Matthew Kalman
Jerusalem-based foreign correspondent, author, filmaker

Israel’s international teen champions seek fresh recruits

Israel’s victorious team at the EurOpen debate competition in Stuttgart last November.
Israel’s victorious team at the EurOpen debate competition in Stuttgart last November.

Summer debating workshop grooms high-schoolers for European, global competitions

Do your kids have what it takes to represent Israel in global competition?

They can find out at the summer English-language debating workshops that help groom new recruits for Israel’s high school debating teams as they continue to notch up impressive successes against teams from around the world.

This year’s Jerusalem workshop will be held from June 30-July 5 at Pelech High School, Rehov Yehuda, Baka and is open to all teenagers entering grades 7-12. For details and registration complete this form or email yciworkshop@gmail.com.

Team Israel is selected from high school students who attend summer and after-school debating workshops in Jerusalem and Lod, as well as debate programs in schools run by the Education Ministry in cooperation with the Cohen-Idov Center for Debate and Rhetoric.

Coaches are drawn from Israel’s own top debaters, including a couple of world champions, as well as experienced coaches from abroad. Anyone can join.

Beginners cut their teeth at smaller European competitions before graduating to the grand world finals. They learn to marshall information, construct arguments, respond to quick-fire points from the opposition, and hone their English-language skills in a collegial but competitive atmosphere.

Last November, Israel’s national team were crowned European champions after winning the EurOpen debate competition for the first time in Stuttgart, Germany. Two years ago, Israel reached the semi-finals of the same competition.

The Israeli high school team also travels to regional competitions and the World School Debating Championships held in a different country each year. In recent years, Israeli teams have travelled to Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Qatar, Singapore and South Africa.  This year, the competition is scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka – though it may be moved following the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Colombo.

Maya Carmon, Tamir West, Omer Zilberberg and Tomer Zucker sailed to victory in Stuttgart over 37 teams from around the world, beating off challenges from students representing Germany, Turkey, Denmark, Netherlands, China and the USA.

The Israeli team was unbeaten in all 12 rounds of the competition – a rare achievement. It was even more impressive because three of the debaters do not have English as their mother tongue.

Maya, 16 and Omer, 17, are students at the Aleh High School for Arts and Sciences in Lod. Tomer, 17, attends Ohel Shem High School in Ramat Gan, and Tamir, 16, studies at the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem.

“Team Israel’s victory at the championship is an extraordinary achievement, both for the young men and woman who have worked so hard, as well as for all the many people in Israel without whom it could not have happened,” said their coach, Elijah Kochin. “It was a privilege to be present to witness the team making history.

Topics for debate in Stuttgart included whether nations should support the search for extra-terrestrial life, whether people have the right to offend others, and whether soldiers should be portrayed as heroes.

Teams are given the debate subjects – sometimes with just an hour to prepare – and told which side they represent. They often find themselves arguing the opposite of their private beliefs.

Jerusalem Summer Debate Workshop 2019, June 30-July 5, Pelech High School, Rehov Yehuda, Jerusalem. For more information complete this form or email yciworkshop@gmail.com.

About the Author
Matthew Kalman is the Executive Producer for Times of Israel Presents. He reports for international media from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza and all points in between. His books 'The Murder of Yasser Arafat' and 'Psychobibi' are published by DeltaFourth
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