Benjamin de Toledo / New Community Jewish High School
For Benjamin de Toledo, a senior at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills, the key to success is simple: hard work.
De Toledo is senior class president, wrestling team captain and a leader in numerous initiatives at his school. But the 18-year-old didn’t get there without effort. In elementary and middle school, de Toledo struggled academically because of dyslexia. His grades were average, he said, but he always looked up to the “smart kids” in his class. So, in ninth grade, he decided to do something about it.
“I had this realization that there was no reason why I couldn’t be one of those students,” de Toledo recalled. “So I worked hard at it. I sort of took a leap of faith.”
De Toledo studied intensely and began taking honors courses in his sophomore year, even though at first he was terrified and felt that he didn’t fit in. By his junior year, he was getting A’s in all his classes. He joined the National Honor Society (NHS), a feat he once thought he’d never accomplish, and is now vice president of the chapter at his school. He also was recently named one of 53 state winners of the NHS Scholarship from the National Assocation of Secondary School Principals.
“I know there’s nothing I can’t do, it’s just that I’m going to have to work twice or three times as hard as everyone else in my class,” de Toledo said. “It’s created this work ethic within me, which I think is one of my greatest assets.”
He has applied his work ethic in numerous ways, both among his peers and in the community. As a student in the school’s Tefillah Kehillah Institute, a leadership development program, de Toledo has led prayer services on campus and at local Jewish middle schools. He organized an outdoor music festival at the school, pioneered a song recording project involving various school groups and negotiated weekly discounts for students who buy lunch at local restaurants.
One of de Toledo’s proudest accomplishments was co-initiating a school-wide project to create a giant quilt honoring AIDS victims associated with his school for the NAMES Project Foundation. The quilt was displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2012, and now hangs in the NCJHS lobby.
De Toledo is also captain of the NCJHS wrestling team, which he joined as a freshman. He’s helped grow the team by recruiting new members, mentoring younger wrestlers, scheduling extra practice and being a role model for commitment and teamwork. The team has garnered top awards in numerous tournaments, dominating many bigger schools and setting a precedent for Jewish high-school wrestling.
The senior will begin a joint degree program at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University in the fall. Passionate about Judaic studies, de Toledo said he is interested in becoming a rabbi.
“I look at it as I have an obligation to make a difference,” he said. “I think the world has enough doctors and lawyers and executives. We need more thinkers and leaders and people who can make a difference and do something unique.”
Photo by Lynn Pelkey