June 20, 2024
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Yoni Benedek, Touro Social Work Graduate, Wins Top Professional Awards

New York—Jonathan (Yoni) Benedek, MSW, who graduated from the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) on June 16, has been awarded the inaugural Ohel Distinguished Community Service Award, as well as the National Association of Social Workers—New York City Chapter (NASW-NYC) Student Award.

The prestigious awards were presented at the school’s 2016 Academic Recognition Program held recently at the 92nd Street Y, on the eve of the commencement ceremonies that took place at Lincoln Center. Benedek graduated with a 3.9 GPA, receiving the Dean’s Academic Honors with Distinction.

The Ohel award, presented by Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services and Touro College, is a monetary award in recognition of community service that represents a joint commitment to training future generations of caring and knowledgeable Jewish social work professionals and Jewish communal leaders.

The NASW-NYC Student Award was presented for Benedek’s outstanding work as the NASW student representative to the GSSW for two years, which involved educating students about the NASW’s mission, participating in legislative and policy activities and demonstrating commitment, leadership and passion for social work.

In presenting the Ohel award to Benedek at the recognition program, CEO David Mandel called Benedek one representative of an “elite” group of professionals he likened to the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.

“You’re the 101st Airborne of social workers,” Mr. Mandel stated. “You leave no one behind on the field—not a homeless person, a schizophrenic, an addict or someone who is suffering in any way.”

Benedek, 25, recently completed a nine-month field work internship in the Emergency Department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center assisting the elderly, and last year he interned at Yeshiva of Central Queens, working with children from kindergarten through eighth grade. There, he co-facilitated a social skills group and worked with children of divorce.

Since 2013, he has been volunteering with Chai Lifeline, an organization that helps families with children who have cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. He provides relief for the families, visits the sick and disabled children in hospitals and at home, and accompanies them on trips to sporting and other events.

Chai Lifeline has had a profound impact in helping him find his niche. Benedek ultimately plans to work in a medical setting, counseling and providing support for adults and children challenged by cancer, chronic illness or disabilities.

“I’ve always been interested in the mental health field. I like talking to people and tuning in to others’ emotions and feelings,” he said.

Benedek offered his sincere appreciation for the honors: “Receiving these awards has given me a greater sense of responsibility and commitment to helping the Jewish community, and dedication to the social work community at large.”

He lauded the social work program for making students feel comfortable, and singled out the diversity of the student body and discussions at school about the importance of cultural competency in social work practice as eye-opening.

A resident of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, Benedek attended high school at the Touro-affiliated Mesivta Yesodei Yeshurun. After graduation, he continued to study at Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim, Touro’s Institute of Advanced Talmudic Studies, while taking evening classes at Lander College for Men. He received his B.A. in psychology summa cum laude from Lander College of Arts and Sciences in Flatbush.

According to Rabbi Doniel Lander, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim, Benedek’s trademark is sincerity and sensitivity and those character traits were prominent, even in his high school years.

“Jonathan coupled his intellectual endeavors with a quest for personal spiritual growth. His refinement of character and empathetic nature stem from the purity of his soul. His musical talent is expressed in a special way because of these inner traits. Years after he graduated from the yeshiva, he continues to serve as a guide to our younger students and lead the singing on Shabbos,” Rabbi Lander said.

“He has a natural way of connecting to people,” observed Marcy Davidovics, LCSW, social work director at Yeshiva of Central Queens, who supervised him during his internship. “Clients know he has their best interest at heart. He’s easy to talk to and makes people feel safe.”

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