On a busy Monday morning at Bruriah, the Jewish Educational Center’s girls’ high school in Elizabeth, among the students busily coping with classes and tests and talks, there were a few with an extra glow of achievement.
The school’s Torah Bowl team, with students ranging from ninth through 12th grade, recently won the final round of the 20-school contest for girls, giving Bruriah its second victory in two years. On April 29, they beat Stella K. Abraham High School of New York, and the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, in the finals at the yeshiva.
In that final round, the Bruriah team was missing one of its members, Devora Krakowski, 16, a junior from Monsey, NY. She, together with Naomi Schwartz, 18, from Passaic, had gone to Israel to take part in the final round of the Math Ulpaniada hosted by the Michlalah-Jerusalem College for Women, which took place May 4.
Tamar Demby, a junior also from Passaic, qualified for the finals but was unable to join them for the one-week, partially sponsored trip to Israel.
It was the first year that overseas schools were invited to take part in the biennial contest — sponsored by Israel’s Religious Education Administration, the Teachers Training Department in the Ministry of Education, and the Michlalah — whose goal is the strengthening of math and science education among religious girls.
The Bruriah duo didn’t make it to the top, but theirs was the only Diaspora school to have three entrants qualify to be among the 67 finalists.
The first two rounds of Jewish-themed math and logic questions were conducted in the participating schools. According to Bruriah assistant principal Shlomis Peikis, 25 students made it to the second round — more, she was told by one of the organizers, than any other school.
Both groups of girls were excited about the contests, though not particularly impressed by their own success. Bruriah principal Marcy Stern said that as proud as she was of their achievements, what pleased her most was their response. “When the Torah Bowl team won the final round, they waited until the other contestants had all left before they called me and let out their excitement, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings,” she said.
The Torah Bowl team was coached by assistant principal Rabbi Chaim Hagler. He said it took strategy — being really quick to push the button, for example — and a thorough fluency in their knowledge of the Torah passages in question. The team captains, seniors Ora Laufer and Naomi Berkowitz, said they all worked really hard, even on the bus on the way to the competition.
Their challenge in leading the team, they said, was knowing who was strongest on what topic. Only three or four could take part in each round, and the key was putting in the right people at the right time.
The great benefit, both girls said, was the fluency that study has given them. “It helps in all sorts of different classes,” Ora said. “The teacher will ask a question and we’ll look at each other and say, ‘We know that; it came up in the contest.’”
The math contest was somewhat different. The first two rounds were challenging enough, but the final round, in Jerusalem, they found extremely tough. They said the winner, Laura Bergman, a post-high school student from England, was “absolutely brilliant — and really nice.”
They enjoyed meeting all the other contestants, and they were also treated to a few days of travel and exploration around Israel. They have both been there before and were delighted to return — even if it meant arriving back at school somewhat jetlagged.