Orthodox Jewish Robotics Team to Compete in International Competition

Sometimes, it only takes one person to believe in you in order to create massive change. For a bunch of young students, Yitav Coriat is that person.

By day, he’s a middle school teacher and after hours, he dedicates his time to helping kids across the city learn robotics. He formed a team called Ranger in 2018, which is comprised of nine students, both boys and girls, from five different schools across Jerusalem. Next year, they aim to have 15 students from seven schools ranging from 11 to 14-years-old.

With the help of PICO Kids, a Jerusalem-based organization that engages youth in STEEM (Science Technology Engineering Entrepreneurship & Math) education through hands-on, values-based learning, they received the resources to help those kids build robots.

They use science and coding to design a robot with no instructions. They build and program the robot to solve missions — this is what they’re tested on during robotics competitions.

They also work on a problem that exists in their area. For example, in Israel, floors are heated using the warmth of hot water in pipes that go throughout the home. In order to save energy, the Ranger kids came up with an idea to create one boiler and repurpose hot water from the shower and then lead it into the system of under-floor heating, so the water used during a shower won’t just be wasted afterward.

It’s not just an idea, either. They do actual work — interviewing experts, making a prototype and having concrete numbers that show how their plan would work.

Their idea and their robot got them to second place at the Israeli national competition earlier this year — the highest a Jerusalem team has ever placed. The first place team goes to Houston, Texas to compete in a world competition and the second place teams from around the world go to Australia. So, this week (June 29-July 2), Ranger is headed to Australia to compete against the best teams internationally.

Debra Kaplan, an olah, or woman who made aliyah, has a son on the team. She credits Coriat with inspiring her son both academically and in terms of his character. They learn pre-calc with him and so much science and math outside of the classroom. “It’s really a sight to behold,” she says. “They come in 6-8 hours a week or more. It’s like a youth movement, they’re an amazing team. They walk the younger kids home if they need. The teamwork goes beyond the robotics room.”

Those core values extend to their religious observance. They have never compromised Shabbat in order to attend a competition. The upcoming competition in Australia takes place over multiple days, one of those days being Shabbat. The officials have made accommodations for the team, so they don’t have to compete on Shabbat. They were told that this will not affect their performance in any way.

During the competition, their robot is tasked with different missions. “The more tasks the robot can perform more efficiently, the more points they get,” Kaplan explains. They will also explain their idea for the new water system.

The goal is more than a win though, it’s to meet teams from all over, connect and for Jerusalem to simply have a presence on the world stage. “We want to learn from the other teams and teach them, too,” Coriat explains. “We want to show what it means to be from Yerushalayim and to be religious.”

“As a parent, the mentoring is so impressive,” Kaplan continues. “Yitav really represents such a positive side of what it means to be a dedicated citizen of Jerusalem, giving to others and wanting to share with others. That’s really what it’s like here. It’s very moving.” 

To help support Ranger on their mission, please learn more and donate here.


UPDATE: Since our article went live, Ranger competed in the Australian competition. At the event, they earned the Rising All-Star award. This award celebrates a team that the judges notice and expect great things from in the future. Plus, on Shabbat when the team wasn’t there to compete, they set up a special booth that educated anyone walking by about what Shabbat is and why they couldn’t be there throughout the day on Saturday. They are looking forward to more events to demonstrate their work (and continue to make a Kiddush Hashem) in the future.

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