Lifelong resident of Teaneck and current freshman at the University of Vermont Benjamin Zatz has recently been awarded the 2021 fellowship by the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) for his accomplishments regarding the greater Jewish community and his scientific research.
Zatz, 19, was first introduced to the American Sephardi Federation through Isaac De Castro, the co-founder of Jewish On Campus, an organization whose goal is to protect students against antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses. Through Jewish On Campus, Zatz and De Castro were able to petition the ASF to address the antisemitic, anti-Israel curriculum of the California State Ethnic Studies program. As a result of their work, the third draft of the curriculum was denounced by the ASF. Additionally, many major Jewish organizations, such as the ADL, shared the sentiment and reiterated their disapproval of the curriculum. This was among one of his many accomplishments that earned him the distinction from the ASF.
Another noteworthy achievement of Zatz was his agricultural research. Despite currently majoring in agroecology, Zatz’s work in the field stems back to his high school days. While attending Bergen County Academies, Zatz was awarded the In Vitro Biology Award and first place at the New Jersey FFA State Agriscience Fair for his research on the algae Dunaliella. The particular algae Zatz was focusing on was already in use as a nutrition supplement for vitamin A. However, Zatz’s research set on finding more efficient methods of synthesizing beta-carotene, which in turn is turned into vitamin A by the body. The novelty of his method was its use of sonification, the application of high-frequency vibrations, to induce a higher yield of the beta-carotene. Zatz’s research has the ability to make major impacts in the field of nutritional science.
Aside from his scientific acuity, Zatz has also shown keen social awareness and has fought for several causes in favor of the Jewish community and for Jews around the world. During the pandemic, Zatz took the helm of the social media platforms for the ASF and has created content to spread awareness about the injustices facing Jews in today’s world. One point of great importance that has been stressed by both Zatz and the ASF is the status of the Jewish population still left in Yemen. One man, named Levi Marhabi, who is part of the remaining Jewish community in Yemen, has recently been the focus of the ASF. Marhabi has been imprisoned for the last five years by the Houthi militias that run much of Yemen. While in prison, Marhabi has been subject to torture, abysmal conditions and total lack of regard for his quickly deteriorating health. The ASF has created a petition for world leaders to call for the unconditional release of Levi Marhabi from prison.
Caleb Lippe is a Jewish Link summer intern and a student at Rutgers Business School.