Super Bowl XLIII was not the only competition pitting our fair city against Arizona last week.
Last Friday, six middle-school students from Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh matched wits against six of Phoenix Hebrew Academy’s best in a Brachot Bee, made possible by video chat technology.
Although our Hillel Academy contenders did not fare as well as our Steelers — they lost in a tight game, 35 to 36 — the enthusiasm and team spirit were over the top.
Brachot challengers, donning Steelers garb, gave Arizona a run for their money, as they demonstrated their knowledge of the specific blessings recited prior to consuming various foods. Fifth- through eighth-grade fans waved their Terrible Towels in support, as those out in Arizona watched on a video screen.
“The students were cheering not only their peers, but the Steelers as well,” said Adam Reinherz, director of student affairs at Hillel Academy.
The concept of the matchup between the two schools evolved after it was determined that the Steelers would be playing the Cardinals in the Super Bowl.
Hillel had been using a brachot curriculum developed by Rabbi Avichai Pepper of Phoenix Hebrew Academy, and asked if it could compete against the Arizona school in some sort of challenge, said Reinherz.
“We decided to have our top [kids] versus their top [kids] and compete in some sort of virtual challenge,” Reinherz said.
“The kids were really into it. It was amazing,” said Reb Danny Shaw, who helped organize the event. “The Arizona kids were cheering very loud.”
Before competing in the bee, students from both schools were provided with identical study packets. Each school then administered identical qualifying tests to their respective student bodies. The six top scoring students from each school were selected to compete in the bee.
Reinherz said the use of technology, allowing the students from both schools to see each other as the competition took place, worked out well and would hopefully open new educational doors.
“I think we’ll end up doing more stuff like this, this year,” Shaw said. “I was very impressed that the kids were so interested.”
“The kids were really excited,” said Reinherz. “The Brachot Bee forces them to engage in a fun, academic
exercise. It’s a great game for them. And they were really excited because they were competing against Arizona — our nemesis for the weekend.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)