Their parents have been separated since the summer before the twins started sixth grade. So each week the kids switch between Dina’s apartment on the Upper East Side and Jerry’s in midtown east. “I guess that’s one of the reasons why David and I are close, because we’re sort of in this together,” says Jack.
Neither twin drinks, smokes, does drugs, or even touches coffee. “I work on natural highs. Plus iced tea. I love iced tea,” says David. The abstinence is philosophical, to give more weight to the causes they champion—stay “100 percent pure,” says Jack, and more people will believe what you say. There’s absolutely nothing on the walls of the bunk-bed room they share with Daniel at their father’s place that would indicate teenagers had ever stepped foot in there, and they say their room at their mom’s is pretty much the same, just an abundance of trophies and books from their favorite authors, such as Ayn Rand. They don’t watch TV; they don’t have pop idols, nor do they seem to listen to music at all. (During a conference call with other JSA members, one kid suggested they do a debate about how Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video was the best video of all time, and Jack’s response was “I have no idea what that is.”)
Around the time their parents moved to separate apartments, the twins ran for and won the seventh-grade class co-presidency at Ramaz and quit going to Jewish day camp to get their first jobs (working at Jewish day camp). They took the test for Stuyvesant when their father suggested “they were outstripping where they were in eighth grade in terms of the way the school was dealing with the world,” Jerry says; the twins wanted to study Chinese, which Ramaz does not offer.
Their mother had hoped to keep them in yeshiva, where they were comfortable and had friends. “There was drama around that topic,” she says. But Dina works with children with special needs, and she’s developed a philosophy, she says, of “accept the child you have … I just want them to be mensches.”
Without telling me explicitly so, the twins seem to have divided up the tasks associated with handling me. Jack, the politician, becomes my main point person, the smiling face greeting me outside Stuyvesant at 3:30 p.m. after school every day. He has an air of attentiveness, walking out of his way to make sure I get to the subway safely, fretting over directions when he sends me uptown to the maze of construction surrounding Columbia University Medical Center to meet David at a research lab one night.
David is in charge of keeping me abreast of their mutating, ballooning schedule and gets me into the student-run journalism class he teaches with his Spectator co-editor-in-chief, Edric Huang, as a “visiting professional.” He’s loud and boisterous about his opinions, but more disciplined and anxious than Jack about time management; more than a few times, I look up from a conversation with Jack to discover David has disappeared somewhere to do his homework.
The first day I enter Stuy is the Monday afternoon before the early deadlines for a chunk of the eleven colleges they’re applying to. They want to go to the same school (they won’t say which for fear of offending the others), and their mind meld is such that they wrote out their lists independently and still wound up writing down the same schools, including their first choice.
The week’s ambitious lineup includes stuffing envelopes for the Spectator survey (David); getting tutored in Mandarin (both); tutoring other kids in computer science (David); doing college interviews (Jack); answering questions from kids who stop them in the hall about boycotting a new citywide essay test used to evaluate teachers that they think is ineffective (both); writing an editorial about boycotting the essay test (both); studying for various tests (both); going up to Columbia to finish twenty-page papers for the Intel Science Talent Search competition (David); mastering the tango in ballroom-dancing phys-ed (Jack); producing an issue of the Spectator (David); and judging a local debate tournament (both).
On top of all this, every time they have a free moment, it seems another one of their friends is asking them to edit his college essays. “It’s really uncomfortable,” says Jack. “Every kid whose essay I’ve read is applying to the same college as I am.”
“Some of the essays are so bad,” says David. “I mean, if I was smart, I would start a business editing college essays and charge $20.” He mulls over the business model out loud, and a lightbulb goes off, and he turns to me. “You should do it! We can only charge twenty bucks because we’re kids. You could charge 100 bucks! Five hundred bucks! Do you know how much money you could make?!”