The students on the mock trial team of Teaneck’s Torah Academy of Bergen County, who won the New Jersey Mock Trial Championship last month, won their biggest decision last week — they’ll be able to compete in the national championship in May.
This time, they didn’t argue their own case.
The finals of the National High School Mock Trial Championship were to be held Saturday, May 7, in Charlotte, N.C. The members of the Modern Orthodox day school team could not compete, if they progressed that far, because of Shabbat.
After initial resistance an agreement was reached, following lobbying by the New Jersey Bar Foundation, the New Jersey State Bar Association and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), and meetings between Torah Academy administrators and leaders of the national championship, including the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, which is sponsoring this year’s event. Preliminary rounds for the 44 participating state champion teams will be held on Thursday and Friday; the finals, if the Torah Academy is still eligible, will take place Saturday night after sundown.
“We’re delighted,” said Rabbi Yosef Adler, Rosh HaYeshiva of the school. “This sends an enormous message — that if you are committed to your position, that if you explain your position in a reasonable way, the majority will respond on your behalf.” Many people who advocated for the Torah Academy students and initiated the campaign on their behalf were not Jewish, Rabbi Adler pointed out. New Jersey’s bar association first proposed a change in the national mock trial championship schedule six years ago, when the Torah Academy’s team finished third in the state, presaging the logistics problem that developed this year. Torah Academy is believed to be the first team from a Jewish day school in the national competition.
This week, the 17 mock trial team members were preparing for the championship under Coach Yigal Marcus, a Torah Academy graduate and businessman, who had competed on the school’s mock trial team when he was a student.
To Rabbi Adler’s surprise, the issue became an international story. He got calls from Israel, from Texas, from Kentucky, from North Carolina, from a total of 69 news agencies. Reporters came to Torah Academy. “It literally took over the school,” the rabbi said. “I couldn’t get any work done.”
Torah Academy will send a delegation to the national championships of 50-75 people, including students, parents, teachers and faculty members, who will stay in a Charlotte hotel. They’ll bring “a sefer Torah, food,” prayer books and everything they will need for a traditional Shabbat observance, Rabbi Adler said.
The school’s success in the mock trial competition is another sign of the Orthodox community’s increasingly involvement in the general world, he noted. In recent years observant Jews have arranged accommodations in such events as the Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition, the Little League World Series and various state bar exams.