Jr. Ashlanders: Yuval Zonnenschein

Yuval Zonnenschein is committed to a life of service to others and to the environment. The 17-year-old high school junior also has a passion for learning.

His chosen education environment, the Wilderness Charter School at Ashland High School, suits his learning style and his boundless curiosity. Jay Preskenis, one of Yuval's teachers at AHS, has great regard for the talented young man.

"Students admire Yuval," Preskenis said. "He makes class interesting. He's always kind, but he's equally funny and creative. And he never shrinks away from the hard questions."

Yuval's mother, Ayala Zonnenschein, said: "Yuval is the light of my life. He's the embodiment of balance, sensitivity and compassion."

During a recent trip to Israel, Yuval combined his creative skills with his desire to help others, organizing a fund-raising challenge in the town of Sderot to benefit a family whose home was hit during a rocket attack. Yuval is modest about his efforts to help the family in Sderot.

"In my faith, it is part of our job to do something to help save the world, one person at a time," he said.

Yuval took some time with the Daily Tidings to share his interconnected passions for education, music and social action.

DT: What are your favorite subjects in school?

YZ: I really like the art program, foods class and wood shop. I'm a right-brained person and really enjoy using my hands and my creativity.

DT: What do you like to do outside of school?

YZ: I learned how to ride a unicycle when I was in second-grade and I'm still riding today. I also ski and especially enjoy freeline skating, which is similar to skateboarding, but you have two separate platforms, one underneath each foot. You propel yourself by creating momentum with your body.

DT: What musical instruments do you play?

YZ: I've been playing classical violin since I was in fourth-grade and I also play marimbas, an instrument from Zimbabwe. I've been in the Rutendo Marimba Ensemble for three years and in a marimba club prior to that.

DT: Talk about music and its role in your life.

YZ: I've always loved to listen to music and most genres, including classical. Playing music puts me in such a good mood and I love performing and sharing it with others. Since moving to Ashland in 2001, music has played a major role in my life. I've had my ups and downs with music. For instance, I don't really enjoy practicing violin, but when I do and I'm able to master a song, it's all worth it in the end. Marimbas are easier for me because I practice with the whole group, which is really fun and upbeat.

DT: Tell us about someone at school who inspires you.

YZ: Jay Preskenis, who was my teacher for two years in the SAEJ program at AHS. Jay inspired me to want to go out into the wilderness, which we did as a class twice a year, along with smaller field trips in between. I've really come to love backpacking and being out in nature and learning survival skills, which is why I applied to WCS.

DT: What is the SAEJ program?

YZ: SAEJ stands for Social Action and Environmental Justice. It's an alternative education program through the high school. It has a stigma as a place for bad kids, but it's not. I'm mostly an "A" student and SAEJ just offers a different way of learning. We're outdoors a lot. We do lots of hands-on learning.

DT: Talk about your visit to Israel.

YZ: I went to Israel to see family and friends and to travel the country. Israel is a beautiful country with a diverse population. When you hear the name Israel, people automatically think of dry, hot desert and camels. That's true, but there are also lakes, forests, oases with waterfalls and gorgeous beaches. There are big, modern cities alongside ancient ruins. It's pretty surreal to be there. You can be in a big city and right across the street they are digging for archeological artifacts.

DT: Tell us about your Sderot Challenge.

YZ: Towards the end of my trip I traveled to Sderot to deliver peace banners that were made by the kids here in the Ashland Jewish communities of Havurah Shir Hadash and Temple Emek Shalom during Israel's 60th birthday celebration. These banners were made to show our support for the kids in Sderot, which is a town in southern Israel bordering Gaza. This town has been bombarded by terrorist rockets from Gaza for years, and the people have been traumatized. A representative from OneFamilyFund, an organization that aids victims of terror, was kind enough to show my dad and I around Sderot. He took us to a playground where concrete bomb shelters are built to look like giant caterpillars so the kids can feel safer while playing.

I met a family there whose house was partially destroyed by a Kassam rocket. Fortunately, they survived, but their mom was seriously injured and unable to work. Her two sons play drums in a band, but the family can't afford to pay for their music lessons. I decided I wanted to help them, since music is so important to me. I've presented the Havurah community with a challenge to help me. I agreed to match every donation until I reach the goal of $750. Donations are already coming in.

DT: What do you want to do when you graduate high school?

YZ: I'm just going into my junior year and I haven't really thought about what I'll do after I graduate. I know I will do something in art or music. I really want to travel, too, and maybe do service somewhere in the world.

DT: Talk about something you have done that makes you proud.

YZ: I'm proud that I was accepted into the Wilderness Charter School. It's kind of like a confirmation of who I am and I know it will shape who I am becoming. It matches my learning style; they teach us in way we can relate to the world and what is happening in it now. I'm really excited to be part of this program.

DT: Talk about something that is challenging for you.

YZ: Academics are challenging for me. I have a hard time studying things like math. Playing violin is also challenging in a different way. When I do well in either, it is very gratifying. Persistence is the key.

DT: Tell us about someone in your family who makes you proud.

YZ: I'd have to say my cousin Daniele Cohen, who graduated AHS in 2008. He's also a musician and studied music and music production in San Francisco. He's really talented and creative and I'm proud of him because he's following his dream and also because he has a lot of integrity.

To make a donation towards Yuval's Sderot Challenge contact the Havurah temple at ashlandhavurah@yahoo.com or 488-7716.

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