Hundreds of kids and teens were jumping out of their chairs in the auditorium of SAR High School in Riverdale—not for a celebrity or a concert, but for the closing ceremony of the Dr. Shimshon A. Isseroff Chidon HaTanach National Finals, which took place on Sunday, May 1. The national round of the youth international bible competition, which is hosted by the Jewish Agency for Israel and has been attracting middle and high school students from across the country for decades, was finally back in person after two years of virtual events. The Chidon was named in honor of veteran Jewish educator Dr. Shimshon Isseroff in 2020 for his work on behalf of the Chidon; he passed away in July 2021 in Teaneck, at age 100.
With proud parents and teachers in tow, the students beamed as they showed off all of their hard work and studying during the day’s festivities. Team spirit was electric as everyone rooted for classmates and friends. “It’s a really big deal to be back in person,” said Rabbi Dovi Nadel, coordinator of the USA Chidon HaTanach. “Today felt like not just a competition, but a day to celebrate these kids’ accomplishments; they all worked so hard to be here, and their fluency in Tanach is unlike any other.”
Rabbi Nadel was referring to the entirety of Sunday’s festivities, which not only included the bible competition itself, but a learning program and siyum for the finalists. In SAR’s gymnasium, the 250 finalists present were paired off for chavruta-style learning, and afterwards were invited to celebrate everything they had learned. “It was really a beautiful sight,” Rabbi Nadel shared.
The momentum only continued to grow from there, as the finalists gathered in the auditorium to hear the top scores and find out who would be representing the U.S. in the international competition, taking place next year in Israel. Before winners were announced, the entire crowd, which overflowed into the walkways and lobby, participated in an energetic Kahoot quiz complete with 10 tough questions from throughout the Tanach—the Torah (five books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). The first-place winner of the auditorium-wide quiz, Jack Friedman of Ramaz Middle School, found out shortly after that he also had won first place in the Hebrew middle school division—a truly exciting day for the young bible scholar.
As the Chidon winners were called on stage, complete with cheers and loud applause, they each received a special commemorative book. Rabbi Nadel took this opportunity to mention that the book given to all of the finalists, written by Dr. Moshe Avital, z”l, was in honor of the late Holocaust survivor and Jewish thought leader, who passed away just last year. From the podium, Rabbi Nadel explained that Avital served as coordinator of the USA Chidon for 12 years, and during his time in that position, worked hard to ensure Jewish continuity through Torah learning—and with the program growing in number each year, Avital would be proud.
The top score announcements ramped up, finally leading to the winners of the Hebrew high school division—and when first-place winner Tamar Dahan of Berman Hebrew Academy in Maryland was called onto the stage, she was moved to tears. As Rabbi Nadel shared with the audience, the high school junior has been participating in the Chidon for years, finally earning a well-deserved chance to represent the country in Israel next year.
Top scorer Maya Tratt of Yeshivat Frisch will be joining Dahan in Israel as well, a very “exciting opportunity,” as she described to The Jewish Link. “I started studying for today’s competition back in September,” the sophomore said. “With the help of many people, including my teacher Rabbi [Yair] Shahak, I was able to put everything together for today. The exam itself was really fun, and I’m looking forward to meeting other students in Israel.”
With seven years under his belt as coordinator, Rabbi Nadel shared that it’s the unmatched connection with Tanach that students gain from the Chidon that keeps him going. “There’s no stronger program for middle school and high school students to develop a real, deeply internalized relationship with the text.” For schools or individuals looking to get involved in the next year of the Chidon, feel free to be in touch with Rabbi Nadel at [email protected].
By Channa Fischer