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Two Orthodox Binghamton University Students Honored With SUNY ‘Excellence’ Award

Yael Bruk poses with her certificate at the SUNY ceremony in Albany, New York.

On Thursday, April 11, two Orthodox Jewish seniors from Binghamton University in New York, Yael Bruk and Emily Feldman, received the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence (CASE) for “successfully [integrating] SUNY excellence into many different aspects of their lives,” at a very exclusive ceremony in Albany, New York that honored particularly high-achieving SUNY students.

In an email to the students upon their receiving this award, the students were informed that this is “the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a student by the University,” and that the award represents involvement in many aspects of the university — academics, leadership, campus involvement, community service, or creative and performing arts. “Your ability to lead, give back to your campus community, and tap into your creativity makes you a role model for your peers and your campus,” the email read.

In order to receive the award, students needed to be nominated by someone other than themselves, and the nominator needed to submit a file on the nominee including a biography, the nominee’s resume and several letters of recommendation in which each letter detailed an aspect of their involvement in a CASE value.

(l-r) Yael Bruk; Emily Feldman; another Binghamton SRI student; and the assistant director of the FRI program
at the SUNY ceremony.

Yael Bruk (’24), a CASE recipient from Suffern, New York who plans on attending Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJ) in New Brunswick following her graduation from Binghamton this semester, explained that the 11 seniors who received this award were picked out of a student body of between 3,000-4,000 students.

Bruk further explained that one of the reasons she received the award was that she had served as Chabad kitchen manager for all four years of her college experience, which is no small task. “All the Shabbos food at Chabad is made by and served by students, and I’m one of the leaders of the kitchen crew that plates all of the food and distributes it during the meals. We always have at least 500 students Friday night and between 300-400 students Shabbos day,” Bruk detailed. She had also been heavily involved with the student support services on campus, explaining that as a first-generation college student, student support services helped her a great deal during her first years at Binghamton, so she became a mentor and got onto their student advisory board.

Bruk has also been involved in several research projects since her freshman year, the most notable of which involved publishing new graphics for pediatric hypertension, which are now used in curricula for family medicine around the country. Additionally, she has worked at a local federally qualified health center for well over 1,000 hours for patients who mostly do not have insurance and often have a poor grasp of English.

Feldman (’24), who is from Scarsdale, New York plans to do research in Boston following her graduation. She explained that she was heavily involved in Binghamton’s undergraduate research department and was in a program called FRI (First-Year Research Immersion Program), which she started during her freshman year and continued for three semesters of research in neuroscience.

Emily Feldman poses with her certificate at the SUNY ceremony.

Feldman also had two part-time jobs on campus: she was an embedded tutor, in which she sat in on a statistics class and then led a tutoring group twice a week for students who struggled with the material, and she was a peer success coach, involving meeting one-on-one with students and helping them with organizational skills, motivation, time management, and transitioning into college, as well as being a mentor, particularly for students in her own major.

Regarding Jewish involvement, Feldman was on the governing board of Chabad for three semesters and served on the social committee, which involved volunteering once a week and cooking or setting up tables for Shabbos. The role also involved assisting in the running of social events such as challah bakes for on-campus Jews, as well as attending monthly feedback meetings to assess the efficacy of the group’s events.

Both Bruk and Feldman stressed how important it was to represent Jews and Israel during the event. “Emily and I both wore the yellow ribbon … representing the safe return of the hostages,” Bruk explained. “I had two people ask me what it meant and it meant so much that [they were] asking about it.” She continued by saying that people often did not make much effort on campus to learn basic things about her Jewish identity, clarifying, “I was on the e-board of a club for two years. They never learned my name because it was a Jewish name; they called me Yale. After Oct. 7, they made it so hard to be Jewish and Israeli in that club and I had to resign.” Bruk explained that it was very gratifying, as a Jew on campus, to be recognized for something positive, and to “put Jews in a good light for once during these six months.”

Feldman said that being nominated for the CASE award gave her the chance to talk about her consistent involvement in her campus’ Jewish community, which she described as being very meaningful. “To actually be chosen, as someone who’s Jewish, to receive the award was really affirming for me,” Feldman explained. Regarding the yellow ribbons, Feldman said, “I don’t know if everyone who was [at the ceremony] knew exactly what that meant, but everyone there saw [the ribbons] and it distinguished us in some way. Because it was a publicized event, it was nice to wear that and feel like we were representing Israel in some way during the ceremony.”

Brooke Bass is a junior at Brandeis University. Originally from Englewood, she is a graduate of The Frisch School and studied at Midreshet Amudim in Israel. She is also a former Jewish Link intern and staff member.

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