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The Atlanta Jewish Times covered the Enlighten America 2020 Essay Contest, a virtual award ceremony hosted on Aug. 30 by B’nai B’rith International’s Achim/Gate City (Atlanta) Lodge. CEO Dan Mariaschin is the guest speaker.
Nine winners of the Enlighten America 2020 Essay Contest will be recognized at a virtual awards ceremony Aug. 30 by the Achim/Gate City (Atlanta) Lodge of B’nai B’rith International.

The contest, which was open to all students seventh to ninth grades in metro Atlanta, prompted students to write about issues of racism, tolerance, and respect for diversity. “The subject was prejudice, bigotry,” said Victor Anapolle, contest coordinator. “It’s certainly a subject that a lot of the students are quite familiar with.”

Students were encouraged in their essays to draw from their own experiences with racism and intolerance directed toward them and signed a pledge that they would not become involved in bullying, prejudice or racism, Anapolle said. “We’re trying to heighten their awareness to these situations when they arise, and trying to get these students to speak up when it happens.”

In line with the essay theme, the guest speaker Dan Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, will speak on “Tolerance, Equality, and Respect for All People,” according to a press release.

“When we had put out the contest this year, we had sent it out to all the school administrators, both private and public school. We found that over the years teachers kind of latched onto the concept and used it as subject matter,” Anapolle told the AJT. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the April contest deadline, which upended the school year and led to the awards ceremony being scheduled virtually. “We were originally going to have the awards ceremony back in May. We kept hoping and hoping and hoping.”

There were more judges participating this year than in the past, which allowed each judge to focus on a smaller number of essays, Anapolle said. Nine winners were chosen – three from each grade level – rather than having a pool of winners as in previous years.

One of the judges, Margo Gold, said, “I enjoyed the experience of being a judge and am impressed with the ability of each student to approach this difficult topic with sensitivity and insight.”

RuthE Levy, the owner of And Thou Shalt Read bookstore, said, “All of the essays were amazing. They showed depth of thought and the variety of concerns these young people have, even at this early age, I was very impressed. And it was so hard to choose a winner because there were so many good ones! Congratulations to the winners and to all who participated.”

Marjorie Simonoff said, “As I began to read through the essays, I got caught up in the material and was so happy that so many youngsters were given an opportunity to reflect upon and write about this most important subject, which has such relevance in today’s world.”

First place winners of the essay contest won a $350 prize, second place, $250, and third place, $150.

Here is the lineup of essay winners:

First Place:


Seventh grader Sophie Grace Thomas of Decatur, wrote “A Love Driven Mindset: A Guide for Peace.” Sophie, 12, attends Woodward Academy.


Eighth grader Anjana Murthy of Peachtree City, wrote “A Light in the Dark.” Anjana, 13, attends Woodward Academy.


Ninth grader Ilana Levenberg of Atlanta wrote “The Need for Truth in Education of Racism’s Past and Present.” Ilana, 14, attends The Weber School.

Second Place:


Seventh grader Noa Zusman of Sandy Springs wrote “Enlighten America.” Noa, 13, attends Woodward Academy.


Eighth grader Genesis Isom of Atlanta wrote “Judgement Day.” Genesis, 14, attends Woodward Academy.


Ninth grader Austin Corn of Dawsonville wrote “Yoda Vs. Prejudice.” Austin, 14, attends Dawson County Junior High School.

Third Place:


Seventh grader Simran Gupta of Cumming wrote “Welcome to America: The Land of Opportunity for ALL.” Simran, 12, attends Lakeside Middle School.


Eighth grader Kymali Pierre of Dunwoody wrote “Not Just a Stereotype.” Kymali, 13, attends Woodward Academy.


Ninth grader Emily Jane Kurtz of Dawsonville wrote “Humans’ Nature to Hate.” Emily, 15, attends Dawson County Junior High.

​The virtual ceremony, during which the students will be awarded their certificates and checks, is free and open to the public. It is scheduled from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 30.