By Sharon Wisch-Ray
It’s easy to feel inspired when listening to Stephanie and Dan Prescott talk about why the Dallas Jewish community and specifically Akiba Academy are important to them. They not only talk the talk, but also they walk the walk when it comes to community building here. Last Sunday night, more than 550 people joined Akiba Academy in honoring the Prescotts with its prestigious Civic Service Award at the school’s annual gala and dinner. The theme of this year’s event, Inspire, was prominent throughout the evening, but mostly it was the words of the honorees that drove the message home.
Honoree Stephanie Prescott said that Akiba taught her many things over the years from Hebrew, to building a sukkah, to the importance of Shabbat dinner being inviolate.
“We learned to live a balanced life to dedicate ourselves to secular learning, and at the same time celebrate the beauty of a Jewish education…. We appreciate everything you’ve done for us and added to our lives,” she said.
Mrs. Prescott offered the following advice to the gathering grounded in her Akiba experience:
“Always strive to be a mensch, which often means putting the needs of others in front of your own. A mensch is someone who is not looking out for attention, rather looking to make the world a better place. A mensch doesn’t revel in getting to the top on the backs of other people, rather would prefer to join hands and reach the summit as a group. A mensch can rally the troops and create excitement, and make exciting and groundbreaking events a reality.”
Dan Prescott, who happened to be celebrating his birthday Sunday night, has spearheaded many community-building efforts both within the Jewish community and in the community at large. Among his efforts have been co-founding the Kosher Chili Cookoff, helping to rescue the JCC from financial ruin and putting together the first joint fundraising effort between Akiba Academy, Levine Academy, the JCC Early Childhood Center and Yavneh Academy, last spring.
“He dreams big and makes it happen and along the way he makes everyone feel good about what they’ve accomplished,” said Mrs. Prescott of her husband.
In his own humble and jovial way, Prescott thanked everyone in the room for their efforts in building a strong, vibrant Jewish community.
“Tonight Akiba honors us with a dinner and an award for helping, but please hear me when I say this award should be divided into hundreds of pieces and shared with so many of you in this room who could very well, very easily, be up here sharing this award.”
Mr. Prescott explained why his family had chosen Akiba and Jewish education as a beneficiary of its time and resources.
“The potential of these kids [those who attend Jewish day school and high school] for our people and community, the promise for our future is so enhanced when I see the quality of their education and the product that comes out of that environment. Their leadership skills, their devotion to our people, their desire to see a strong, safe state of Israel, along with the beginning efforts of becoming active in our community, not after they’ve graduated from college, but now as day school and high school students. That’s the potential…. Believe me when I say this, the kids that are coming out of Jewish education, our future has never been stronger,” he said.
Prescott closed his remarks with a message not only of inspiration, but of a goal to aspire to. His aspiration is “to build together a strong and vibrant Jewish community that will be there for our children and our children’s children. To build a community that is welcoming to all people, Jewish and otherwise, and a community that continues to teach the lessons that we learn from our children in Jewish day schools and high schools. That of derech eretz, that of doing the right thing and being respectful to all people. We learn from our rabbis that God left the world unfinished; my aspiration is for all of us to work together to continue to build that world.”
Celebrating her 40th year at the school was teacher Libbe Newman, who was recognized with a standing ovation from the crowd. Newman is teaching a second generation of students now at Akiba.
Linda Johnson and Nicole Schultz co-chaired this year’s gala, which at press time had raised some $335,000 to benefit scholarships, educational programming and professional development, according to Assistant Development Director Vanessa Pollard.