Out of 1,000 students in 50 countries who participated in this year’s Jewish High School Math League (JHSML) International Olympiad, only one got all 15 questions in the allotted 45 minutes.
He’s 17 and he once wanted to be a rabbi. His name is Max Weinstein, he’s a math whiz and he’s already on to the next thing.
“It doesn’t feel that monumental, because it’s just something that I’d already done,” he said of the test that he’d taken a month earlier. “I guess it’s nice to know that I did that.”
The JHSML was founded by two high school-aged brothers named Simcha and Leib Malina, based in Dallas. They seek to promote the study of mathematics among Jewish students, and the contest, which just concluded its second year, is their primary vehicle. In addition to the individual scores, they calculate team winners by adding up the top four scorers at each school.
Last year, Weinstein’s school, the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, finished fourth; this year, third.
“We were really really proud to be number three,” said Marlene Gefter, head of the JBHA math department.
Weinstein, who lives in Lower Merion, is in Gefter’s 12th grade BC Calculus class, his second year in a row with Gefter.
“Max is a remarkable student,” she said. He is, in Gefter’s telling, “outgoing,” “considerate,” “enthusiastic,” “generous” and “caring,” to start. Not a bad parent-teacher conference report. As for his test score, Gefter said that she’d heard that “apparently, the last problem was a killer.”
Last year, any JBHA student who wanted to could take the test; this year, only honors students participated, with a bit of extra credit to sweeten the deal. Still, “they thought it was fun,” Gefter said.
Weinstein remembers the first inkling of his math prowess years before, when he’d find himself far ahead of his peers in the math packets they were given. Still, he noted, he wasn’t considering mathematics as a discipline. In eighth grade at Torah Academy, Weinstein took the Pennsylvania Mathlete test, and didn’t quite score quite as high as he hoped. That sparked his desire to improve, he said.
“Bit of a competetive spirit was probably at play there,” he said.
Weinstein, who skipped seventh grade, came to love math even more, with a special place in his heart for geometry. One summer, Gefter said, he taught himself calculus, and though the school couldn’t give him credit to skip the class, she could tell early on that the class wasn’t entirely necessary for him. Though she offered to let him simply take the class test in the library on his own time, he declined.
He joked that he became, to a degree, “the annoying kid in class who would always raise his hand and ask weird questions,” but Gefter stressed that his help to her and to his classmates is appreciated.
In the near future, Weinstein will study mathematics at the University of Chicago, but he’ll first spend a year at Orayta, a Jerusalem yeshiva.