" The turning point in my life was coming to RZJHS because that was when I became a leader. I was empowered by my teachers and I learned how to be a good student. I developed a good work ethic, I took initiative, and I got to shape a lot of things that are still in existence at RZJHS today. I definitely wouldn’t trade my unique experience for anything."
By Steve Sadin
Finishing in a second-place tie among more than 300 schools in the national Model UN competition recently in New York, Chicagoland Jewish High School’s team faced a challenge unique among those in the contest.
In a clash where teams represent a member country of the United Nations, the 27 students from CJHS, many of whom have spent significant time in Israel, were the Saudi Arabian delegation.
“It’s a unique challenge for students with such a strong connection to Israel to represent Saudi Arabia, the heart of Islam,” Model UN Faculty Advisor Myra Loris said. “It made their second place finish that much more significant.”
Senior members of the team spent three weeks in Israel on a trip this term already knowing they would represent Saudi Arabia. There was a particular moment on that journey that brought the situation home.
“We went on a hike in Eilat,” Shelly Dekalo of Highland Park said. “As we were climbing to the top, we realized we were looking at Saudi Arabia, which was an awesome connection to the seniors on the Model UN team.”
The students were further tested by representing views of a country which are not popular in the west such as the death penalty for people who are gay or lesbian, according to Loris. Gay and lesbian rights were one of the key topics discussed.
“They were doubly challenged,” Loris said. “They had to go in there and make the best argument they could why death was appropriate.”
Dekalo and her partner in the event had to defend Saudi Arabia’s efforts to stifle yearnings of Democracy arising out the Arab spring.
“My partner and I had to step out of our comfort zones and rightfully oppose the popular opinion of enforcing democracy among the Arab nations affected by the Arab spring,” Dekalo said. “It was really challenging but we enjoyed the challenge and we were able to overcome the obstacles.”
Still another trial for the Chicagoland Jewish team, representing a school with 165 students, is competing successfully against places with more than 10 times their enrollment, according to Marketing and Communications Manager Tara Seymour.
One of those larger institutions is Highland Park High School, which tied for second with CJHS. Grabbing runner-up honors two straight years added to the team’s feeling of pride. In 2012, Highland Park won the contest followed by Chicagoland Jewish and Deerfield in second.
“It was such a positive experience and reaffirmed last year’s win that our school really is a power player at this conference” Dekalo said.
Three Chicagoland Jewish students—Adam Taitz of Highland Park, Elan Sykes of Chicago and Dana Levin of Northbrook—won individual awards while six others—Deerfield’s Hillel Schwartz, Josh Flink and Rachel Small along with Sarah Levin of Northbrook, Ruli Warner-Rosen of Evanston and Joe Cohen of Chicago—were given special speaking roles.
Taitz is one of the presidents of the organization along with Ari Spellman of Northbrook. “They were very, very involved in the success,” Loris said.
Other team members are Ranan Vales and Avidan Halivni of Deerfield; Shira Harris, Charlotte Kamin, Eli Schrayer, Jason Taitz and Rina Zell of Highland Park; Josh Aaronson and Ariel Efergan of Skokie; Jeremy Goodman and David Steinberg of Evanston; Noa Gordon- Gutterman, Nathaniel Moses and Mira Sykes of Chicago; Melissa Levin of Northbrook and Josh Plisken of Buffalo Grove.
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