Lending voice to ‘speak for others’; painting tragedy with love

Levi Dyson, a senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, won the 2018  Speak for Others Award, given each year by the Marquette Speech and Debate Team to a worthy competitor. 

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Nothing debatable here

Add Levi Dyson to the growing list of high school students who continue to dazzle and change the world with their skills, grit and heart.

A senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, Dyson was recently awarded the 2018 Speak for Others Award. The award, given each year by the Marquette Speech and Debate Team, recognizes a competitor who uses the skills learned in speech and debate to make a positive difference in his or her community. 

Dyson has been on his school’s Speech and Debate Team since his freshman year and was chosen for his work to increase understanding across religions in the St. Louis area. He is a member of the Student to Student program run by the Jewish Community Relations Council as well as an interfaith group called JAM: Jews and Muslims. Oh, and he also happens to be a National Merit scholarship finalist.

“Speech and debate is a great community of people. They are very smart and very kind,” said Dyson, who along with his family, belongs to Congregation Shaare Emeth. “It’s also really fun to compete using your brain and critical thinking skills. I like learning about all the interesting topics we cover.”

Dyson related how last month he was involved in a debate about the capital gains tax. “I definitely have a personal belief based on my political ideology so it was interesting to get into the other side of that issue and see where other people are coming from,” he said. “That topic was also interesting because of the differing interpretations of the resolution.”

In nominating Dyson, his speech and Ladue debate coach Molly Beck explained how through Student to Student, he seeks to educate teens who go to schools where there are few or no Jews by sharing the history and main ideas of Judaism. 

“Creating understanding between people of different faiths and learning the truth about different faiths is an important step to creating a more understanding and peaceful world,” Beck wrote. “Levi’s courage and willingness to share about his faith and educate people shows a strength and maturity that many do not possess.”

JAM: Jews and Muslims, another program under the auspices of the JCRC, brings high school students of both faiths together to talk about their similarities and differences. Some of the topics discussed include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and media coverage/biases of both religions.

“Levi is working to change the world and understands that true change is going to start with individual conversations and increased understanding of the people who think and feel differently from you,” wrote Beck. “Levi is too humble to ever claim he would have a role in changing the world; however, Levi cares enough and is taking action to bridge divides between people and create a more understanding and unified world — and that will change the world for the better.”

To that end, Dyson said he is pleased that high school students in St. Louis and throughout the country are advocating for stricter gun laws in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. More than 150 Ladue high students walked out to the school’s track last week to hold 17 minutes of silence in memory of the 17 Parkland victims who were killed, according to a district spokeswoman. In addition, students at Clayton High and Parkway Central High held separate news conference last Friday to ask Missouri legislators to curb gun violence, and students in the Riverview Gardens School District protested Tuesday.

 “This is an issue we need to address,” said Dyson. “The rate of gun violence in this country is unacceptable. We have more guns than people. It’s got to stop and I think it’s great that students across the country are taking action and getting involved.”


Spreading love and kindness

Speaking of gun violence and getting involved, it’s not just high schoolers advocating for change. Remember Ayel Morgenstern, the kindergartener from Florida who painted rocks to be placed on the gravestones that had been vandalized at Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery last year?

It turns out Ayel, who is now a first-grader in Parkland, Fla. (yes, you read that right), has been busy all year spearheading projects to spread kindness and love. From caps for cancer patients, to hundreds of bookmarks sent to a school in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey so students wouldn’t “lose their page in life,” to Sunny Seats to honor the victims of the high school shooting in her hometown, Ayel wants the world to know that kindness and love still exists. 

On Tuesday, her mother Lauren Morgenstern, who grew up in Chesterfield and attended Parkway Central High School and Congregation Shaare Emeth, sent a video of Ayel in action. The 7 year old is standing next to a wooden chair she hand painted yellow and blue (with the help of her 4-year-old brother Avi), then decorated with part of a sun and 17 red hearts. She plans to donate 17 of these chairs to Stoneman Douglas High School, for each of the 17 victims.

Morgenstern said after the shooting, which occurred less than a mile from the family’s home, Ayel said, “Mommy, I don’t want to be a messenger anymore. I want to transcend love and kindness.” Ayel explained she needed chairs so she could paint “sunshine and love” on them “because everyone wants that in their lives.” 

Luckily, Morgenstern was able to find a plain wooden chair in a local store. But because Ayel wants to paint 16 more — and possibly more than that to go to other schools  — Morgenstern set up a Go Fund Me page at gofundme.com/2bqbn-sunny-seatsto-honor-17-souls. 

American justice

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Levy will be participating as a member of the International Association of Women Judges’ official delegation to the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in March. Levy, who is a member of Temple Israel, will provide remarks on the experiences of rural women and girls seeking justice through the courts compared to that of their urban counterparts in the United States. 

She will be presenting with judges from Mexico, Canada, Special Tribunal of Lebanon, Ghana, the Philippines and Uganda. Levy was chosen from among international members of the judiciary who participate in educational endeavors and the collaboration of ideas with the goal of advancing human rights and equal justice for all. She is the only American judge that is making a presentation.


Getting jiggy with Will and company

If you’re looking for something fun to do Sunday, March 18, consider checking out the klezmer concert by Will Soll (voice, mandolin, guitar, tenor banjo)and the Youngers of Zion (Alyssa Avery, violin; Dana Hotle, clarinet; Shlomo Ovadya, doumbek, and Mark Wallace, acoustic bass).   

The show, designed for those of us who enjoy our music on the early side, takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Focal Point in Maplewood. Tickets are $10 and can be ordered at Brownpapertickets.com/event/3323380.