The Yeshiva University campus was first-time host to the always eagerly anticipated U.S. Chidon HaTanach Finals on Sunday, May 5. Over 240 finalists from among 550 original participants, coming from 80 schools across the country, gathered for the event, representing students from middle through high school. These finalists were already winners, having already excelled in the intensive training based on an annual syllabus covering many complete books and some partial books of Tanach. Tanach, which is often used interchangeably with the word Bible, is an acronym composed of Torah (“Teaching,” also known as the Five Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”). It contains the canonical texts that comprise the Hebrew Bible, which is made up of 24 books composed primarily in biblical Hebrew.
Those from out of town had spent Shabbat at pre-arranged hosting homes in various communities, including Teaneck. On Sunday morning, they gathered at Lamport Auditorium for two sets of exams that spanned the morning. At 12:30 p.m. they headed out to the Weissberg Commons for an hour of fun, including trivia booths, online contests, costume stations, map and puzzle competitions and of course the mandatory pizza collation. They also had the opportunity to mingle with contestants from states other than their own and even learn with them briefly b’chevruta. At 2 p.m., the participants and their guests returned to Lamport Auditorium for the final round of the competition and the announcement of the 2019 winners.
Northern New Jersey was, as always, extremely well represented at the U.S. Chidon by participants and their accompanying families. Spotted were Dr. Kalman and Elke Stein of Teaneck cheering on their granddaughter from Detroit, and Rivka Kahan, principal of Ma’ayanot, and family in support of daughter Sara, a middle school student at RYNJ. Rabbi Nati Helfgot was spotted in the crowd as son Ephraim, an 11th grader at TABC, was a contestant. Professor Nechama Price, director of Stern College’s Graduate Program for Advanced Talmud Studies, was in attendance with daughter Nava, a student at RYNJ. Yishai Klein from Beit El, Israel, came in his capacity as Tanach instructor and Chidon coach at BPY, as well as parent of contestant Elia Klein. Shmuel Davidovics of Englewood spent time with grandson Ezra from Memphis during the break. Rabbi Yaakov and Ruth Glasser from Passaic-Clifton were spotted with their daughter Rina. Jewish Link staffer Michal Rosenberg and her husband, Yeruchum, were there to cheer on their son Yoni, as was Jewish Linker Adam Negnewitzky,
supporting his son Tzvi.
Ilan Eisenberg, a 10th grader from Kehilla Jewish High School in the California Bay Area, was accompanied by his father, Dan, a surgeon, and grandmother Meira Eisenberg of Connecticut, a native Israeli. Currently retired as a teacher of Hebrew and Holocaust studies at various day schools throughout Connecticut, Meira was Ilan’s coach throughout the year, through Facetime sessions and frequent visits back and forth. The pride on that savtah’s face when Ilan was named winner in the English 8-11 Division of the competition was priceless.
Judah Guggenheim, an 11th grader at Berman Hebrew Academy in Maryland, came back this year as both a six-time contestant as well as the coach of the middle school division of his school, replacing the recently retired coach of many years. Guggenheim shared, “Being a coach has made me appreciate how important it is to study Tanach at a young age.”
Rabbi Dovi Nadel, U.S. coordinator of the National Bible Contest, related the story told in the Gemara of a young student coming out of the Beit Midrash who is confronted by an elderly man who asks him, “P’sok li p’sukchah” (“Tell me what pasuk in the Tanach you are thinking of”). For the past four years, the banner of the Chidon HaTanach has read “Psok li p’sukchah” as the contestants learn to make the words of the Torah their own personal possessions. “Our goal with the Chidon is to help students internalize the Torah and make it part of their daily communication. Being part of the Chidon is being part of our mesorah.”
The four judges of the final event were all connected to the Chidon world. Rabbi Dr. Ezra Frazer had served as the U.S. coordinator of the Chidon and was a student winner and adult competitor. He also competed last year in the Chidon’s 60th anniversary Champion’s Quiz.
Dr. Mark Licht has served as a Chidon volunteer for many years. Noah Notis is a former U.S. Chidon national champion and Atarah Kelman from Toronto is a former Canadian Chidon champion.
Great pride was generated in the audience as well as loud whelps of cheering as the finalists in the 2019 U.S. Chidon HaTanach were announced. Northern New Jersey schools and students brought home many honors. The following are the names of our local winners and their schools.
Hebrew High School Division: #2 Ezriel Vinar of TABC, #3 Elana Rosenblatt of Bruriah High School, #4 Benjamin Romm of Yeshivat Frisch, #5 Ephraim Helfgot of TABC, #6 Chaim Rothberger (Yesodei), #7 Fruma Avigayil Krakowski of Bais Yaakov Machon Orah, #10 Noah Pascher of Jewish Education Center (JEC), #11 Tzvi Negnewitzky (Yesodei), #15 Dani Blank of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High school.
Hebrew Eighth Grade Division: #1 Yehuda Zinberg of Yavneh Academy, #3 Chana Aspir of Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, #8 Rami Kirsch of Yeshivat Noam and Josh Knoll of The Moriah School, #14 Shimon Ross of Yavneh Academy, #15 Eitan Bitansky of Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.
Hebrew Sixth/Seventh Grade Division: #1 Elisha Kahan of the Jewish Foundation School, #2 Gavriel Cohen of Yeshivat Noam, #4 Micah Cyrulnik of Yeshivat Noam, #8 Samuel Colchamiro of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, #13 Gavriel Pinsky of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, #15 Eytan Rosenstock of Westchester Day School.
Several local schools were distinguished by sending more than five finalists to the national competition. Six competitors from BPY were Eitan Barenholz, Reiut Cohn, Natanel Halevi, Zev Malin-Holtz , Ayelet Poupko, and Millie Schwartz. Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey was represented by nine students: Chana Aspir, Emunah Aspir, Sara Kahan, Chana Guelfguat, Sara Benoff, Sara Moskowitz, Nava Price, Zev Wiener and Gavriel Prinsky. Yavneh Academy was represented by Yoni Rosenberg, Shimon Ross, Yehuda Zinberg, Avi Friedman and Ephraim Fisher. Yeshiva Noam sent six students: Rami Kirsch, Ben Fisher, Gavriel Cohen, Basil Edelstein, Daniel Gerber and Yonatan Halstuch.
The Israel-bound winners, those top scorers who will represent America next year in the International Chidon HaTanach will be Yehuda Zinberg (Yavneh Academy), Ilan Eisenberg (Kehilla High School, California), Ezriel Vinar (TABC) and Nossi Shelds (Yeshiva of Greater Washington).
By Pearl Markovitz