Miriam Bensky and I have something unusual in common. When I asked her recently where she grew up, she answered “Asia.” Much to her surprise, I answered, “Me, too!”
It turns out Bensky and I are both Foreign Service “brats.” Her dad is still working for our State Department’s commerce division; mine is a retired political officer. We shared a posting in common — Singapore — although many years apart.
The Benskys also served in Malaysia, the Philippines and India, which was where Miriam had her “mail order” Bat Mitzvah with the help of taped lessons sent from a rabbi in Vancouver, BC, to New Delhi.
Miriam’s parents, Sandy (nee Makell) and Jonathan, made sure she and her brother, Brian, got a Jewish education. They ran a Sunday home-school, teaching their children both Hebrew and Torah. The family attended High Holiday services at local synagogues.
“The only place we lived where there wasn’t a synagogue was Kuala Lumpur, so we would go to Singapore for the High Holidays,” recalls Bensky.
During her Bat Mitzvah year in New Delhi, Miriam was cast in the role of Anne Frank in an expatriate community-drama production.
“I was the same age as Anne during the play, and I felt like I was having a Bat Mitzvah for her,” says Bensky.
Bensky, 26, spent summers visiting family in Seattle and Vancouver, so it was natural for her to return here to attend the University of Washington after graduating from the Singapore American School.
After college she worked for the Carter Center in Atlanta and spent a year backpacking through India before returning to Seattle for her current job as development director for the Union of Reform Judaism’s Camp Kalsman, opening this summer. (We met on a tour of the camp last month.)
Now she’s off again, having been accepted for graduate studies in development at the University of Sussex, England.
After that? “I’m not sure,” she confesses, but hopes to work with women and children in the fields of health or education.
“I’ll be sad to leave this job because I love it,” she states, adding, “I’m glad to see [Kalsman] get off the ground.”
The spirit of Anne Frank is also in Miri Golub, the Northwest Yeshiva High School senior who was recently recognized by the Anne Frank Center as someone committed to promoting tolerance, inclusion and social justice in her community (annefrank.com).
Miri has organized and participated in numerous activities benefiting local and international efforts, including Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets, Darfur relief, homeless shelters, Martin Luther King Day, Eat for Israel, global warming, modern-day slavery, and two food drives.
As an Anti-Defamation League summer intern she helped organize the ADL’s annual luncheon. She spearheaded the Eat for Darfur project to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders, which helps Darfur victims in Sudan.
Miri’s interest in Darfur was inspired by a film she saw in school.
“Since my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, I wondered how I could remain silent in the face of such a tragedy…. I’m not content to do nothing. In the words of Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor like my own grandparents, ‘because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.’”
Miri recently received a grant from Youth Venture, a social entrepreneurship foundation, to launch a city-wide, interfaith youth organization called From Faith to Faith, which connects adolescents of various religious backgrounds for dialogue, community service, respect, acceptance, and shared values.
Miri hopes to continue her involvement in worthy causes next year at Bates College.
Short takes: Steve Katz of Puget Sound Blood Center wants you to know that blood supplies run low in the summer due to the lack of high-school blood drives. So, Steve says, it’s important for you to give blood in June and July. Even more important is for you to organize a blood drive at your place of work or worship. Please call him at 1-800-366-2831 ext. 1011 or 425-412-1011 for information.
Another Steve — Sarkowsky — tells me Washington Blues Society has voted his Highway 99 Blues Club the “Best Blues Club” for the third year. In addition to playing drums in the club’s house band, Steve now plays with Robbie Law’s Bigger Blues Band. Look for them this summer at Bite of Seattle, Sno-Blues festival in Snoqualmie, Bumbershoot and the Sunbanks R&B Festival, as well as at the club June 16 and Sept. 29.
Beth Barrett Bloom took the helm as President of the GBLT Bar Association of Washington State at a gala dinner recently. She is an attorney at Frank Freed Subit & Thomas and specializes in employment law. She is the daughter of David and Debrah Barrett and the granddaughter of the late Bill and Rose Touriel Sherman of Tacoma.