HARLINGEN — She has relatives in Israel, Mexico, England, Venezuela and Russia.
She speaks Spanish, English and some Hebrew. She plays trumpet, serves as student council president, and has spent the past year as the Cougar mascot for Coakley Middle School.
And sometimes, just for fun, Yafah Russek, 14, enjoys video games.
“I like to play Fortnite,” the Coakley Middle School eighth grader said with a laugh.
“When people ask about my history I’m just like, ‘I need to write a book about this. It’s too much,’” she said. “I think it’s very interesting because a lot of people are just like, ‘I lived here all my life and everyone’s from here,’ and I’m like ‘No, for me I have family here, over there, everywhere, it’s like ‘whoa.’”
While Yafah’s family history tells a fascinating story, she has her own unique story to tell.
“I’m in jazz band and honors concert band,” she said. “I like the trumpet because most of the time when we’re playing a song, the trumpet has the main part, and I like how our sound can shine over the others.”
She’s enjoyed being a leader as student council president.
“I just finished going to my last meeting, but I go meet other presidents of other schools, high schools and middle schools of different clubs,” she said. “We discuss problems in the community, challenges we can fix and stuff like that.”
As a member of the student advisory board, she’s been able to network even further with school administrators and students from other schools.
“I meet with the superintendent and other students and we discuss like a common challenge or community event that we can join together and fix,” she said.
One challenge she and other students recently addressed was more student involvement in leadership roles.
“Recently we were discussing how we want elementary kids because they’re not as involved,” she said. “We wanted to invite the fifth grade student council presidents to come join so they can see how it is to be a leader and it can continue.”
While building her character and her leadership skills, her academic power has placed her in the top 5 percent of her class. She’s excelled in a variety of UIL events including all the math competitions, plus dictionary skills and Spanish poetry.
She also plays basketball.
“I consider myself athletic,” she said. “I like hiking a lot, and biking.”
She also teaches Sunday school at Temple Beth Israel Jewish Temple and Synagogue.
Her three older sisters each spent their sophomore years at a boarding school in Israel. It’s a highly-competitive program to get into, but she plans to apply just as they did and looks forward to the experience.
“That’s where we learn most of our Hebrew,” Yafah said. “I don’t speak it fluently like most of my family does. We usually reach fluency when we go to Israel. My oldest sister she went in 10th grade but she ended up staying over there to finish high school. She’s been over there 10 years.”
That sister applied for citizenship and served the mandatory military service, which for her was three years because she became an officer. Another sister lives in San Antonio, and still another is planning a move to Austin.
What are her plans?
“After high school, my dream college is to go to the University of Southern California because they have a good medical school there and I want to become a cardiologist,” she said.
Her academic and athletic life are strongly balanced with an active social life, and she has high standards for people she calls her friends.
“I want someone who understands,” she said. “I have my important things in life and so do they, but they need to know how to understand and be respectful, and also just be kind overall. If we don’t have a kind relationship it’s not a good one at all.”
She also has a strong sense of her own identity and needs to see that in others.
“I feel like in middle school there are a lot of kids who are still trying to find which type of person they are,” she said. “I want to find people who already know who they are so I can connect with them easier. I don’t want someone who will be changing throughout the middle school years and it would just like fall apart.”