Technion and friends celebrate Passover, Rube Goldberg style
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Technion and friends celebrate Passover, Rube Goldberg style

How hard is it to pour the Seder’s four cups of wine? Well, it’s a real challenge, as kids who participated in an annual holiday tech contest purposely make it harder than it needs to be

A staff turns into a snake in one of the Technion Rube Goldberg-style Passover projects (Courtesy)
A staff turns into a snake in one of the Technion Rube Goldberg-style Passover projects (Courtesy)

Jewish day schools in the Diaspora aim to teach kids about Judaism, nurture their Jewish identity, encourage their connection with Israel – and prepare them for a career.

Seen from that perspective, the annual Technion Rube Goldberg Passover machine is an answer to a Jewish day school’s prayers. In the contest, day schools from around the world submitted projects based on the “Rube Goldberg method” – coming up with the most complicated and convoluted engineering solution possible to solve a simple problem. It’s a great way to engage kids with Jewish concepts and experiences – and help them feel more comfortable with the science, physics, and mathematics skills that are essential to high-tech success, according to Dr. Marc N. Kramer, co-executive director of RAVSAK, which co-sponsored the contest with the Technion.

“We were able to create an amazing new opportunity for students to blend their commitments to Jewish learning with the sciences, foster a connection to post-secondary education,” said Kramer. “This prompted them to apply their knowledge of Passover traditions in a completely innovative way.”

Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg is the famous cartoonist known for his drawings and cartoons in which complicated gadgets perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways, such as Simple Ways to Turn Off a Light, a Self-Operating Toothpaste Squeezer, How to Get Rid of a Weekend Guest, and many others. Goldberg-style inventions have appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, and even inspired games like Mouse Trap, in which players have to construct a convoluted 3D structure to capture an opponent’s mouse playing piece.

Goldberg’s “inventions” worked because he had training as an engineer – and the modern Goldberg movement, adopted by schools and universities around the world (Purdue University has run an annual Goldberg machine competition since 2007), aims to continue the tradition of creating wild projects to illustrate the principles of engineering and physics to students. For the past several years, the Technion has run a similar contest around Passover time – with students developing apparatuses to perform simple tasks, like pouring wine, in a 25 steps or more.

This year, the Technion teamed up with RAVSAK, an umbrella group of US Jewish day schools, to sponsor a contest in which students would build a Rube Goldberg machine in the spirit of Passover. More than 600 students from 41 Jewish day schools in Europe, North America, Australia, and Africa participated in the contest.

The objective: Find a creative way to tell the story of Passover, ending up with the the raising of the curtain on a Seder plate. Using dominos, pulleys, cups of water, Lego, string, a wing and a prayer, students from Manhattan’s Abraham Joshua Heschel High School nabbed first place in the high school category for their depiction of a Goldberg-style Seder – with cups of wine poured, hands washed, matzahs broken, and afikomans found automatically via a complicated setup using everyday items that required substantial understanding of physics, mechanics and basic engineering to pull off.

All the top entries – including those from students in Weber High School in Atlanta, and junior high schools Bialik College in Melbourne, Australia, and Scheck Hillel Community School (North Miami Beach, Florida) were lauded for their “creativity, and for energy transfer aspects that were executed properly and efficiently,” the judges said.

“The Technion is thrilled to have launched this new initiative together with RAVSAK,” said Technion president Professor Peretz Lavie. “In an ever-changing world we need to find new and relevant ways to connect younger generations of the Jewish people with Israel. What better way to do so than a thought-provoking, fun competition that has a strong STEM education focus?”

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