Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Local winners include White Plains' Beni Romm and Highland Park's Elana Rosenblatt.

All three of the U.S. contestants at the Worldwide Chidon HaTanach held on Yom Ha’atzmaut in Jerusalem placed among the top six winners. Beni Romm, a senior at Yeshivat Frisch, earned third place after Gilad Abrahamov of Netanya and Dvir Barchad of Kiryat Ata. Elana Rosenblatt, a senior at Bruriah High School, placed fifth, and Sara Shay, a sophomore at YULA, placed sixth. The USA contestants faced off in a rigorous three-part competition from their homes over Zoom on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Thursday, April 15, at 3 a.m ET.

The participating 16 finalists hailed from Jewish day schools in virtually all corners of the world, and studied over 600 chapters of Tanach in preparation for the competition. Represented cities included London, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, in addition to White Plains, Highland Park and Los Angeles as well as cities throughout Israel. Their journey to Jerusalem began in 2020 when they earned top ratings in their national written contests.

Rabbi Dovi Nadel, now in his sixth year as the coordinator of the recently renamed Dr. Shimshon Isseroff USA Chidon HaTanach, appraised this year’s contestants as some of the best he has seen in recent years. According to Nadel, “The Chidon, which is currently marking its 60th anniversary, having been created to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the State (of Israel), serves not only as a promulgation of proficiency in the study of Tanach from generation to generation but a unique opportunity for Jewish communities worldwide to unite in an event which honors the basis of our Jewish heritage, the Tanach.”

Beni Romm, 17, grew up in White Plains, New York, where he attended Westchester Day School through eighth grade. When in junior high school, he prepared for the national chidon on his own and came in among the top 20 in the national competition. During his freshman and sophomore years at Yeshivat Frisch, he again prepared on his own and placed fourth both years in the national chidon. As a junior, with his sights on the International Chidon, he was paired with Rabbi Yair Shahak, head of Hebrew language, as well as instructor of Tanach, Arabic and Yiddish at Yeshivat Frisch, who himself earned the distinction of being the top winner in the International Adult Chidon HaTanach in 2016. Through weekly Zoom sessions during COVID, the two prepared the enormous body of material and the result was a brilliant performance by Romm at the Worldwide Chidon, earning him third place.

Proud mother Jana and father Gadi expressed, “We are in awe not only of Beni’s incredible mastery of Tanach but of how he embodies the values and principles of its teachings and demonstrated that throughout the competition.”

Romm shared, “The chidon offers you a unique opportunity to learn and think about the texts and eventually internalize them. I can’t express my gratitude enough for the brilliance and pedagogical skills offered to me by Frisch and Rabbi Shahak in preparation for the Chidon.”

This past year, Romm established a Chidon Club at Yeshivat Frisch, which has prepared 16 students who will be participating in the upcoming Chidon National USA Finals in May. Romm and other students served as the instructors of the club, which they hope will continue to be available at Frisch. Romm plans to study at Yeshivat Har Etzion next year, after which he will be attending the University of Pennsylvania where he hopes to pursue his studies in mechanical engineering while also pursuing biblical studies and Semitic languages.

“We are all so proud of Beni’s tremendous accomplishment at the Chidon HaTanach. Our entire community is inspired by his commitment to Tanach study, and the hundreds upon hundreds of hours he has dedicated to this goal. Beni is a ben Torah in every sense of the word—in his

learning, his character, and the way he incorporates Torah into his life,” said Rabbi Eli Ciner, Yeshivat Frisch principal.

Elana Rosenblatt, 17, resides in Highland Park, where she attended RPRY from preschool through eighth grade. In sixth grade, she took part in the school’s Torah Bowl. Throughout junior high and into ninth grade at Bruriah High School, she was involved in after-school Torah study. At the beginning of 10th grade and through 11th grade, she studied seriously with Ruby Stepansky of Passaic. Stepansky, now retired from an over 40-year career in computers, provides preparation sessions for students gearing up for the Chidon HaTanach free of charge. His love of biblical texts and sensitivity to Hebrew grammar stem largely from his serving as a baal tefillah and baal koreh for many years at local shuls in Passaic. Through Zoom sessions, he created lessons exploring the linguistic formations of phrases of Tanach and how pesukim from different parts of Tanach relate to each other. Over the 10 years he has been tutoring students he has seen many who have placed in the national competitions, including Rosenblatt, who placed third in the nationals in 10th grade. In 11th grade, Rosenblatt continued her studies, which culminated in her placing in the top four in the 2020 competition. In the August 2020 runoff competition, she placed second and thus qualified to compete in Jerusalem this year.

Rosenblatt, as well as parents Sara and Daniel, are delighted at her success. Rosenblatt expressed, “Chidon HaTanach has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I have been introduced to new sefarim, made learning part of my daily life and resulted in me truly loving learning.” Rosenblatt will be studying at Midreshet Mevaseret Yerushalayim next year, after which she will be attending Stern College.

The virtual setting of this year’s Chidon, as last year’s, enabled the coordinators to include film clips highlighting the history of Jewish communities around the world, as the theme of this year’s contest comes from Zechariah 9:10, which reads, “And I will cut off the chariot from Efraim and the horse from Jerusalem and He shall speak peace to the nations and His dominion shall be from sea to sea and from river to the ends of the earth.” The theme was chosen in proud recognition of Israel’s forging ties with its neighbors through the recent Abraham Accords. A moving history of the Jews of Morocco from the third century until their arrival in droves to the shores of the new State of Israel in 1948 was presented. The film identified the giant sages who hailed from Morocco and whose halachic works we refer to until today.

Addressing the World Chidon were Israeli dignitaries including Yariv Levin, yoshev rosh of the Knesset, who sees in the Chidon the continuing chain of the generations that partner in the study and strength of the mesorah of our people. Yitzchak Herzog, yoshev rosh of the Jewish Agency, co-sponsors of the Chidon with the Jewish National Fund, and grandson of the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, praised the Chidon as exemplifying a world of hope and aspirations for the future, much like the Abraham Accords in the political realm.

Minister of Education Aluf Yoav Gallant praised the participants as “wells of knowledge, curiosity and understanding in the study of our deep roots in Tanach and as fine representatives of the Nation of the Books.”

In introducing the final round of Prime Minister’s questions, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu borrowed a phrase from Sefer Yeshayahu and referred to Israel as chosen yeshuot, strength of salvation, which describes Israel’s current status as the first among the nations of the world in battling the coronavirus pandemic. He also praised his father-in-law, Shmuel Ben Artzi, z”l, as being one of the pioneering researchers and disseminators of Tanach and his son Avner, who at age 12 brought great pride to his parents as a participant in the World Chidon HaTanach. He praised the Chidon as bringing the world of Tanach “high and wide.”

By Pearl Markovitz