Micah Gill wins as Agenda Chair amid multiple controversies over election procedures

New Ma’aseh party gains foothold with Rosie Wolkind; record 29 candidates run for nine positions


BP Photo by Jordan Levine

CHALLENGE: Students cast ballots for nine Just Community positions in the foyer of the JCC May 14.

By Zev Kent, Staff Writer

A bevy of controversies erupted around school elections last month, as a political party emerged hoping to reform the Just Community and last-minute decisions by Agenda were overturned by Fairness.

On Thursday, May 14, every single Shalhevet student and most faculty members voted for committee leaders for the 2015-2016 school year. The contest featured the largest number of candidates ever in a Just Community election, with 26 candidates vying for nine positions.

However, the election itself became a major subject of controversy because of drama over how the ballot would be set up, who won, the margins of the winners and the way the votes were collected and announced.

The proposed political party, called “Ma’aseh,” was formed two weeks before the election and wanted its candidates to run as an all-or-nothing slate. The Agenda Committee said no and also did not identify Ma’aseh candidates on the ballot, angering party leaders.

Outgoing Agenda Chair Max Helfand defended the decision.

“The leaders of the Just Community have never faced an issue like this,” said Max during a public Fairness hearing held just before election day. “We should not make a change that the Just Community and the students in it are not ready to make.”

Ma’aseh, which means “action” in Hebrew, was formed in late April by juniors Will Bernstein and Yonah Feld. The pair created a platform of two ideas on which its candidates would run: transparency and accountability.

Will and Yonah said they looked at the people who were running and asked certain candidates to join their party. Will said they considered everyone who was running and even a few people who weren’t, and decided who to invite based on who they thought would agree with their platform.

They then asked Agenda for permission to run as an all-or-nothing slate in the May 14 election.

A fierce and sometimes hostile debate spread among the student body about whether a political party was a good idea. Some people who were running for office were upset that they were had not been invited to join the party. Others were upset that Ma’aseh candidates would run as an all-or-nothing slate, putting non-slate candidates at a disadvantage.

But Will said previous elections had been popularity contests and winning candidates had been ineffective.

“With our coalition, we told the student body what they can expect from us,” said Will. “Now they can hold us accountable to our ideals, because they know what they are.

“We want to create a Bill of Rights for the Just Community constitution. We need to set some standards so the Fairness Committee can make decisions based on the text that the Just Community was founded on.”

Will ran for Agenda Chair, Eric Bazak for Agenda vice chair and Rosie Wolkind for Agenda secretary. Kian Margzhar and Henry Wineburgh ran for co-chairs of Fairness.

All of them were defeated except Rosie.

Instead, Micah Gill, this year’s vice chair, was elected Agenda Chair. Alec Fields was elected vice chair, defeating Bennett Schneier by a very small margin, with Eric Bazak coming in third.

Jonah Gill and Jacob Dauer were elected Fairness co-chairs. In addition to Kian marghzar and Henry Wineburgh, they also defeated Derek Orenshein and Josh Joffe.

Laly Chriki and Boaz Willis were elected as co-chairs of the Student Activities Committee (SAC) – though Boaz has been in Israel this semester and campaigned via internet. Laly run with Rachel Sentchuk and Boaz with Noah Rothman, but voters could vote for any two candidates, so the winning pair had not run as a team.

Jordan Levine defeated Maayan Waldman for SAC vice president, and Ariel Cohen defeated Yonatan Khalil and Nicole Miles for SAC secretary.

In the days leading up to the vote, Agenda Committee held a Town Hall about Ma’aseh’s requests. Student opinion was sharply divided as to what Agenda should do.

Agenda posted a poll on Schoology to help it decide whether the slate system would be allowed, although it did not promise to abide by the poll’s results.

Twenty-nine students voted in favor of letting the Ma’aseh party exist and run as one slate; 35 were against the idea of a party at all; and 27 thought that students should be allowed to run with a coalition in terms of ideals, but not as an all-or-nothing slate.

Max Helfand, Just Community advisor Mr. Roy Danovtitch, and Fairness Co-chair Goldie Fields met and came to what they called a compromise conclusion that fit the vote of the students: that the students could run and campaign as coalition members, but that the ballot would not mention the Ma’aseh party.

“The coalition idea is out of step with the Just Community tradition,” said Max in an interview with the Boiling Point. “We wanted to make a decision based on what the community was ready for. If the students felt they were ready for a change, we would’ve made the change.”


But that was not the end of the drama.

The day before elections, 29 speeches had to be crammed into a special assembly lasting one hour. The usual post-speeches debate and questions involving Fairness and Agenda chair candidates were cancelled due to time constraints.

Election day came and students lined up to vote for who they thought should be the new leaders of the Just Community. According to Mr. Danovitch and other observers including representatives of the Boiling Point, more people than usual voted.

But hoping for 100 percent participation, Goldie Fields – who was in charge of the ballots – used her cellphone to call everyone who didn’t vote. If they couldn’t come to the lobby, she took their votes over the phone.

That meant not all voting was anonymous. It also meant people were voting for or against Goldie’s brother – Alec Fields, running for Agenda vice chair – with her on the phone line.

Some said that might have influenced them to vote for Alec, who in the end defeated Bennett Schneier by only two votes.

Bennett considered taking Goldie to the Fairness Committee for influencing the vote in favor of Alec and compromising its validity. He decided not to, but would not say why.

Alec was disappointed.

“If Bennett felt that he had a Fairness case, then it is unfortunate that he did not bring one,” said Alec. “Ultimately it was his decision not to bring one, for whatever reason.”

There was more controversy after the votes were counted. For the first time in school history, Agenda released some of the vote totals — for the winning and first-runner-up candidates only — to the Boiling Point, which published them immediately on its website.

It was the first time this had been done, and candidates had not been told in advance that it would happen. Some elections were extremely close, some were moderately close and others saw huge gaps between winners and losers.

This immediately started another huge controversy and was taken up at a subsequent Town Hall. Many felt that the information was not important enough to be worth causing hurt feelings and embarrassment among candidates who had lost.

The numbers were taken down by Boiling Point faculty adviser Mrs. Joelle Keene, after the BP’s Editorial Board could not agree on how to handle them. Rabbi Segal had e-mail several seniors expressing his dismay, within hours of he and they leaving together on the senior Poland-Israel trip.

“There was a big debate amongst the Editorial Board about what to do,” said Editor-in-Chief-designate Eric Bazak. “In the end Mrs. Keene took the vote totals down, because Rabbi Segal was very upset at the seniors on Boiling Point and she didn’t want there to be tension on the Poland-Israel trip.”

They had not been reposted as of June 11. Students’ attention turned to finals, and the matter seemed to have been tabled until the start of next year.

Micah Gill thought the excitement had been a good thing.

“I think that these elections were good for the Just Community,” Micah said. “The Just Community is great in theory and I’m glad that everyone was able to turn this into a thing that they can take advantage of and take pride in.”

Related: Fairness Committee sides with Dano in public case filed by Feld