Jewish mock trial team ordeal teaches valuable lessons for all

Jewish mock trial team ordeal teaches valuable lessons for all

A mock trial team from a Massachusetts Jewish day school got to compete for the national championship in Atlanta after coming close to abandoning its goal for religious reasons.
The organizers for the National High School Mock Trial Championship, which took place last week, originally scheduled Maimonides School, in Brookline, to compete on Shabbat. Despite efforts by the school to reschedule, the organizers said no.
The rebuff nearly scuttled Maimonides’ hopes for a national title after winning its state championship in March for the first time in the school’s history.
Without a scheduling change, the team resigned itself to competing until Friday of that week, then going home regardless of its standing.
“It was disappointing,” said Harry Chiele, a senior, and a team captain. “We were upset by it.”
But Maimonides’ luck began to change as news of its predicament leaked out.
The New York Times reported the story in its May 6 editions. That same day, the Associated Press reported Georgia State Court Judge Elizabeth Price faxed a letter to the Georgia Bar withdrawing her offer to serve as a mock trial judge. Price also withdrew from the board of governors of the state bar in protest of the NHSMTC’s obstinacy.
According to The Cutting Edge News, an online Jewish publication, these actions, along with a written protest from the Anti-Defamation League, and a furious e-mailing campaign, led Fulton County Chief Judge Doris L. Downs to issue an ultimatum: were a schedule adjustment not made, she warned, the NHSMTC would be locked out of the courthouse Friday and Saturday.
Within 15 minutes of Downs’ ultimatum, Maimonides received a new schedule; the team competed on Thursday and Sunday. Overall, it finished 20th in the competition.
“We decided that in the best interest of the 400-plus students involved … it was better to proceed with a flawed competition than no competition at all,” the NHSMTC’s chair said.
Rabbi Roy Rosenbaum, the Maimonides team’s faculty adviser, told the AP the school only wanted its boys to be treated fairly.
“It was always our hope that an organization attuned to the law would be sympathetic to the constitutional rights of the students,” he said. “We weren’t asking for preferential treatment.”
The other teams in the competition also got behind Maimonides, Chiele said.
“We met incredibly talented students from all backgrounds there,” he said. “Everyone knew we were the team from Massachusetts because of our kipas, and they were all so happy for us and supportive. It was such a fun experience.”

(Derek Kwait can be reached at