Avi Schaefer and a well-known artist.

An open call for nominations for 2019 will be announced in September 2018.

Jill Hoyt, Executive Director, ASF


Additional Information on the winners follows:

Amr Arcoub, Trinity College
As a Palestinian student born and raised in Ramallah, Amr is a strong advocate for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue through sharing personal narratives, compassion for all, and relationship building. As a senior, he looks to recruit students who are unlikely partners to carry on his passionate work for peace. Amr has made extraordinary contributions to cross-cultural bridge building work at Hillel and the Trinity community as a whole.

Emerson Finkle, University of Rochester
Emerson is a Religion major and has dedicated his collegiate career to interfaith programming on campus and is the glue of the UofR interfaith community. A transgender student and unitarian, Emerson aspires to one day become a minister. He holds an internship through the interfaith chapel to help bring together the multitude of faiths on the UofR campus and facilitate interfaith dialogue and programming. His character and devotion to his peers is exceptional.

Hannah Ellen and Uma Kalsoom, Union College
Hannah and Uma have together championed and led the Avi Shabbat Interfaith events for the past two years on the Union campus. This annual event has garnered campus awards and been a source of pride for our college campus.

Alana Kessler, American University
Alana recently completed her undergraduate degree at American University and is now a graduate student on campus. While an undergraduate student, Alana was deeply committed to both justice and interfaith work. She was part of the Interfaith Council team, a group of students and staff who worked to plan interfaith events and build understanding. Additionally, Alana helped to organize students around campaigns for social justice and activism both within and outside of the Jewish community, demonstrating through personal example how Jewish leaders can help to build a more ethical and just world. Lastly, Alana is a natural relationship builder, exemplifying both curiosity and compassion when encountering the life experiences of others.

Caiti Lively, George Mason University
“Caiti is the definition of interfaith”, according to her nominators. She in on the Pan Hellenic executive board, holds an executive position in her sorority, is an intern for the David Project and involved in student government.

Miriam Roochvarg, North Carolina State
Miriam, now a senior, has served on the Hillel at NC State board since her freshman year. She is also the president of the Better Together at NC State – a group of different student representatives that attempt to build friendship and peace among our campus religious groups. She has been the organizer of Avi Shabbat for the past 2 years on campus and has brought to fruition many activities that promote the engagement of students of different backgrounds who may not have otherwise interacted with each other on campus.

Dr. Elizabeth Sink and Merall Sherif, Colorado State University
Dr. Elizabeth Sink is a communications professor at Colorado State University. She is the faculty head of the Interfaith Council and has been an amazing partner for our annual Interfaith Friendsgiving these past 3 years. While she is not of the Jewish faith, she has been so kind to our Hillel. She has donated dozens of hours of her time, promoted our events to hundreds of students, and even donated a year’s worth of organic produce to our Hillel. She has dedicated a tremendous amount of time to bringing students of different faiths closer.

 Merall Sherif is a Muslim student who is the President of the Muslim Student Association, Chair of the Interfaith Student Council, and a Student Senator. In each of these positions, Merall demonstrates kindness and understanding to students of a wide variety of religious backgrounds. She has continuously supported our Hillel and is an extremely kind and enthusiastic partner.

Ashley Schnaar, Michigan State University
Ashley has been the driving force as a student behind interfaith programming on campus and is so often the student who reaches out to the Muslim Students Association and other religious organizations. Her passion for this work has helped the Jewish community branch out into the university and through her work, she has helped students develop strong relationships with Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian students. She is the go-to student when it comes to interfaith work on campus.

Dr. Melanie Wilson, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Dr. Melanie Wilson is the Founding Director of the Women’s and Diversity Center at the Prescott Campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, leading Diversity efforts for the entire Embry-Riddle system. She has allowed Hillel access to the Women’s and Diversity Center on campus as a safe place for us to gather. Her position has made her the target of multiple hate crimes and yet, still she stands strong with determination to make Embry-Riddle a better place.

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