Twin (Jewish) Titans of Stuyvesant High School

New York Magazine Profile – Twin (Jewish) Titans of Stuyvesant High School: Jack and David Cahn’s Mission to Conquer Stuyvesant — “Four years ago, when they felt they’d reached the academic ceiling of the Ramaz School, a private modern-Orthodox yeshiva on the Upper East Side, they decided to try testing into Stuyvesant, which has the highest cutoff score for the entrance exam of the city’s nine specialized public high schools. Their mission: Divide and conquer. And they’ve mostly conquered. Jack is in student government, David got the newspaper; plus, they’re a formidable debate team and passionate agitators for a variety of causes. They have A averages; study Mandarin (they also speak Hebrew and Spanish); have lobbied successfully to audit a class during their lunch period and audited several others at New York Law School on their own time; have held national positions with the Junior State of America; are Huffington Post columnists; were intern supervisors for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney; and have started a business, Guerrilla Joe, selling ad space on the sides of coffee carts throughout the city.

–They’re incredibly easy to spot in the Stuyvesant hallways; the school has a largely Asian student population, and the Cahns are two of the only students among 3,300 who wear yarmulkes every day. They credit their notoriety, in part, to the “natural advantage of being ‘the Jewish twins,’ ” says David. “By the third day of school, I would say that we were probably the single-most-identifiable people in our entire grade of 800.” Two months into being at Stuy, they ran for president and vice-president of the freshman class—“The last time we’ll ever run together,” says Jack, because it negates the advantage of having a running mate with a different voter base. The election didn’t get them power, but it did make them known. Jack says they had more posters up in the school than all the other fifteen tickets combined. “Everybody saw our faces.”

–…The clock strikes 2 p.m. They’re up with a bolt. They don’t mean to be rude, but it’s Friday, and they’ve only got four more hours before sunset to use their cell phones and computers and ride the subway before Sabbath starts…. Around the time their parents moved to separate apartments, the twins ran for and won the seventh-grade class co-presidency at Ramaz and quit going to Jewish day camp to get their first jobs (working at Jewish day camp). They took the test for Stuyvesant when their father suggested “they were outstripping where they were in eighth grade in terms of the way the school was dealing with the world,” Jerry says; the twins wanted to study Chinese, which Ramaz does not offer.

–Their mother had hoped to keep them in yeshiva, where they were comfortable and had friends. “There was drama around that topic,” she says. But Dina works with children with special needs, and she’s developed a philosophy, she says, of “accept the child you have … I just want them to be mensches.” The way they tell it, their “debate careers” almost weren’t. Most debate tournaments happen on Friday nights or Saturday during the day, conflicting directly with the Sabbath. Since they can’t use any transport other than walking, if those tournaments are out of the city, they often have to travel ahead of the team and find a local parent or rabbi who’s willing to put them up overnight; with their father’s encouragement, they’ve been making those arrangements themselves since they were 15½. They also can’t “flow,” in debate parlance—take notes on their opponents’ case to refute it point by point—and had to spend a year and a half losing many debates they entered before learning how to do so in their heads.” [New York Magazine]

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