Alumni Updates

Steven Fox and Gilli Cherrin

It’s a place that inspires a hunger for learning combined with social conscious-ness, which is such an amazing gift to all Jewish people and the future of Jewish leadership.

As the already legendary status of Academy founder Chico Sabbah inspires every new class of students, Steven Fox and Gilli Cherrin feel honored to have actually known the man and experienced firsthand his kind, determined spirit.

“CHICO SET THE EXAMPLE for how to be a visionary,” says Steven, who lives in Israel and coordinates “Fugee Fridays,” the food relief program that he and best friend Gilli helped launch to aid African refugees scattered about Tel Aviv. He doesn’t mince words explaining what motivated them. “It was simply the right thing to do. People needed food; food was being wasted. So we acted.” Steven insists it’s easy to accomplish change when you are willing to get your hands dirty. “Chico convinced us we could be the ones to initiate progress, that it’s our personal duty. Fixing the world is the most important lesson of Judaism.” Gilli, now participating in an agricultural development project in Nepal, echoes this testament to Sabbah’s ability to catalyze a young person’s confidence and sense of accountability. “Chico’s vision was broad,” Gilli says. “The ideal of the Academy awakens something in you, then gives you the bravery to go for it because you also feel a responsibility.” Today, these young men remain unswervingly passionate about the Academy. “At the age of 23, I talk about my high school more than anyone I know,” Gilli says. “It’s a place that inspires a hunger for learning combined with social consciousness, which is such an amazing gift to all Jewish people and the future of Jewish leadership.” Steven says it’s about gaining self-reliance at an earlier age than most teenagers. “What will be next?” he asks excitedly. “Already students from AHA have done such amazing things!” Steven pauses, remembering his very first days at the Academy, when there were no sidewalks on campus. Sabbah explained he was waiting to see where the students walked. “That was a sign,” he says. “Chico wanted us to determine what the school would become. We were being trusted to take control, but also to be mindful of the environment.” It is a lesson Steven and Gilli learned well, and now live with integrity every day.

Samantha von Ende

AHA showed me how inspiring it is to help people fulfill their potential. My dream is to one day be part of its incredible work.

Some students come very eagerly to the Academy, some more tentatively, not sure what to expect. Others, like Samantha von Ende, came reluctantly.

“I ABSOLUTELY DIDN’T WANT TO BE THERE,” she says candidly. “I was so mad at my parents for making me go.” Samantha’s parents, practicing Conservative Jews, looked to the Academy as a fresh start for their daughter after a year of public school brought popularity but an unexpected slip in academic performance. “I flew from Kansas to Greensboro, expecting to hate it. Then I started getting involved with all the school had to offer, and I started to love it. After the first trimester, I was totally hooked.” Samantha admits she was still sometimes a rebellious teenager, and that her housemother occasionally had to practice tough love. “She really helped me grow as a person with values,” Samantha laughs, remembering her normal teenage instinct to test boundaries. “She was a true friend, but strict when necessary. This built respect and love between us.” With each new challenge at the Academy, Samantha thrived. Never before had she believed so much in her potential, as she joined the student government, newspaper, theater, choir, and basketball team. “The Academy taught me to like myself. I was figuring out exactly who I was. But there was something else.” She pauses, then says quietly, “Watching this same thing happen to my friends all around me—it’s amazing. You start to see how everyone at the Academy is evolving into a different, stronger person. I’m not a special case.” There are those who might argue this last point, as Samantha now plans to study medicine and law in graduate school, serve in the Navy, practice as a doctor as well as pursue her love of writing, and then—no less—return to the Academy to teach and serve as headmaster. “AHA showed me how inspiring it is to help people fulfill their potential,” she says. “my dream is to one day be part of its incredible work.”