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It’s tough, so don’t forget take some time off

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Torah Academy Girls High School matriculant Rachaeli Hurwitz, who got five distinctions in matric last year, says COVID-19 made being a student leader difficult, especially at the beginning of her Grade 11 year in 2021.

“We didn’t have physical school at all,” she says. “We were still on Zoom, but we managed to organise programmes. For Shavuot, we made cheesecake on Zoom.” In another Zoom programme, a makeup artist taught everyone how to apply makeup correctly.

“Then, we had the issue of Shabbaton. We were so sad about missing Shabbaton in 2020, we had to do something about it! Within a week, we had a three-day programme. We just kept it open-air and COVID-19 safe. We had a hike on the first day and a seudah shlishit and concert on the Shabbos. On the Sunday, we had a motivational speaker, a colour run, and a braai. It was amazing.”

Hurwitz got As for most of her subjects since Grade 6, even getting a badge for an overall mark of 80%, and going through to the second round of every maths Olympiad she participated in.

“It turns out they weren’t lying when they said matric is hard,” she says. “But I tried to maintain my marks. For one assignment in CAT [computer applications technology], I got 99% for the practical assessment task. I was proud. I spent hours of work on it.”

She also enjoyed the other two subjects she chose – business studies and physical science.

Hurwitz says that in spite of the huge workload, she tried to take part in as many of the school’s programmes as possible. “What’s been amazing is having rabbis and rebbetzins come talk to a small group of girls every Wednesday night.”

People strike the right note when they call Torah Academy “the school of unity”, Hurwitz says. “In matric, I formed close connections with a lot of those in the younger grades. It’s quite sad because I didn’t realise I wanted to be friends with the younger grades until matric, when it was too late.”

Hurwitz says high school has always been a rollercoaster of emotions – “understanding new, vast amounts of information, discovering passions, and finding ways to cope with immense pressure. This was only heightened with the threat of COVID-19. There were undoubtedly educational downfalls to the e-learning era we went through, but the greatest loss was time spent with friends.

“In spite of the increased workload, matric was a lot more bearable because I was surrounded by friends and the entire school. Once again, I was able to meet a friend for coffee, I could join a gathering of girls from school without worry, and I could see my teachers face to face, without masks and with a smile. It’s funny how much I missed the teachers saying, ‘Please stop talking’, after so long hearing them repeatedly asking us to interact with them on Zoom.”

Hurwitz advises this year’s matrics to relax from time to time. “As a self-diagnosed OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] overachiever, I can say that after writing four sets of exams in a year, you’ll undoubtedly experience burnout. The only way around it is to have some biological relation to Superman, or to choose to take some time off and enjoy it guilt-free.”

Hurwitz plans to go to seminary in Israel this year. “The programme starts only in September, in accordance with the northern hemisphere. To fill the time, I hope to work with a school to create informal activities and permeate Judaism into the environment.”

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