At 11, Zev Dickstein shines at IdeaFest

At 11, Zev Dickstein shines at IdeaFest

[by Phyllis Shaikun, Special to Community]
When physician, Holocaust historian and my former neighbor here in Louisville, Leah Dickstein, called on September 24 to say her 11-year-old grandson, Zev, would be a featured speaker at Louisville’s IdeaFest 2013 conference the following day, she sounded understandably surprised, excited and terribly proud. Normally one to keep her emotions in check, Dickstein’s excitement was palpable as she kept repeating, “I just can’t believe all the things he has done – it really is amazing!”

Dickstein and her husband, Herb, have three high-achieving sons, Stuart, Steven and Daniel, who, with their equally intelligent wives have gone on to produce a number of brilliant children including Zev, Stuart and his wife Nancy’s son.

Zev and his parents live in a Cambridge, MA, apartment directly above the elder Dicksteins, so Leah has been able to watch her grandson develop a celebrity status of sorts with a number of Google listings documenting his accomplishments.

At an age when most kids look forward to playing sports or listening to the latest music, Zev’s interests always centered on history, politics, reading books on the subject  and listening to NPR. He also plays the violin. A seasoned political campaigner, he recently planned strategy, designed campaign materials and helped with the website for Elizabeth Warren’s successful senate race and assisted with Ed Markey’s senatorial bid as well.

This year Zev became the youngest political campaign manager in the country when he stepped up to head attorney Joyce Gerber’s run for the Cambridge School Committee. In an interview with NPR, which earned him a spot on the fest speakers’ docket, Zev explained that through helping various candidates, he learned how to canvas and do the other things necessary to secure a win. NPR called him “a political wonk well beyond his years.”

In an article she wrote for St. Francis High School’s “Thoughts!” newsletter, Headmaster Alexandra Thurstone, coincidently a former classmate of Stuart’s, called Zev one of the more amazing speakers she has ever heard. She found him funny, inspiring and completely at ease speaking to the large crowd. He explained that beginning at age six, he asked his parents to take him to volunteer on political campaigns. Over the years, he gained experience in phone banking, canvassing and analyzing campaign information and became known and respected in the community.

All that came in handy when Zev spearheaded a petition drive and appeared before the local school board to request salad bars be placed in public schools. He and his friends felt the lunches at his elementary school were sub par, so he did some research and took his salad bar proposition (along with a petition signed by his classmates and the principal) all the way to the superintendent.

Zev says the most difficult part of his job is that he needs a chaperone to help him canvas for his candidates. He quickly dismissed common excuses for inaction and stated: “The most important thing is to show up. Just go do it. That’s it.” When asked how he could be so comfortable speaking in public at such a young age, his thoughtful answer: “Practice. It gets easier.”


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