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Sandwiching academics and community, the students who did it all

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During his matric year at King David High School Linksfield (KDHSL) last year, Joseph Joffe was part of a committee that organised a sandwich initiative called “Matric is back”, in which students from Grades 4 to 12 broke the Guinness World Record for the most sandwiches made in an hour. They made 65 595 sandwiches in that time.

On top of this, he bagged nine distinctions, and is going to study at the Ivy League Brown University on Rhode Island in the United States.

“A South African getting into an Ivy League university is almost unheard of,” says, Jodi Starkowitz, the school’s head of marketing. “KDHSL has had students studying at Ivy League universities, but Joseph may be one of the first to be pre-accepted.”

Joffe’s fellow 2022 KDHSL matriculant, deputy head student leader Shiri Kaplan, was involved in the outreach committee and organised and took part in many different community service initiatives at high school. In addition to this, she took nine subjects in matric.

“What’s so unusual about Shiri is her subject choice,” Starkowitz says. “She did physical science, art, drama, and Hebrew. These subjects prove how she flexes both sides of her brain, using the logical and creative sides as well as Hebrew, which goes backwards.”

Kaplan says she took so many subjects not only because she loves a challenge, but also, “I have many diverse interests, and I couldn’t choose which subjects to take. I have always loved drama and art and enjoyed drawing, painting, and performing, but at the same time, I adore the simplicity of numbers, and I love maths and science. I also love English literature and poetry.”

She says she managed to juggle studying with all her activities by being “as disciplined and organised as I possibly could. I tried to keep on top of all assignments for each subject as they were given. I often woke up early before school to study.”

Joffe, meanwhile, had to balance studying with eight months of planning for the ‘Matric is back’ initiative. “I had to speak to sponsors for bread, cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise, and did a lot of logistical planning. The biggest challenge was having to manage all these logistics and the massive amount of tasks to do during prelims in August and September last year. I was working on the initiative during prelims.”

Planning started at the beginning of 2022. “I did a little bit throughout the year. Final planning happened during prelims. So, with the massive amount of logistics, I would work in the morning. In the evening, when I felt my work would be less productive, or I had done enough for the day, I would work on my sandwich initiative, emailing relevant people, replying to emails, and doing research, but when there was an important deadline or important people who I needed to speak to, I emailed them first thing in the morning to get it out of the way for the day.”

Joffe says another big part of his high school experience was being a student leader for the awareness and advocacy committee, which spearheads campaigns to combat racism, sexism, and homophobia, and promotes mental health. “My biggest role in that committee was spearheading a campaign called the Hollard Daredevil Run, which I brought to the school. Boys wore purple Speedos, and girls wore purple skirts and white or purple tops – just purple all around. This was done to raise awareness around men suffering from prostate cancer and raise money, which we donated to Hollard and various cancer charities. It all happened in October 2021, during Grade 11.

“Finally, in my Grade 11 year, I was elected by my school to be on the Johannesburg Junior Council. I was chairperson of the outreach committee and we did projects that would have an impact on the community around us.”

Kaplan tried to get involved in as many projects and activities as she could at school. “I realised that the more I give to the school, the greater my rewards would be.”

Some of her highlights include winning the South African National Bible Quiz in 2020, being involved in all the school’s public speaking competitions, taking part in debating and the performing arts, and winning a trip to Los Angeles courtesy of having her poem chosen by Chapman University after she entered its Holocaust creative writing competition.

“In Grade 11, I loved being involved in the Helen Diller Foundation and although COVID-19 prevented us from going on the international trip, the experience was life-changing,” she says.

Kaplan, who is planning to go on Bnei Akiva’s Limmud programme for her gap year, says, “Finishing high school has been bittersweet. I’m sad that I can no longer be involved in all King David has to offer, but I’m excited to see what my future holds.”

Joffe will start studying at Brown in September. “I’m considering studying maths and economics and taking the open curriculum, which allows students to design their own curriculum for four years. I’ll be taking subjects such as maths and economics, but I could also even take a language or drama, for example, and just explore what interests me. I specifically chose Brown because it allows you to explore so many passions simultaneously.”

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