Yeshiva Darchei Torah of Far Rockaway has long been known for its dedication to excellence in all academic areas. It is no surprise, therefore, that Darchei students have been participating in the Excellence 2000 (E2K) program since its inception, as one of the stated goals of the program is the development of diverse abilities among students-including independent thought and learning, motivation, scientific and mathematical thought and research abilities, as well as the ability to analyze and solve problems. It is a further testament to Darchei’s commitment to excellence that the yeshiva has been selected to be one of only three schools in the United States, and 12 worldwide, to compete in the prestigious Gildor Project, one of the highlights in a string of activities included in the E2K program.The Gildor Project is a technical competition based in Israel which has been extended to Jewish schools in the United States through the efforts of the Gruss Foundation’s Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education. The yearly contest requires teams to research, design, build, and implement an invention which addresses a given societal issue. This year, the task assigned reflects a grim reality in the State of Israel: Israel’s water sources can no longer meet the country’s demands. For the first time this year, the water level in the Kineret (Sea of Galilee) is expected to fall below the “black level.” If this happens, the damage done to the water quality will be irreparable.
The directors have therefore decided that this year’s Gildor Project assignment will focus on the development of an environmentally friendly (“green”) system for water desalination. With the Mediterranean Sea at its doorstep, and with Israeli companies leading the way in this technology, the search is on for improved and increased efficiency in this field.
“The finished product must be portable, assembled from no more than five parts weighing no more than 12 kilograms each, and powered by green energy,” says Rabbi Nachum Dinowitz, the yeshiva’s science program coordinator and advisor to its Gildor Project team, “and all this on a specific budget! It is certainly the most difficult science competition I’ve ever overseen participation in.”
YDT’s team is comprised of ten students from eighth and ninth grades, each of whom focused on an aspect of the project that best suited their personal area of interest. Participants were selected by Principal Rabbi Yitzchak Goldberg and Rabbi Dinowitz on the basis not only of their interest and ability in science, but their motivation and commitment to seeing the project through to completion. The team has been working on the project for an average of two hours a week throughout the school year. “The level of knowledge needed on an eighth and ninth grade level is astounding,” says Rabbi Dinowitz.
The boys spent the first several weeks of the project researching the existing technology of desalination. Two methods that seemed most promising for their purposes were reverse osmosis and thermal powered systems. The team ultimately chose the former option because it was more efficient, and could more easily be accomplished through “green” energy.
After months of effort and trial-and- error, the boys have accomplished their goal. Their finished device utilizes human energy to turn pedals which set a series of pulleys in motion. The pulleys activate a pump, which in turn provides the pressure needed to force water through a membrane at 800 psi (pounds per square inch). This membrane filters most of the salt from the water, and an additional membrane then purifies it further.
The project has provided a unique challenge to the boys. There is no substitute for the experience gained and skills learned while developing a sense of innovation, incorporating scientific principles, and engaging in teamwork.
“Whether we’re winning or losing [the competition], there’s a tremendous amount gained by the boys from the process,” Rabbi Goldberg emphasizes, “both in their own personal development, in terms of gaining self-confidence, and in terms of their academically and educationally [reaching] places they never thought they could reach.”
The semi-finals took place last Sunday at Yeshiva University and were attended by hundreds of people, including the boys, their parents, and teachers. Clad in light-blue shirts emblazoned with the logo of their ‘company,’ which they named Saline Extractors (SAL-E for short), the team described their project in detail with the help of a PowerPoint presentation and demonstrated its effectiveness. Each member of the team also made succinct and impressive remarks from the podium.
The participating Darchei students were Moshe Feitman, Avi Goodstein, Shlomo Keilson, Yitzchak Klapholtz, Aryeh Laufer, Naftoli Pfeiffer, Gavi Rosenbaum, Shlomo Satt, Meir Schwab, and Tzvi Smith. The other participating schools were the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy of Livingston, N.J. and the Jewish Educational Center of Elizabeth.