At first blush, Ashley Orenberg Waterberg and Jacob Abbisso appear to have little in common. Ashley is a new mom and social worker in the Revere Public Schools. Jacob is a senior at Gann Academy, heading to Wesleyan University in the fall. Ashley has done, among other things, extensive volunteer work within the LGBTQ community. Jacob, aka “Balloon Kid,” has been creating balloon animals and acts of kindness all around Marblehead since he was in the second grade. But they do, indeed, have something in common. Not only are they both graduates of Epstein Hillel, albeit 16 years apart, but they are also this year’s recipients of the Adam Madorsky Social Justice Alumni Award.
The award, created in 2016, is in memory of Karen and Jerry Madorsky’s son, Adam, to recognize alumni who have continued to pursue social justice in their personal or professional lives. Ashley and Jacob could not be more deserving. On a recent morning, the two came to Epstein Hillel to meet the students and share their stories.
Ten years ago, when Jacob was a second-grader at Hillel, he heard about Shaggy, a dog in town who was injured and needed extensive medical care. Fresh off the “Giraffe Project,” during which the children were taught the importance of sticking their neck out to help others, Jacob sprang into action. He took it upon himself to find a way to raise money for the Marblehead Animal Shelter by getting his mom to the store to purchase balloons, a lot of them. He then spent hour upon hour teaching himself how to twist them into animals and objects that he could give away in exchange for a donation. To date, he has raised nearly $20,000, all of which he’s donated to the shelter. When asked where his drive came from, Jacob responded:
“I grew up at EHS. Not only was it a warm and welcoming environment, but there was always an emphasis on looking out for others.”
As a college freshman, Ashley spent her spring break in Mississippi helping to repair homes that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Another vacation, when many of her peers were lazing at the beach, Ashley traveled to the Dominican Republic to do her part in caring for children in orphanages. And she was just getting started. With an abundance of both professional and volunteer work under her belt, including a stint in the AmeriCorp Program, Ashley lives each day deeply aware and highly appreciative of just how fortunate she is. Not only is she a social worker in the Revere Public Schools, she also serves as the faculty advisor for the gay straight alliance and extends her expertise to the larger LGBTQ community as well. She credits modeling by her parents and EHS with her deep commitment to tikkun olam:
“There really is no act too small.”
Whether “sticking your neck out” locally, traveling across the world, donating your time or supporting someone in need, both Jacob and Ashley epitomize the very essence of a Hillel education: learning and living with compassion. The impact that this philosophy has had on their lives was abundantly evident as they addressed the enthusiastic and curious students at EHS. But it was not just the children who were excited. For their part, Ashley and Jacob were equally enthused to return to the building to see a new generation of students learning to follow in their footsteps. It turns out they really do have more in common than meets the eye.
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