Jun 26, 2008 — Gabrielle Hiller, an incoming senior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, NJ, has just wrapped up an intense year of fast-paced Gemara study that had her studying three or four hours a week outside of class for a series of competitive tests. The extra hours paid off—quite literally—when she was recently placed first in the girls’ section of Yeshiva University’s Bronka Weintraub Bekius Program, winning her a cash prize of $5,000.
Some 250 students from grades nine through 12 at yeshivot across North America competed in this first year of the program, which falls under the auspices of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). Students took five exams during the school year, for which they were given cash prizes based on their performance.
“Participating students broadened their Torah horizons and forged a lifelong love of learning,” said Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, who created the program. Rabbi Schwartz is bochein (examiner of incoming students) at RIETS, and teaches Talmud in the Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program.
The competition exposed the participants to a new type of learning. “The program was awesome,” said Hiller. “I had never learned a whole masechta [Talmudic tractate] before. That was the most exciting part for me.”
She would learn and take notes on her own and then consult an English translation when she needed help. “I gained so much experience and skills, and it definitely made me more confident,” said Hiller.
Michal Elias Bachrach, from the Stern Hebrew High School, won second place in the girls’ division, while Ariel Karp, from the Yeshivah of Flatbush, came in third.
Elie Weintraub, from the Yeshivah of Flatbush, and Yisrael Witty, from Yeshivat Or Chaim, tied for first place in the boys’ division. Elie’s twin brother, Hillel, won third place.
Rabbi Schwartz is confident the number of yeshivot participating in the program—18 this past year—will at least double in the near future.
The program has been named for Bronka Weintraub, z”l, a generous donor to Yeshiva University who endowed the Bronka Weintraub Chair in Talmud at RIETS, which is currently occupied by Rabbi Hershel Reichman. She was also a founder and benefactor of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.