February 20, 2024
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NJ Teens Win Big at Dr. Shimshon Isseroff Chidon HaTanach National Finals

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In the auditorium of SAR High School in Riverdale, hundreds of students—along with their teachers, friends and families—were abuzz with excitement for the closing ceremony of the Dr. Shimshon Isseroff Chidon HaTanach National Finals. The all-day event, which took place on Sunday, April 30, was attended by middle school and high school students from around the country competing in the junior version of the National Bible Contest, hosted by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The Chidon HaTanach began with opening ceremonies to launch a full morning of written exams for the competitors on a broad range of topics from Tanach, and shiurim for the adults. A break for lunch was followed by a Chidon carnival, complete with bible trivia games for kids to play and win prizes, as well as chavruta-style learning for the contestants. During the closing ceremony, the top contestants from the day’s competition were called on stage for one final round of questions leading up to the grand prize announcement—a ticket to Israel for the International Chidon HaTanach Finals in Jerusalem.

(Credit: Daled Studio/David Khabinsky)

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“There is one pasuk that for me emulates the spirit of Chidon HaTanach,” said Rabbi Dovi Nadel, coordinator of the U.S. National Bible Contest. “‘Asurah nah ve’areh et ha’mareh hagadol hazeh’—‘I must turn to look at this beautiful sight in front of me.’ There is something special going on here in this room.”

Now in his eighth year of coordinating the Chidon HaTanach National Finals, Rabbi Nadel reflected that one of the things that makes Chidon such a beautiful sight is the bond that forms among students through Torah. “I hope participants realize that we’re more than just a competition, we’re a community. And I hope that’s something they continue to return to year after year.”

Rabbi Nadel’s reflection was evident in this year’s competition, which featured the first-ever 12th grade division. Though the Chidon HaTanach typically welcomes contestants from grades six through 11, Rabbi Nadel was approached by two current 12th graders at Yeshivat Frisch, Joshua Knoll and Tamar Rosenfeld, who competed last year and wanted one more chance at participating. And on Sunday, both Knoll and Rosenfeld were able to compete, and spend one more year with their Chidon community.

Knoll spoke about his experience with Chidon HaTanach as a senior in high school, and his work with Rabbi Nadel on creating the 12th grade division for this year, at the start of the closing ceremony. Rabbi Nadel then introduced the judges for the final round: Atara Kelman, a previous national winner from Canada; Avi Shaver, assistant coordinator of the USA Chidon; and Dr. Licht, a Chidon volunteer for many years.

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While the middle school division finalists took their written exams on stage, the audience watched a video message from Nechama Polak, the daughter of Dr. Shimshon Isseroff, former chairman of the Chidon HaTanach, for whom the competition was named. Polak, who had just attended this year’s International Chidon HaTanach on Israel’s 75th birthday, spoke emotionally about her father who passed away nearly two years ago.

During the high school division’s final written exam, Shaver spoke about his connection to the Chidon HaTanach after a happenstance connection with Rabbi Nadel in Washington, D.C. “Make sure to cherish your relationships,” he said to the audience. “And just know that Chidon is a lifelong journey … the learning never stops.”

As the judges reviewed the exams, the attendees played a game of Kahoot containing questions from the exams themselves, which had the students bouncing in their seats as they raced to beat each other. The energy in the room was palpable, and was an exciting lead-in for the two tie-breaker rounds that were needed in the high school division, an occurrence that has never been witnessed at the national finals!

(Credit: Daled Studio/David Khabinsky)

The winners were announced to an ecstatic crowd, with Emanuela Milman of Yavneh Academy coming in second, and Micky Cyrulnik of Yeshivat Noam placing first in the middle school division, and Dov Gothelf placing second in the high school division. Penina Crystal of Ilan High School was awarded first place in the high school division, ending the incredible day on a high.

“I love taking these tests … I studied a lot for this,” Yeshivat Noam eighth grader Cyrulnik shared with The Jewish Link following his win. “I would tell those who want to be a part of the Chidon that the more fun you have, the better it will be.”

And the talent seems to run in the family, as Cyrulnik’s mother, Shaindy, revealed that Crystal is actually her sister’s daughter — making the two first place winners first cousins! “They actually studied together,” she shared. “It’s so nice that they’ll now be attending the International Chidon HaTanach in Israel together.”

Crystal said that placing first at this year’s Chidon HaTanach “feels like a dream.” For the Ilan High School 10th-grader, it was more than just a competition—it was about the experience. “My favorite part was meeting kids who are just as passionate about Tanach and about learning as I am. My advice to those who want to compete is to study hard, work hard, and know that no matter what happens, you’ve learned so much that you will take with you forever.”

(Credit: Daled Studio/David Khabinsky)

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