Monday, August 20, 2018

“Can we start a debate team?”

This question, which became a quest for sixth grader Romi Drubetskoy was the catalyst for what would become one of the most energetic teams at Kinneret Day School. Inspired by her previous experiences in debating topics, Romi was eager share the joy of debate with her classmates. She and her teacher, Yali Szulanski, searched for a national league that would accommodate fifth and sixth graders.

After much research, and with the help of Principal Rabbi Aaron Frank, they found a middle school league run out of California, with five participating schools. Kinneret Day School joined the league to become the sixth. The other students were mostly in grades eight and above, while the Kinneret team consisted mostly of fifth and sixth graders, and one student in eighth grade.

The league still followed the guidelines of traditional Moot Beit Din: Students train as a team and collaborate on a written decision and oral argument based on rabbinic sources, and sources relating to Jewish Law.

This year’s case centered around social media and lashon harah. Students could either support a school for suspending a student accused of lashon harah over a social media platform, or support the student and his parents against the decision of the school. The case highlighted hot button topics such as bullying, privacy and the proper teaching of midot. The debate team of 17 met every Thursday morning at 7:30 am to research and write out their arguments and to practice arguing their side.

On Friday, May 18, the first ever Middle School Moot Beit Din competition convened in California with Kinneret Day School in Riverdale joining via video conference.

After a full day, both Kinneret teams won their individual debates against the opposing schools. As for over all scoring, Kinneret, as a school, placed fourth in the league, with a total of 95.5 points. The final round was determined by the two highest scoring teams supporting each side. In these divisions, the Kinneret team defending the student placed fifth, and the Kinneret team defending the school placed third.

Reflecting on her experience this year, Drubetskoy said, “It has been enlightening and fun. I learned a lot about the structure of an argument, had a great time debating with my friends and learned a lot about Jewish Law.”

Plans are already in place for next year’s competition in the spring of 2019. Middle School Moot Beit Din was an amazing gathering and celebration of Jewish learning. What better way to enter into Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates receiving the Torah, than watching the next generation embrace Jewish learning and make the Torah their own.

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