What Makes a Community Hero?

Back in August, UJC/Federations of North America launched the Jewish Community Heroes Awards. The initiative – the largest-ever Jewish social-networking effort – was designed to recognize, and honor, individuals who are bettering their communities through service and outreach.

The awards were designed so nominations could be made by anyone with Internet access.

And when the process closed, over 400 were nominated and 500,000 votes were cast.

The nominees came from across the communal landscape and with an even greater diversity of projects or initiatives. Twenty semi-finalists were selected and then a panel of judges began the difficult task of evaluating, yes judging, the final five.

I had the privilege of serving as a judge – and the task was difficult. For how does one really choose? How does one measure the impact of one program against another? Choose, and rank, five from the many. Each has, and likely will continue, to be a positive influence on our community. What did I consider as I made my choices?

Did the nominee strengthen our global community. How did they effectuate the notion of Tikkun Olam. How did they deal with challenge. And, most important, how are they inspiring others.

They were a group of talented and accomplished individuals. But eventually I, like the other judges, needed to decide.

Here are the five finalists selected by the panel of judges:

in alphabetical order: Devora Benjamin, Yonah Bookstein, Levi Shemtov, Ari Teman and Smuly Yanklowitz.

The excitement now builds as the nominees’ supporters hold their collective breath for another week. Next Tuesday, during the closing plenary of the GA, the Hero of the Year will be announced and awarded a $25,000 prize.

But let’s not forget, all 400+ nominated are heroes and all deserve our recognition and gratitude for their endeavors. Kol HaKavod.