When Noah Sarkowsky came home with a Seymour Kaplan Humanitarian Award from Seattle’s Coe Elementary School, he not only generated kudos from his family, but some curiosity as well. He pointed out to his parents, Stacy Lawson and Steve Sarkowsky, that his certificate was signed by Art Siegal, who Stacy realized was the same Art Siegal she and her family have known for years.
She also figured out that Seymour was the husband of Sara Kaplan, a beloved teacher of hers at Franklin High School. (Sara currently lives at the Kline Galland Home.) Seeing all these familiar names on the award gave her a nice feeling of community and connection, but it also made her wonder about the award.
“I just didn’t realize there was this award, and what it meant,” she says of the Seattle School District honor named for the Northwest’s Anti-Defamation League director, who served from 1956 until his death in 1975. Calling Art to find out more left her thinking the award’s original meaning may be getting lost.
“It’s not just about being nice,” he said, “it’s about where you stick your head out,” something Sey (as he was called) was definitely willing to do.
According to his son, Magnolia resident David Kaplan, Sey was attuned to injustice at a young age. He joined the Navy as an officer during World War II, in part to fight the anti-Semitism he heard pervaded the military. After the war and college he wound up as an ADL intern in Columbus, Ohio, where he met Sara, who worked for Hillel. (David recalls his mom joking, “It wasn’t a marriage, it was a merger.”)
Moving to Seattle in the mid-1950s, Sey became active in the civil rights movement. He helped integrate the local carpenter’s union and led an anti-Soviet protest at the Spokane World’s Fair. It was “very important to him…to be a role model,” remembers David, and he carried this inscription in his wallet: “Judaism is not something you are, it’s something you do.” He and Sara were founding members of Temple Beth Am.
The award gives David a nice sense of community, too. He tries to attend award ceremonies at both Blaine and Lowell Elementary schools at the minimum, and has made unexpected connections with award winners over the years.
“One of the things that has been very cool for me is to run into people who might not be connected with my life,” but when they find out his dad was Seymour Kaplan, they are delighted to share that they won the award in his dad’s memory.
When Seymour died, Art — one of Seattle’s longest-standing and consistent volunteers — was appointed to chair a committee responsible for creating a suitable memorial. A member of both B’nai B’rith and the ADL board at the time, he and his committee believed, as Sey did, that prejudice was a bad habit formed young.
“We decided on a school-age memorial for students who exemplified” Kaplan’s action-oriented attitude. Leaving each school to choose winners, Art says he arranged for B’nai B’rith to underwrite it. “It’s been going on ever since.”
When I first spoke to Stacy, she wondered if the award itself would survive another generation. That’s probably not a concern for the near term. Art says the costs of the award — about $500 a year for certificates and plaques — are still covered by the B’nai B’rith Foundation (of which he is treasurer). However, he points out that since local philanthropist Jack Spitzer died in 2004, “there hasn’t been a fundraiser” for this group.
“My dad was one of those people who believed…it wasn’t enough to care, you had to act,” David says.
So Seattle public school parents, let your principal know you know the value of the award so we can carry it forward.
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Group Health nephrologist Dr. Ilan Zawadzki has been twice nominated by his peers as one of Seattle’s best doctors (Seattle Metropolitan Magazine and Seattle Magazine), but he modestly takes this in stride.
“It’s always nice to be recognized,” he says, but “a lot of great docs that I work with aren’t on the list. Not being on the list doesn’t mean you’re not a great doctor.”
Kidney disease is on the rise in this country, says Ilan, who is both a clinician and researcher. “A lot of people are walking around with some degree of kidney disease,” usually undiagnosed. A simple blood test can show early symptoms, but is not part of routine physicals.
“It’s been looked at whether it makes sense on a nationwide basis to screen for it,” he says.
Anyone with high blood pressure should be screened, of course, and obesity may play a role.
“If you do have [high blood pressure], keep it controlled. Exercise, be as active as you can,” he prescribes. And don’t ignore kidney trouble if you have it.
Born in Israel and raised on Long Island, Ilan moved to Seattle to attend medical school at the University of Washington. He and his wife Patty Blount have three kids, Miriam, Jonathan and Benjamin, and are all active members of Congregation Herzl-Ner Tamid.
This summer they had had the enjoyable experience of hosting two Ethiopian students from Kiryat Malachi. One of the students was featured on a recent cover of this paper.