Heimlich-Aaron Essay Winners 2012

The Heimlich-Aaron Fund was established by Jim and Madlyn Aaron, 5th generation Beth Miriam members, who wanted High School Seniors to excel academically and Judaically.  To that end, the fund awards $1000 to a deserving student(s) upon completion of an essay detailing their Jewish experiences and contributions to the life of Beth Miriam.


In 2012, there were three winners: Haley Peckman, Maxx McClelland, and Max Gillet.  Below are their essays:

Max Gillet

Judaism has been part of my life, well, since my life started. I went
through all the customs and traditions that any young Jewish boy should. I
enjoyed brisket on Rosh HaShanah, listened to (and complained about the length
of) Kol Nidre, and sat through countless hours of Hebrew school. From a young
age, I immersed myself in Jewish studies even outside of temple and earned the
Cub Scout’s Aleph Award by demonstrating knowledge of my religion. I started
religious school at Temple Beth Miriam in first grade and continued through
Teen Academy.  I sat there like a sponge
and soaked up as much about our culture and our history as I could fit. So when
high school came around, it should not be surprising that I continued to be a
part of the Jewish community and remained interested in my culture and
heritage. I joined SALTY right out of middle school, and utilized my talents
with computers and science to design and maintain a website for the youth group
that features pictures of events along with a schedule to keep its members
updated. I also participated in the Madrichim program at the temple and
assisted second graders with their Jewish learning experience. I also worked in
the Office.  Around the time I was active
in the Madrichim program, I got extremely involved in events at my high school.
High Tech High School has a sizable Jewish community, but unfortunately there
were no opportunities to bond about our shared culture and heritage. Having
seen this, and recognizing that everyone loves Jewish food, I worked to found a
Jewish Student Union during my junior year. I recruited dozens of members as
well as advisor, wrote up a detailed club plan, and convinced the school that a
Jewish Student Union was worth having. I have served as president since its
founding.  We have bi-weekly meetings to
discuss topics related to upcoming Jewish holidays and relevant topics, such as
the history of Jews in China and the history and relevance of the Torah in the
modern society. We even have special celebrations for Jewish holidays, such as
apples and honey for Rosh HaShanah and a dreidel tournament and competition
(including latkes) during Hanukkah. I plan to leave the club in the hands of a
couple rising seniors so that the High Tech community can continue to benefit
from this club. This year, I have started a blog about Jewish living called
“You’re Jewish?” and update it about every month based on what I’m experiencing
in terms of Judaism. This blog gives a more personal touch to my efforts in the
Jewish Student Union and helps to further inform the High Tech community about
what Judaism is really about.

As Judaism has been part of my past, so it shall be part of my future.
I plan to attend Northwestern University in the fall, where I am going to be
part of the Integrated Science Program to study the intricacies of biology,
chemistry, and physics. I not only plan to immerse myself in science during my
four years, but also in the Hillel program at Northwestern. During my accepted
students visit, I went to Hillel with my father and met the director. The
building was beautiful, but the atmosphere was so laid back and relaxed that I
can’t imagine not becoming part of that community. Based on what I heard from
the students in Hillel and the director, I will be able to go to Israel on
Birthright, partake in weekly services, and cook meals for the surrounding
Jewish community. I’ll be able to fraternize with Jews of all shapes, sizes,
colors, and movements, and help continue what I did with the Jewish Student
Union. Who knows where else my Jewish involvement will take me?

Haley Peckman


My entire life thus far
has been positively affected by Temple Beth Miriam. Growing up in a very low
population of Jews in Wall, I found it hard to connect to my classmates at the
level my Hebrew School class connected. Once I got to high school, this feeling
grew even stronger as I sought out opportunities to strengthen my connection to
Judaism post Bat- Mitzvah. I joined SALTY and NFTY-GER my freshman year,
initiating many of my best decisions. My freshman year I jumped right onto
SALTY board as the logistics chair, assisting all publicity efforts and making
the youth group more member oriented. I also fell in love with NFTY my freshman
year, attending all regional events. Sophomore year, I increased my leadership
responsibilities as both SALTY’s Social Action Vice President and one of GER’s
merchandise chairs. That summer was the single most impactful summer of my life
as I participated in Urban Mitzvah Corps. For six weeks I lived Jewishly with
30 of my peers who are now some of my best friends. I also volunteered at
a healthy kitchen in New Brunswick (Elijah’s Promise) and at Camp Daisy: a day
camp for children and adults with special needs. Additionally, I went to
Washington D.C. as a part of UMC to lobby for economic food justice which was a
very inspiring and empowering experience. I returned from UMC a stronger
leader, a stronger Jew, and a stronger person in general. That year, I served
on Regional Board as GER’s Secretary. I maintained an ex officio position on
SALTY’s board and go the privilege to attend NFTY Convention in Dallas, Texas.
This year, I am SALTY’s president, one of the regional programming
coordinators, and was one of the chairs of Hagigah Kallah. I have been involved
in the Madrichim for 5 years, teaching grades 1-3 Judaic Studies beside many
wonderful teachers. Being involved in Temple Beth Miriam during high school has
brought me places I would not have imagined and more importantly, has created a
connection I could not find in my hometown, or anywhere else for that matter.
Being part of such an amazing and influential group of teens and adult
leadership has given me roots to grow into a strong Jewish leader and I am so
appreciative of that. Next year, I will be starting my next chapter at Drexel
University. I plan on continuing my Jewish involvement and growth amongst my
peers at the college level. I have already joined Drexel’s Hillel and plan on
doing birthright with Drexel during my college career. I also plan on doing
Alternative Spring Break with the Jewish Funds for Justice which is a similar
premise to Urban Mitzvah Corps. I would like to thank Temple Beth Miriam for
all it has given me in both a literal and spiritual senses and cannot wait to
return proudly to my second home as a college student.


Maxx McClelland

Growing up in a town that has as
small of a Jewish population as Wall does, religion singled me out for many
years. However, I remember loving the fact that I was distinguishable from
everyone else. As a spunky elementary student, I became known for being the one
my class chose to explain the story and customs of Chanukah; I was the one who
brought in a dreidel and gelt and taught everyone how to play.

However, truly finding my Jewish
identity was never black and white. Sure I enjoyed the excitement of my Bar
Mitzvah; sure I found myself continuing my Jewish education through the Rabbi’s
classes and as a madrich. But the catalyst that inspired me to really connect
with my Judaism was a woman by the name of Peri Smillow. At a service in honor
of her, she asked that a few students learn her song “Ashrey.” That moment
merged my love of guitar and my Jewish identity. As much as I felt some meaning
as a classroom madrich, when Will Kashdan and I began running the music program,
I felt a genuine connection being established.

The music became my way showing
young students that there is more to the prayers than just words, more to the
structure. I would get a smile out of these kids; knowing I helped not only
brighten there day but also feel more attached to something that has kept me so
grounded. Stevie Wonder once said, “Music is a world within itself with a
language we all understand.” Sometimes it is difficult to get a child who
doesn’t want to even be at religious school to be enthusiastic, but music often
was the bridge that they could relate to. That is when my job is most

During my sophomore year I joined
NFTY, the regional network of Jewish teens. This contributed to my decision to
run for Temple Beth Miriam’s own youth group board the following year. I have
served as the Social Action Vice President for the past two years. Part of my
position was organizing the midnight run               1,
whereby the youth group took a bus to New York City and handed out over 200
items of clothing, donated shoes, hygienic products, and hot meals. It gave me
a tremendous sense of accomplishment – one that I don’t know I have ever felt
elsewhere – when we gave away our last coats at 2 in the morning and we had
provided coats, shoes, gloves and hot meals to everyone who needed them.

my, however overly dramatic yet still accurate, SAVP reelection speech, I expressed
my desire to leave a legacy. By that, I do not want anything attached to my name;
I just want to touch people so that they may pay it forward. In that regard I
will act as a catalyst in the same way Peri Smillow did to me. In some ways I
have directly done this as I have had the pleasure of grooming my replacement. Despite being corrected numerous times
that the next group of kids will be our successors but never our replacements, it is semantics. I
have had the pleasure teaching Joelle Rosen to take over the music program with
the Cantor and will soon meet the next SAVP. Leaving will undoubtedly be sad, but
it is my time and I embrace that. I know I have made an impact on future
members. I also know that I will use what they have taught next year at Cornell
University when I become part of the Hillel program.

As my high school years come to a
close I once again feel like the confident elementary student teaching everyone
about the holiday that makes everyone jealous with its eight days of gifts. I
have expanded the Jewish presence and understanding in my community through
performance. With Will, I have played both traditional music and that of the
modern reform movement. The latter is most significant in revealing Judaism to
a community that does not quite embrace or understand it. Like Stevie Wonder
said, “Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand.”


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