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Liat Clark d+emonstrates the car-train collision project for two Gildor judges, Dr. Koby Ben Barak and Anat Hafif.

Two suitcases filled with magnets, wires, and sensors were likely to raise suspicions on a flight to Israel, so the eight Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls students headed to the international Gildor Family Projects and Inventions Competition in Jerusalem arrived at the airport a full four hours before their flight.

Not only didn’t security bat an eye, but the rising juniors took first place in Gildor for engineering a system for avoiding car-train collisions on railroad tracks.

Gildor is sponsored by the Israel Center for Excellence in Education and challenges young Jewish science students to use creativity and knowledge to address a specified societal issue. The Ma’ayanot students faced representatives of four Israeli schools; they already had bested students from six American Jewish day schools in the semifinals, which were sponsored and overseen by the New York-based Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education.

As part of their science research elective course, taught by Noam Weinberger, the team from the Teaneck school – Liat Clark, Devorah Saffern, and Tova Sklar of Bergenfield; Sarah Hiller of Fair Lawn; and Sarah Weinberg, Kira Paley, Chaya Levin, and Ahuva Shafier of Teaneck – used photo sensors to detect the car and train, electromagnets to stop the train, and rubber rollers to move the car safely off the tracks.

Weinberger accompanied the girls on their four-day trip, as did Ma’ayanot’s assistant principal of student life, Elana Flaumenhaft, and Sara Levin, Chaya’s mother. Their trip was sponsored by CIJE and they were offered free accommodations at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a Jerusalem yeshiva for post-high school girls.

Flaumenhaft said the group was permitted to present its project in English to the panel of more than one dozen judges, many of whom had judged the American semifinals.

“They were very encouraging,” she said. “It was clearly an educational program in a warm atmosphere where they were interested in what the girls had learned.” Each judge specializes in a part of the invention, from electromagnets to sensors to aesthetics.

She believes that one deciding factor for the Bergen County group was that their project did not use any off-the-shelf solutions. Every component of their system was made from scratch after Weinberger taught them the basics of electricity and about sensors, and how to make and read schematics.

“Noam told me that when they first started the project they’d wait for his instructions. By the end, he was basically obsolete. They each had their job, knew their stuff, and had the confidence to go make it happen,” Flaumenhaft said. “For example, the solar panel wasn’t working right before the competition, so they worked together to fix it. Encouraging and enabling young women to have this kind of self-confidence is so important.”

Weinberger said the judges “were very impressed with the practicality and creativity of our team’s solution to the challenge. Equally impressive, I think, was the level of teamwork displayed, the way in which our students divided the work but successfully collaborated to produce an excellent solution, and the fact that our students built all of their sensors from scratch. I felt confident that they would win.”

Flaumenhaft added that winning the competition “was an amazing achievement for the girls to accomplish in a technical field. It is important for all young people, but especially young Jewish women, to realize they are capable of understanding what’s involved in such a challenge.”

One boy from an Israeli school was overheard saying, “Oh, they’re not going to win; they’re all girls.”

“It is not surprising that such an attitude is out there, but it’s a big deal that we are the first all-girls school to win,” Flaumenhaft said.

During their short trip, the Ma’ayanot students had a private tour of Yad Vashem and spent time in the Old City, where they broke their fast following the end of the Fast of 17 Tammuz, which fell this year on June 25. The following day they set up their working model and presentation poster at the Academy of Arts and Sciences, then competed on Thursday, June 27. They left for home that night because several of them were starting camp on Monday, July 1.

Next year, Weinberger again will teach a science research elective centering on a new Gildor competition challenge, which is yet to be announced.