This year, close to 300 students in 30 high schools across North America mastered significant portions of the Talmud—and competed for top awards—through Yeshiva University’s Bronka Weintraub High School Bekiut Program.
Now in its ninth year, the program seeks to better ground students in gemara by enhancing their textual skills. YU provides participating students with wordlists that help them tackle each chapter they learn and tests them throughout the year to assess their comprehension and comfort with the material. High scores are rewarded with money than can be used to build the students’ Judaica libraries, while the top three performers in each of the program’s four tracks receive cash prizes of up to $3,000.
This year, the Bekiut Program distributed more than $10,000 worth of Jewish books and $19,000 in cash prizes to high-achieving students. The program is named after Bronka Weintraub z”l, a founder and benefactor of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a generous donor to YU.
“As the Jewish proverb states, the goal of this program is very simply Torah l’shma[Torah learning for its own sake],” said Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, Rosh Yeshiva and assistant director of the semicha [rabbinic ordination] program at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaach Elchanan Theological Seminary, who founded the program. “However, there is a secondary goal—to improve the learning skills of high school students. I administered bechinas [entrance exams] to incoming students in YU’s Mazer Yeshiva Program for nearly 10 years, and those students who studied a greater quantity of material consistently performed better on their bechina and were more likely to succeed in Yeshiva. This program was developed to provide motivation for students while still in high school to improve their gemara skills by mastering large segments of Talmud.”
He added, “As I watch more and more participants in the Bekiut Program succeed at YU, I am convinced that we have built something of lasting importance.”
In the Boys’ Daf category, this year’s winners were Aaron Brooks of the Denver Academy of Torah, Yishai Eisenberg of the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva High School for Boys, and Yehuda Inslicht of DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys. In the Boys’ Amud category, Ryan Ripsman of Tanenbaum CHAT, Yaakob Bendayan of Yeshivat Or Chaim, and Yair Sternman of DRS scored the top three marks.
In the Girls’ Daf category, the winners were Shoshana Schreier of the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls, Tzipporah Machlah Klapper, a home-schooled student from the Boston area, and Batsheva Leah Weinstein of Ma’ayanot. In the Girls’ Amud category, Sara Teitelman of Yeshiva University’s Samuel H. Wang High School for Girls and Devory Lebowitz and Ayliana Teitelbaum, both of SKA, were winners.
“I think the program is amazing,” said Rabbi Netanel Javasky, a teacher at Tanenbaum CHAT in Toronto, Ontario. “It gives our most motivated students an opportunity and framework to learn Torah outside of their regular classes. As a result of the program, they get to interact with a great group of other students across all grade levels and act as great role models of Torah lishma in the school.”
“You see students who went from picking up an Artscroll and reading the English to learning the gemara without any translation,” said Rabbi Aaron Fleksher, a rebbe at DRS. “This program helped one of our students, Yehuda Inslicht, complete an incredible four mesechtas [volumes] this year—two through our curriculum, one through the YU Bekiut Program and another through a shiur [lecture] that Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz gives on YUTorah.org, which he encouraged other students to join with him.”
“I was interested in the program because I felt it gave me the opportunity to do some extra learning on the side,” said Inslicht. “The tests make the learning very structured which is an important way in which the program helped me grow and it was nice to learn the same mesechta on the same schedule as so many other high school students.”