The honor of being designated a mensch — an individual of integrity and honor, a doer of good deeds, and an all-around good person — was conferred on three local high school seniors by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County and the Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Charitable Foundation.
Matthew Erman of East Windsor, David Piegaro of Ewing, and Mia Reback of Princeton received the Mensch Awards at this year’s JFCS annual meeting at The Jewish Center in Princeton on June 7. The awards were presented by Marc Linowitz, president of the foundation, which was established in 2004 “to better the lives of children in the Trenton/Mercer County area.” Students were nominated by a community member, and each received $1,000 in recognition of their achievements.
For Matthew, the son of Beth and David Erman, a graduate of the Peddie School in Hightstown, and now a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, it was his experiences as a Boy Scout and at religious school that primed him for community service. Sometimes the two comingled: For his Eagle Scout project, he built picnic tables at Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, where his family belongs, and he volunteered with Special Olympics both as a scout and for his bar mitzva project.
Throughout high school Matthew was active at the Peddie School’s Community Day, a carnival for low-income students from Trenton and elsewhere. At Peddie he also founded the Grilling Club, which prepared and sold grilled food to parents during football games, with proceeds donated to a local food pantry serving the needy.
Now a first-year student at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., David said his parents, Nadine Goldwater and George Piegaro Jr., always told him to be a mensch. “The Judaism I was brought up with was focused on being a good person, being ethical — that’s what God cares about,” David, a member of Temple Micah in Lawrenceville, told NJJN.
He talked about an ethical choice he made while on the cross-country team at Ewing High School, when a new team member was being excluded from the established groups. David told NJJN he realized that “the right thing was to be his friend and integrate him and not have anybody left out.”
Much of David’s community service work has been with senior citizens. He joined Rabbi Yitzhak Goldenberg at the Greenwood House senior facility in Ewing, interacting with residents after worship services. He was also part of an intergenerational club at his school whose members visited senior living facilities. And at Brandeis, he has joined a group whose members visit a nearby assisted-living facility to offer companionship to its residents.
Mia, the daughter of Vicki Reback, a freshman at Ithaca College, and a member of String of Pearls Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Princeton, told NJJN that she has always loved working with people. As she got older, she realized she wanted to help “in a more significant way that could help more people.”
Mia focused much of her volunteer work on disabled children through Princeton Special Sports at the Rock Brook School in Skillman, which serves communication-impaired and multiply disabled children, and at Skybox, a special education program at Montgomery High School.
As a senior, Mia was selected to be part of the Teen Council at HiTops, a health education program, where she helped present educational workshops and skits at juvenile justice centers.
For five years, she also participated in the Jewish Community Youth Foundation, a program — administered by a partnership of JFCS, the Ricky and Andrew J. Shechtel Philanthropic Fund, and the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks — that trains young people in making tzedaka decisions. Another big influence on her drive to do active community service, she said, was Camp Galil, the Habonim Dror camp in Pennsylvania. In addition to doing service projects — like preparing toys for distribution to underprivileged kids and working in a soup kitchen — campers were assigned work details, like picking vegetables and cleaning bathrooms. At camp, Mia told NJJN, “we learned about responsibility, about community, and about how to work together to make a community work.”