A FIRST for Israeli students

Ellen Futterman

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

A FIRST for Israeli students

As big deals go, the FIRST Robotics Competition taking place this weekend in St. Louis is huge, with 11,000 students from 29 countries expected to compete this weekend in St. Louis. Among them will be a team of 17 tenth-graders from Yeshivat AMIT Kfar Ganim in Israel. The team has already won an Engineering Inspiration Award at the FIRST Robotics Competition in Israel and will be competing for additional awards here.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. It sponsors several competitions for young people, hoping to motivate them to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering.

Essentially, how it works is that teams of high school students compete to build robots weighing up to 120 pounds that can complete a task, which changes every year. Teams are given a standard set of parts and the game details at the beginning of the year, and are given six weeks to construct a competitive robot, that can operate autonomously as well as when guided by wireless controls, to accomplish the game’s tasks.

All robotics teams compete at local and regional events in cities throughout the world. Then, the top performing teams at these events move on to the FIRST Championship, which will take place at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis Thursday through Saturday.

The Israeli team coming to St. Louis was cited with the Engineering Inspiration Award for its inclusion of special education students and for its extraordinary efforts to make robotics accessible to youngsters with special needs. On Shabbat, the Israeli team will turn control over to a group of volunteers assembled via an online forum. An Israeli team member posted a query seeking volunteers to operate the team’s robot during Shabbat, and a host of well-qualified volunteers jumped at the chance.

For more information about the 2011 FIRST Championship in St. Louis, go to www.usfirst.org.

News of note

Congratulations to Tova Braitberg of Olivette, who was recently named concertmaster at the Muny Opera. Braitberg, 26, has been playing violin at the Muny since she was 18.

She explained that as concertmaster, she will be first chair violin in the Muny’s orchestra and play all the violin solos, which, she says, occur quite a bit in musical theater.

“It’s a very romantic genre so you can count on sweet violin solos to evoke that romance,” she said.

Braitberg, who graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School and Webster University, explained that both of her parents played for orchestras on Broadway and at the Muny. In fact, her uncle, David Braitberg, was concertmaster at the Muny years ago.

Initially, Tova Braitberg didn’t think she wanted to pursue music as a career. “I was taking all kinds of courses in college and didn’t have enough time to practice. I realized then that I couldn’t live my life without spending a lot of time playing the violin,” she said.

Although she hasn’t ruled out playing in a symphony one day, Braitberg loves playing for shows at the Muny. She and her father, Mischa Braitberg, also run a music business called Elegant Ensembles, which provides music for special events and weddings.

Tova Braitberg explains that what she loves about playing the violin is the emotional connection between her and the audience. “I really love the connection of playing for an audience and playing before strangers and moving them and also moving myself with the music,” she said. “I feel it’s a privilege to play this beautiful music that some fantastic composer composed. It makes me so happy.”

Photo exhibit chronicles


Cultural Leadership journey

Last year, Zoe Krause, a member of Cultural Leadership’s Class Six, chronicled through pictures the group’s three-week summer trip to the East Coast and the South. Many of those pictures appeared in the Jewish Light’s OY! Magazine-Simcha edition last September. On Sunday, from 3 to 5 p.m., the community will get the chance to view Zoe’s black-and-white photos up close at a free reception at the JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur.

For those unfamiliar with Cultural Leadership, this nonprofit trains St. Louis area teens to be community organizers, social justice activists and “troublemakers of the best kind.” Each year a group of up to 36 racially diverse high-school sophomores and juniors in the metropolitan region apply to participate in this yearlong, educational program. Cultural Leadership teaches students and their families how to build a positive coalition of young people who feel empowered to speak out against social injustice.

For more information about the show, call 314-432-5700. For more information about Cultural Leadership, go to www.culturalleadership.org.