TORONTO — He’s got the kind of resume that might give other students his age anxiety attacks at the mere thought of living up to his standards.
Michael “Mookie” Kideckel, right, 18 and a recent Thornhill Secondary School
graduate, accomplished more in his four years as a high school student
than most do in their entire academic careers.
But Kideckel doesn’t look as if he’ll be slowing down any time soon, and certainly doesn’t seem like the type who will peak in high school.
The University of Toronto freshman is the latest recipient of the Dennis Waldman Foundation for Jewish Education award, in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments.
The foundation was established after Dennis Waldman, a former Hebrew school teacher, died suddenly in 1989, at the age of 41.
His family and friends established a trust in his honour to contribute to the education of Jewish youths in the community.
Every year, the non-profit organization awards a $2,500 scholarship to a student who has completed high school and intends to continue on to post-secondary education.
As a high school student, Kideckel was involved in extracurricular activities from the start.
In Grade 9, he was part of the school’s technical crew that offered their skills for school assemblies. He later become the co-founder of Battle of the Bands and helped raise money for the York Region Food Network and for War Child, an organization that helps raise awareness about children affected by war. In grades 11 and 12, he served as a mentor for incoming freshmen.
Kideckel also helped found a new chapter of STAND (Students Taking Action Now Darfur), a social action group dedicated to raising awareness about and ending the crisis in Sudan.
“I’m not sure how I first heard about the Darfur crisis, but around 2005, I started to become more interested and concerned about this alleged genocide that nobody seemed to be doing anything about,” Kideckel said.
He said that when a group of students approached him and a friend, Brittany Dale, about starting a high school chapter, they got to work.
“Since all but Brittany and I were graduating that year, it was really up to us to get it off the ground… We connected with [STAND] and became the first high school chapter in Canada, running T-shirt sales, letter-writing campaigns, and hosting a Darfur conference attended by delegates from schools all over York Region.”
But most important was his role as a young Jewish community leader. Kideckel is an executive member of the Temple Kol Ami youth group and was also elected as the 2007-08 national North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) vice-president responsible for social action.
“We just spent time raising money for and spreading education on the need for mosquito nets to combat malaria in Africa. Right now, I’m working on a new initiative, based on the idea that as a youth movement, we should be working for youth rights issues,” he said.
Kideckel said he is thankful to his mother, who pushed him to become involved in the Jewish community.
“Working with Jewish youth has been a major part of my life because I found that NFTY brought together people with a strong, positive outlook on social action and a lack of apathy,” he said.
“The Jewish tradition has so much to teach about the values of tikkun olam [repairing the world] and justice, and it applies to the most contemporary issues. The teachings of Torah and rabbinic commentaries have some of the oldest and strongest statements on environmental protection, the importance of welcoming the stranger, not to mention worker rights and other issues.”
Not only did Kideckel leave an impression on the board of directors for the Dennis Waldman Scholarship, but his teachers were also impressed by his accomplishments and character.
“Mookie is a prodigious and ambitious young man, dedicated not only to academic excellence, but also to working for the betterment of society… I believe Mookie’s genuine personality is at the heart of his outstanding qualities as a leader. He leads by earning respect and is able to build consensus by listening to and expressing genuine appreciation for the ideas of others,” wrote Ian Beswick, Kideckel’s business studies teacher, in a letter of recommendation.
“The main reason I do what I do is that I’ve found it fun and fulfilling. I love working with people and get a thrill from leadership,” Kideckel said, adding that being awarded for doing what he loves is an honour.
“I know there were a lot of other qualified applicants, and the recognition and prestige of this award mean so much.”
Kideckel, who is hoping to get into the peace and conflict studies program at U of T, which doesn’t start until the second year, said he is still uncertain about what career path he’ll choose, but working with people is a priority.
“So far, my options seem like law, probably working for an NGO or some sort of international forum, teaching, or some sort of informal youth work. Maybe even a rabbi. Who knows?”