Editor’s note: The March 8 Connections event has been postponed to the fall due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
Bella Wexler, a junior at Catalina Foothills High School, will receive the Bryna Zehngut Mitzvot Award March 8. The Women’s Philanthropy advisory council created the award, which recognizes an outstanding Jewish teenage girl, to honor the memory of a community volunteer who died in 2005.
Wexler is an alumna and current intern of the Jewish Latino Teen Coalition, to which she will donate her $613 award — the amount reflects the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah. In addition to helping plan JLTC activities, Wexler is spearheading a project to build a more accessible and involved alumni network.
She also is a finalist for the Bronfman Youth Fellowship, which selects 26 Jewish high school students to study Jewish literature in Israel for five weeks during the summer and participate in video seminars and projects throughout the following school year.
Wexler’s Jewish community involvement also includes membership in NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement, and volunteering at Handmaker with her older sister to help residents walk their dogs and participate in games and meals. She also led a Handmaker Shabbat service and with her family has attended services and Passover seders at Handmaker.
She participated in a literary analysis course conducted entirely in Spanish at the Tucson Jewish Community Center in June 2019. The Socratic-style seminar, she says, gave her the opportunity “to engage with fellow members of the Jewish community in a unique setting” while learning about the diversity of Jewish thought.
Wexler is a vice president of her school’s speech and debate club and captain of the Lincoln-Douglas Philosophy Debate team. She also is president of the Chinese club, and received the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship, spending the summer of 2019 in Xiamen, China, studying the language and living with a host family for two of the six weeks. “With my host family, I engaged in cross cultural dialogue about the nuances between my Jewish and their Buddhist faith. For most of the Chinese people I met, I was the first Jew they had ever known. This made the way I projected myself even more critical,” she says. Teachers and program organizers selected Wexler as one of the top three students.
At CFHS, she tutors students, predominantly in math courses ranging from sixth-grade math to honors algebra 2, and is a volunteer with the National Honor Society. In eighth grade, she was president of the National Junior Honor Society.
Her volunteer work in the general community includes writing for The Tucson Dog Magazine and volunteering in summer 2018 for the Dr. Matt Heinz for Congress campaign.
Wexler, who carries a full load of Advanced Placement and honors classes, says her hobbies include “researching philosophy, reading novels, and writing anything from poetry to essays to articles … I extend my love of language by messaging and calling in Mandarin with friends who live in China or Taiwan.” To alleviate stress, she enjoys jogging through her neighborhood at dusk.