Yeshiva University News » Harriet Levitt

YU High School for Boys Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Great Debate Tournament

When Harriet Levitt began teaching English at Yeshiva University High School for Boys (YUHSB) / The Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy in 1982, she saw a tremendous opportunity to enrich her students’ education through a competitive sport that had long been her passion: debate. “The degree of intellectuality that exists at the high school was amazing to me,” she said. “Our students argue gemara back and forth every morning. I realized the activity of debate would push that even further.”


Harriet Levitt, along with her husband, Dan, formed the Yeshiva Debate League in 1988.

Having loved her own experience as a high school and college debater, Levitt wanted YUHSB students to be able to participate in the National Forensic League. But there was a problem—the League’s debates all took place on Saturdays. Read the rest of this entry…

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YU High School for Boys Sophomore Brings Shakespearean Objects to Life

Hillel Jacobson, a sophomore at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, faces challenges and acts on them.

Hillel Jacobson

Inspired by Shakespeare, YUHSB sophomore Hillel Jacobson built a stock similar to the one used in King Lear.

In his study of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Jacobson took a strong interest in the Globe Theater, where the plays were performed. Along with his father, Jacobson constructed a model of the theater, capturing the beauty and intricacies of the stages and seating as well as the area where the groundlings stood.

Recently, when studying King Lear in Harriet Levitt’s English Sophomore Honors class, Jacobson became fascinated by the stocks—a punishment apparatus used in the story to hold Kent. With the help of his father, Jacobson constructed a solid wood, five-foot structure, replicating the stocks used in King Lear. Read the rest of this entry…


Local High School Students Face Off at Annual Yeshiva University Debate Tournament

Wandering the corridors of Furst Hall at the Yeshiva University Wilf Campus on Sunday, December 18, would have revealed an unusual sight. Nearly every classroom on the second and third floors contained six individuals in business dress—some with rolled-up sleeves, others swiftly taking notes—all methodically but passionately arguing over the intricate nuances of the ethics of scientific research.

Yoni Zolty and Elan Stochel represent YUHSB at The Great Debate.

Taking part in the 23rd annual Great Debate, these aspiring orators belonged to 11 Jewish high schools in the greater New York metropolitan area. Started by Harriet Levitt, English teacher at Yeshiva University High School for Boys (YUHSB)—The Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, in 1988, the Great Debate offers Jewish high school students an opportunity to participate in a large formal deliberation among their peers from other schools, a relatively difficult task as most debate meets occur on Saturdays.

This year’s participating schools included the Ezra Academy, Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (HANC), Maayonot, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Ramaz High School, Rambam, SAR High School, SKA High School, Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), YUHSB and Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls, with the Jewish Educational Center and DRS High School observing.

YUHSG's Shani Pollack and Mindy Schwarts debate Eli Shulman and Meir Freidenberg of YUHSB.

The Great Debate joins the ranks of the Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament, the Wittenberg Wrestling Tournament and the Yeshiva University National Model United Nations as one of the many annual events that exposes Jewish high schools to the Yeshiva University community.

Teams either had to argue for or against the resolve that stated, “The scientific community should make use of results obtained from unethically performed research.” The results? TABC took first place and YUHSB placed second.

“Debate has the power to change students from self-absorbed individuals into deep-thinking intellectuals,” said Levitt. “Once they get into debate, they turn into different creatures. They realize that there are two points of view on everything. I notice that students on the debate team in my classes are much more likely to speak up with confidence.”

YUHSB's Freidenberg and Shulman

The student participants expressed a variety of reasons for attending. Ari Himber, a senior at HANC, aspires to attend law school in the future and wanted to hone his skills. Zachary Fineberg, a senior at TABC, had a different reason. “I guess I am just a polemical guy,” he said. “I love debating people.” Others simply enjoyed the intellectual exercise, like SAR senior Aviva Leshaw, who said, “I feel alive when I am debating and picking apart an argument.”

Many enjoyed the social aspects of meeting new people within the greater community and studying new topics. “This is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn more about different controversies in our world,” said Shifra Arnheim, a Maayonot senior.

Many of these students had participated in other YU-sponsored events in the past: from previous great debates to attending the Yeshiva University Dramatics Society Production of 1776 or the annual Seforim Sale.


Dani Goffstein, Senior at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, Takes First Place at Shakespeare Competition

Dani Goffstein, a senior at Yeshiva University High School for Boys/Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (YUHSB), won the English-Speaking Union New York regional competition held on Thursday, March 3, at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Dani impressed the judges with his performance of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice and his recitation of Sonnet 138.  He will go on to represent the New York City area as a semi-finalist at the English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition, which will be held on May 2 at Lincoln Center in New York City.


“It was an incredible opportunity,” said Goffsetin, a resident of Teaneck, NJ. “I worked really hard and it was great to see that all that work really paid off in the end.”

In the national competition, Dani will be competing for amazing opportunities this summer in both the United States and aboard. The first place winner will receive a full tuition scholarship to study acting in Shakespeare’s homeland, England.  The second place winner will receive a full tuition scholarship to attend the American Shakespeare Centre’s Theater Camp in Staunton, VA.  Third place winner will receive $500 from the Shakespeare Society.

The program is part of the English-Speaking Union (ESU) National Shakespeare Competition in which the students interpret Shakespeare without props, scenery or costumes. Ten school winners from the New York City area, who had already advanced through a semi-final round of competition, participated.

Dani Goffstein with representatives of the English-Speaking Union of New York Branch, Barbara O’Dwyer Lopez and Bill Williams.

Dani Goffstein with representatives of the English-Speaking Union of New York, Bill Williams and Barbara O’Dwyer Lopez.

The English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition is a curriculum-based program designed to help high school students develop their speaking and critical thinking skills and their appreciation of literature as they explore the beautiful language and timeless themes in Shakespeare’s works.

“Dani’s win reflects his hard work, intense dedication and his individual interpretation of Shylock,” said Harriet Levitt, who teaches English and public speaking to senior and sophomore students at YUHSB. “As teachers, we hope to recognize the special quality of our students.  G-d willing, he will continue to represent the best in himself and us.”

Goffstein has written several plays and screenplays and aspires to be a filmmaker. He spent the past summer at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts studying writing, and credits Shakespeare with being a tremendous influence on his work. “I honestly don’t think anyone can appreciate the beauty of words without Shakespeare,” said Goffstein. “Some of the descriptions and words Shakespeare uses are just the most beautiful thing that man can create.”

March 2015
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