April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What Chidon HaTanach Taught Me

One of the most powerful lessons we learned as teachers during the COVID-19 lockdowns was the extent to which learning is social. Sure, endless amounts of materials are available online, in books and in other sources, but human learning is done best as a social activity involving other people. Proctoring in this year’s Chidon HaTanach in New York City reminded me of the extent to which this kind of learning is regularly missing from our collective existence.

Seeing hundreds of Jewish children coming from all across America—from Boston to Baltimore, Los Angeles to Long Island, Florida to Fairfield, Texas to Teaneck, Seattle to South Carolina and more—to the largest Chidon HaTanach in American history, was heartwarming. The love for Torah learning, the Jewish pride and the ease with which young students exclaim the entire pesukim from all over Tanach by heart are all outstanding. The chavruta time activity pairing participants from different cities creates a true environment of friendship and bonding. If there is one suggestion I would have to make about the entire event, it would be: We should do this more often.

In a post-pandemic world in which we recognize more than ever the vital need for learning to be social, the Jewish community must do more to facilitate social learning that goes beyond the confines of school. In a world in which parents rightfully lose sleep over the deadly and isolating impact social media can have, we must do more to create an in-person learning space where young Jews get to interact with one another around the best cause possible—the study of Torah. Young Jews must be offered more opportunities to meet other young Jews that can be as successful as events like Chidon HaTanach.

I reflect on the years in which my grandfather, Rabbi Baruch Poupko, was president of the Mizrachi and the many opportunities Jews had to get together for a good cause. Whether it was the frequent regional and national meetings of the Mizrachi, students for Soviet Jewry, the various Bnos and Pirchei opportunities Agudath Israel of America had to offer or many other opportunities—we need to make sure this happens more often.

To the incredible young men and women who participated in the Chidon HaTanach: You make us all proud. Your devotion to Torah learning, the pride you take in your Judaism and the friendship and kindness you show one another inspire us all. Keep it up. Chizku ve’imtzu! To the adults in the lives of those children and all other Jewish children, let us take this opportunity to think of what we can be doing to offer young Jews more platforms to engage in Jewish learning and a meaningful Jewish experience that is both rich in content and meaning, as well as socially engaging to them all.


Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is an eleventh-generation rabbi, a teacher and a writer. He is the author of “Poupko on the Parsha,” “Sacred Days on the Jewish holidays,” and “Jews of the Nobel.” Rabbi Poupko has just completed his seventh year as a Chidon HaTanach coach.

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