Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Team SAR crowned champions at the 2019 National Personal Finance Challenge. (Credit: Council for Economic Education)

Team SAR preparing for their final presentation. (Credit: Rabbi Moshe Drelich/Council for Economic Education)


Adam Nerenberg could not have imagined that his passion for economics would lead to such immediate success, particularly while he was still in high school. As a junior, he was caught up in the clutches of standardized tests and AP classes. Flash forward to early May and he was leading the SAR High School Economics Club to victory in the National Personal Finance Challenge. On top of that, Nerenberg and his fellow team members each walked away with a $2,000 prize.

The National Personal Finance Challenge is an academic event that gives “an opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge of personal finance by competing with other students across the nation.” The competition is grueling. Various preliminary rounds are held in each state. Out of 18,000 students who participated at the onset, only 21, four person teams made the finals hosted in Lincoln, Nebraska. There, the teams were given a fictitious prompt, depicting the financial status of an American family. They were tasked with presenting a well thought out plan of action to improve the family’s financial conditions. Each team was given only two hours to design their plan. After an opening session, three teams were chosen to present to a panel of expert judges with professional experience in finance. Then, one team was crowned the winner. And to the victors went the spoils.

After receiving their financial scenario, team SAR snapped into action. They procured graphs, calculated meaningful figures and formed a financial blueprint for the family. Team member Darius Gross was especially proud of the groups ability to adapt and present their ideas. “We stayed up pretty late the night before doing practice prompts. I tended to do research on insurance calculations and tuition. Since the given information was unpredictable, we played it by ear. The key was communication and being clear how each aspect of the plan fit into the larger picture,” Gross said. 

After passing through the initial round, they then presented in front of an auditorium packed with economic experts. “All four of us really worked together to put together a very solid financial plan for the fictitious family; we discussed retirement goals, how the family could handle their debts and assets, created a yearly budget for them, and discussed insurance options for the family,” Nerenberg explained. Pleased with their performance, the team waited to see if their months of hard work had paid off. After conferring with each other, the panel crowned the SAR personal finance team the 2019 national champions.

SAR’s victory is the result of hard work and extensive planning. As a freshman at SAR High School, Adam Nerenberg approached Director of General Studies Gloria Schneider, in an attempt to further his knowledge of business and finance via extracurricular activities. Working hand in hand with the administration, Nerenberg and Schneider formed the SAR Economics Club and in 2019 entered the team into the National Personal Finance Challenge. This competition was meaningful to Schneider. She explained that “learning personal finance as young adults is important. Whether it is college tuition or day to day costs. Though the competition did somewhat fall into our laps, its subject matter was valuable as well.”

The personal finance team was made up of four members: Team captain Adam Nerenberg, Darius Gross of Englewood, Eric Ajdler of Manhattan and Zachary Rothstein of Queens. From the beginning, the group had a glaring challenge in their quest for success. Only one member had completed an AP Economics course and two of the members had never studied economics formally. Committed to forming a knowledgeable team, they made up for their lack of traditional academic experience by holding weekly meetings led by Nerenberg. “The preparation was really difficult, with lots of hard work. But we valued this, partly because of the goal of the national championship, but also because we thought the experience and competition would better us.” Guiding the team along each step, Schneider procured an additional advisor for the team, Sandy Kahn. Khan is the vice president and CFO of the materials distribution company, Empire Resources. Having a background in personal finance she helped the team navigate the rigorous content and prepare for their presentation and the Q&A portion of the event.

The team’s greatest challenge was navigating Jewish obligations while participating in the event. SAR faculty and trip chaperone, Rabbi Moshe Drelich, attested to the potential religious difficulties the team faced and the students ability to adapt to the challenging environment. “Observance issues which required addressing were coordinating kosher meals with the event hosts and arranging Kriyat HaTorah for Mincha. For Thursday night dinner, SAR students did a magnificent job, clearly explaining what keeping kosher is about—since we did not partake in the evening dinner buffet. One student in particular confidently explained the function of a kippah,” said Drelich.  .”

For Shabbat, the team stayed at the home of Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Mendel Katzman. Drelich praised the Omaha communities hospitality, stating that “Shabbat was easy. We were hosted like royalty.” For both the team and the Omaha community, Shabbat was a unique moment. As team member Zach Rothstein put it “it made me appreciate the ease in which we practice Judaism in New York as well as the privilege to be able to have an authentic Shabbat thousands of miles from home.” The minyanim were uplifted by the youthful spirit of the students, and the overall Shabbat atmosphere benefited from the enthusiastic team fresh off a victorious run.

Co-principal Rabbi Jonathan Kroll feels that the Economics Club’s success is indicative of SAR’s educational spirit. To Rabbi Kroll, “Encouraging student initiative is the best way to promote passion and excellence. Providing an environment that fosters innovation allows students to explore previously untapped interests. The success of the Economics Club is a product of the incredible collaborative spirit that animates the dynamic between students and faculty at SAR. As an educator, I’m excited to be a part of that environment.”

With the experience gained from their victory, the SAR High School Economics Club hopes to return to the Personal Finance Challenge with a revamped roster. They plan on taking on new competitions as well, specifically the National Economics Challenge. With earned excellence comes justified expectations. The SAR High School Economics Club is ready to take on those expectations head on. From the talent and dedication that they have displayed, they seem destined to thrive in the years to come.

By Dov Levy


Dov Levy is a senior at SAR High School and a summer intern for The Jewish Link.

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