Photo by Andrew Geller

FOCUS: Robotics team member Jaden Silver studied the wiring for Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha on Day 3 of the FIRST Robotics Competition, held this year at DaVinci High School in El Segundo.

‘Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha’ picks up cubes, cones and praise for Robotics Team

Team makes it to second round, misses third round by just one point; also wins prize for ‘Gracious Professionalism’

Shalhevet’s Robotics Team placed 11th out of 44 teams and also reached a competitive milestone with their robot, Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha, which could pick up cubes and then place them on shelves, and pick up cones and place them on poles. 

After working on their own to design and build the robot, Shalhevet’s student engineers competed on the weekend of March 17 at DaVinci High School in El Segundo at the FIRST Robotics Los Angeles Regional competition. FIRST is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

According to team captain Evan Beller, the group’s 20 members worked in the Robotics Lab about 15 hours a week over nine weeks in from late January into March to build the robot after receiving a prompt from FIRST.

Covid reset the entire team. All the experienced upperclassmen who helped me had graduated or left the team, so there was a big knowledge gap.

— Evan Beller, Robotics captain

They made it to the playoffs, in which the top 24 teams competed, for the first time since 2020. The team was then designated one of eight “Alliance captains,” meaning they would get to pick which other team to work with during competitions and be the captain of their own alliance. 

“I haven’t been able to make it to the playoffs since my freshman year when we won the regionals,” said Evan. “Every year, we have always been selected to join an alliance, but this year, we chose our alliance, which is a huge milestone for the team.”

In the game that decided if Shalhevet would move to the next round, for a reason that is unclear their robot broke with about 10 seconds left, and about three feet from crossing a line that would have given Shalhevet the two points needed to win the round. In the end, the team lost by one point, 87–88, and were eliminated from further competition.

TEAM: Captain Evan Beller, bottom left, and other members of the Robotics Team posed with Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha in the competition hall in El Segundo March 19. (Photo by Andrew Geller)

The Robotics team changes the name of its robot each year. This year it was Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha, and in past years there have been other difficult-to-pronounce names, such as Menachem Mendel and Pach Ashpa. Team members said they like to choose these hard Jewish names so that the competition announcers say them wrong. 

Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha’s main feature was a large attachment in front that allowed it to efficiently pick up and transport cubes, while also being able to suck up cones.

Since the competition was held over a weekend, Shabbat prevented the team from competing in some of the qualifying matches. Fortunately for Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha, Culver City High School’s robotics team – Team 702, the Bagel Bytes – usually meets with the Shalhevet team throughout the year, trading advice and learning how to operate Shalhevet’s robot.

This year they met twice, so the Bytes were able to lend a hand and operate Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha on Friday night and Saturday.

If I didn’t know how to do something, someone was always happy to come over and teach me.

— Eliana Deitcher, 10th grade

Shalhevet team members also won “Gracious Professionalism” pins, honoring good sportsmanship and professionalism in the competition. 

 “Even though we are competing against each other, we are not working against each other,” Evan said.

Additionally, Shalhevet team members tried out to lead the National Anthem for the entire competition, and won. Five Choirhawks on the team – Talia Davoudian, Eliana Davoudian, Beatrice Green, Ella Nadel and Zion Schlussel – sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“We tried out, we won against like seven other people who tried out,” said junior Talia Davoudian, who is the team’s business captain and social media director. “It was a proud moment for us to be able to walk on stage and hear them say, ‘the Shalhevet Firehawks!’”

Shalhevet’s robotics team has not had a mentor who worked hands-on with the robot since at least 2018. This year, the adviser was math and economics teacher Mr. Nick Simmons, who assisted mostly with logistics and was not involved with building the robot. 

ACHIEVEMENT: The robot Rakhamaiella Hatzlakha resting in ‘the pit’ at DaVinci High School during the Los Angeles Regional FIRST competition for high school robotics. (Photo by Andrew Geller)

The team prepared not only by building their robot, but also with learning sessions led by Evan to teach everyone the basics of robotics and to ensure that everyone was knowledgeable about the equipment and their roles.

“It’s very difficult leading a team who’s primarily rookie,” Evan said. “Covid reset the entire team. All the experienced upperclassmen who helped me had graduated or left the team, so there was a big knowledge gap.”

Despite that, many robotics members had very positive experiences, both on the robotics team and with the captains.

“I liked how everyone helped each other out, how if I didn’t know how to do something someone was always happy to come over and teach me.” Eliana Deitcher, a 10th grader on the team, said.

Evan has also started a community outreach initiative to help encourage Jews in the Los Angeles area to participate in STEM-related fields. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and is a big part of what robotics is all about. 

One event was in April 2022, when the Shalhevet Robotics team went to Yachad, an organization for Jews with disabilities, and worked with them to create balloon-powered cars – small cardboard cars that move when pushed by a deflating balloon attached to the back. They also taught them about STEM and encouraged their interest in the subject. 

Evan said the team is planning more outreach events in the future, and also plans on working with new materials to work to improve their skills in the off-season.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the recognition Shalhevet’s robotics team received for good behavior. Team members received pins in recognition for being “gracious professionals,” but they did not receive the Gracious Professionalism Award, which includes a plaque and was won by a different team.

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