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Tears, veggies and victory – KDVP winners’ biggest moments

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King David High School Victory Park (KDVP) matriculant, Tallin Kaplan, was profoundly affected by his dad’s passing on 22 January last year, but he still managed to end the year by matriculating with four distinctions and engaging in his passion for music.

“I was mainly involved in the cultural side of the school with the jazz and marimba band and the school production, but I did take cricket to the end of matric, which was something, because there were only four of us left by then,” says Kaplan. He received half colours in academics, the Klawansky Family Music Award, the Most Outstanding Music Composition Award, and the Cooperman Family Arts Achievement Award.

“The worst part is that there were three of us in the senior marimba band by the end of the year. We performed at basically every school event and even for the Israeli embassy. We even won an international competition, but the grades below weren’t interested in the Friday afternoon activity, so it felt like marimbas died with us.”

The first month and a half following his dad’s passing wasn’t pleasant, Kaplan says. “It’s the feeling of ‘something is missing here’ that gets to you. I would see something that would make me randomly think, ‘Oh, dad would love this!’ and realise, ‘Oh wait, I can’t show it to him.’ Because of this, I developed the unhealthy coping mechanism of avoidance. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t bring it up.

“I just distracted myself by watching anime, making music, and learning for matric. Of course, it would lead to me breaking down in tears at random occasions, but it was better than being miserable all the time. There were people who wanted to console me, but I wanted to be alone. It led to them wondering if I was just lonely, which I would respond to by saying, ‘I’m not alone because I’m friends with the voices in my head.’”

Kaplan says humour is the best coping mechanism. “When someone brings up trauma, turn it into a joke, and move on. No one gets sad. No one gets hurt. No one wants to remember that day.”

He says his dad was very much a stereotypical “work dad”. “He left early while I was still asleep to his nice chief operating officer business position, and would come back home at 17:00. He would then pour a glass of 20-year-old Scotch and watch TV. Because of this, we would really chat properly only on weekends or holidays, so our relationship was the non-prying type. He would be overprotective of me, but he wouldn’t pry into everything I did.”

Jessica Blem, the head of the environment committee on the school’s students representative council, wanted to make a difference and leave a legacy. “I used the opportunity to create a community vegetable garden which would feed the ground staff and their families.”

She’s grateful to the King David Schools’ Foundation, which helped her acquire the funding necessary to turn her vegetable garden into a permanent structure.

“The garden’s structure is comprised of a number of timber gum posts supporting a shade net roof as well as shade net sides, an irrigation system, and an entrance gate,” she says. “The vegetables grown are determined by the season and the needs of the ground staff. When it first began, we planted carrots, tomatoes, beetroots, spinach, and cucumbers because that’s what the ground staff requested.”

While Blem was bagging half colours in academics, the Jewish National Fund Teva Award for Environmental Awareness, and the Ari Brest – Live Your Best Life Award, fellow KDVP matriculant, Shira Woolf, collected full colours in academics, the trophy for Further Studies English, the Anne Bronte Trophy, the Gareth Jankelow Trophy, and was named top student in Visual Arts Painting.

Woolf also won the Esther Israelstam Trophy for the most outstanding art project, which intertwined all the important aspects of her life.

“I focused on the relationships I have with the people who have had an impact on my life. I focused on my passions, and my love of reading. My artwork, which I have titled Interwoven Wisdom, looks at the impact reading has had on my past, present, and will have on my future. I have painted an oil image of myself imparting knowledge by reading to my younger sisters, Eliana and Maya. The image of the three of us is painted onto pages of six very specific books. I have used two childhood novels that I read in my younger years, two Roald Dahl novels I read in my ‘tween’ years, and two of the texts I studied in my Further Studies English class.”

When her school’s art class was tasked with drawing a pencil sketch of KDVP, many of her peers drew physical aspects of the school. In contrast, Woolf believed a special part of KDVP wasn’t a what, but a whom.

“I drew a portrait of Methuselem because of the huge part he plays in ensuring that everything runs smoothly during the school day,” she says. “Methus makes sure students get to class on time, no one is bunking, and has an answer for every question.”

In addition to her artistic pursuits, she was KDVP’s head of outreach. Seeing it as her duty to give back to the community, she organised and ran the “Get To Know My Ground Staff” campaign, casual day, hair cutting for cancer, multiple blood drives for the South African National Blood Service, collecting pads for sanitary pad collection drive The Pad Princess, and many more initiatives.

“My favourite activities were visiting The Orlando Children’s Home in Soweto, where we gave out toys and sweets and spent the day with the children. I enjoyed the regular outings to Casa Do Sol, a school for children with disabilities, where my peers and I would read, play, and spend time with the children.”

Woolf won’t be studying for an art degree but will continue to create pencil drawings and oil paintings and learn about art theory in her own time, and keep in contact with her art teacher, Miss Fiona Couldridge.

Blem, for whom the highlight of her final school year was her matric dance, says, “My plans for this year are dependent on my matric results. If I’m accepted into my desired course, I’ll go to university. If not, I’ll take a gap year and complete a few short courses.”

Kaplan is taking a gap year to focus on music, even though he successfully applied to study law and business. “I know I’m not going to make it in the music industry, but you never know if you don’t try, right? I’m using this year to try and then fail so that I can say that I did try. I’m doing voice acting on the side, but I wouldn’t have got to that point without trying.”

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