" Clearly, there are the lessons that are in our textbooks, like algebra, chemistry and Spanish. But at RZJHS, we also learned essential midot, or values, such as diligence and morality, that you can’t find in a textbook."
By Ronnie Wachter
Amid simulated homicides and faux kidnappings, with the future of disease prevention and third-world fertility up for grabs, a Deerfield high school rose to the top in the realm of competitive cooperation.
Chicagoland Jewish High School returned from the National High School Model United Nations, held last week in New York City, with a first-place finish. There are no divisions within the international event, so CJHS — enrollment 150 — went up against much larger public schools, including Highland Park High School — enrollment 2,000.
But there are multiple winners, as well. HPHS’s Giants were one of several second-place finishers, while CJHS was one of three that brought home the top-level “Award of Distinction
“When they called our name for first place, it was definitely a sense of surprise,” said CJHS history teacher and first-year Model U.N. coach Joseph Eskin. “There were some students, though, who really felt confident that we had done well.”
Chicagoland Jewish’s contingent of 26 students was among the three best in a field of 155 schools, totaling about 3,800 teens, from across the country and 21 other nations. After three days of politicking, debating, compromising and manipulating at the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan, the entire conference journeyed to the actual United Nations building on March 7, where CJHS sent five speakers to the main podium to give addresses during the closing ceremony.
“This team is really all about supporting and helping each other,” Eskin said of his rookie year’s leadership style. “We emphasize being a ‘mensch.'”
For the purpose of this conference, they also had to be South Korean.
In a Model U.N. event, each school plays the role of a nation that participates in the real group. For the 2014-15 year, CJHS took on the part of the southeast Asian democracy. The New York conference is an open enrollment — anyone who can make it can come — and it is the only competition CJHS scheduled for 2014-15.
“This is what we’re working toward, the entire year,” Eskin said.
The objective of a Model U.N. conference mirrors that of the real-life assembly: identify global issues that need fixes, write resolutions to address those needs, find partners who will support a resolution, compromise with those partners to keep their cooperation, then drum up enough support to get the resolution passed.
Some nations are more powerful than others, and no problem that rises to the U.N. level has a easy answer. A group of judges follow all of the proceedings, assessing which students appear to be most adept at drafting viable solutions and forming partnerships.
There are no points and no final score, Eskin said, and whichever school delegations prove to be the most prepared in advance and nimble as circumstances change garner the most favorable opinions. And, as it just might happen at any moment in the real world, the model U.N. was fraught with scandal — scripted in advance by the organizers, but taking the competitors by surprise.
At one point, the assembly learned that a “delegate” had been “murdered,” Eskin said. This “delegate” was fictitious, not a member of any school, but the world’s leadership had to react as though there had been aggression among their peacemaking group.
At another turn, all had to respond to the news that the Russian government had just abducted a Ukranian leader.”Someone came into the room with a message that this Ukranian official had been kidnapped,” Eskin said. “Russian had to be dealt with.”And Russia is one of those more-powerful nations, he noted — they hold a veto on the Security Council.
“There were some pretty crazy political-intrigue-type scenarios,” Eskin said. Amid all this, CJHS advanced South Korea’s agenda for addressing infertility in third-world nations, preventing another outbreak of the Ebola virus and more. Eskin said a lot of their good marks came from fostering cooperation. “In Model U.N., you’re really trying to go for win-win situations,” he said.
But in politics, from ancient times until now, each representative’s objective is to make sure his nation wins more.”Yeah…in theory, that’s what you’re trying to do,” Eskin added. This was CJHS’s seventh trip to the New York conference, where it has reached second-place finishes in the past. This event works well for the practicing Jewish community, Eskin said, because it takes place during the week.
“It’s really a focus of ours to remain true to the ideals of our school,” he said. “It’s a balancing act for them. Because the meetings were during the week, this one worked for us.” The group met for bagel breakfasts and prayer, keeping kosher through the week, he said. As the competition moved toward its finale on the evening of March 6, CJHS’s delegation observed Shabbat by walking to a nearby synagogue to worship and eat.
On March 7, they gathered at 7:15 a.m. for a service before walking to the United Nations. And they walked out of the U.N. with one of this year’s three awards of distinction. The coach said he was looking forward to this group’s future, and seeing what its alumni will produce in the real world.”What gets rewarded,” Eskin said, “is the kinds of things we’d like our leaders to do.”
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