By Ruth Judah.
The 2014 Chidon Ha Tanach competition was held on May 11th in New York. This year saw an increase in the number of participating schools from LA. At the finals there were 3 candidates from Yula Girls High School and 1 from Yula Boys High School, 2 from Yavneh Hebrew Academy and 4 from Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy as well as 3 from Maimonides School.
Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, dean of Yeshivat Yavneh, worked with 17 Yavneh students from Grades 6 through 8 and several hours a week was invested in the learning program. Ari and Yaakov Willner were the most successful Yavneh candidates. The brothers worked hard and they will not forget their trip to New York for the finals.
Rabbi Einhorn was proud of his student’s performance, “We will offer the program again. Our school has a commitment to a well rounded Jewish education, a love of Tanach and a love for Israel. We already offer the 8th grade kids a public speaking elective so the Chidon competition is an excellent fit for our schools values and skills.”
Rabbi Yaakov Jaffe, himself a national champion when he was young, tutored the boys at Maimonides. Using learning systems and regular classes, the school has a long history in the Chidon competition. In fact, they had their first national champion back in 1988 and three times since then. This year Elad Jesselsohn came in 15th place and, although only in 8th Grade, proudly joins the legacy. Perhaps in high school he will come home the national champion.
Rabbi Ezra Frazer coordinated the national event which included 134 boys and girls from schools across America. For the first time this year, there was a Film element to the competition. Groups of kids were encouraged to create a short movie about the biblical character that they find most inspiring, and submit the movie in competition. Entrances came from schools across the country, but LA, as the film capital of the world, was most successful and entered Video from Yula Girls School, Harkham Hillel and Yavneh Hebrew Academy. The winning school video was Yula Girls School and you can watch their winning entry at Youtube, YULA Chidon 2014.
The participants were tested with a multiple choice paper that required a well memorized knowledge of Tanach, including the Torah, Prophets, and 11 books of Ketuvim. The final paper had 124 questions for Middle School students and 134 for High School. Chidon means” quiz”, deriving from the Hebrew word chidah, a riddle and the test requires a vast and detailed knowledge of all things Torah, learned by memory.
Keen to bring the competition to kids with differing backgrounds and skills, Rabbi Frazer is pleased to include Jewish kids from public school as well as Jewish day schools. The public school kids perform well after determinedly learning the program in a structured setting such as a local Sunday school, or with a private tutor. This year there were 7 public school kids in the finals.
The 75 top winners from around the world are flown to Israel with a maximum of 4 kids from America, so the standard is high in this country of nearly 7 million Jews. Croatia entered one student last year and they faced far less of a burden to compete. The televised championships and the 16 finalists appear in a well-viewed Israeli television and radio broadcast that each year involves Israel’s Prime Minister as the Israeli Government sponsors the event. The competition was established by David Ben Gurion and has remained a much-loved tradition with the finals being held on the morning of Yom Haatzmaut.
In 2013, for the first time in twenty five years, an American student won the competition although Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, today a faculty member in Yeshiva University, was the first American to win the prize in 1988. These victories continue to inspire individual students and raises the profile of the US Chidon competition. Not only does participation increase knowledge, but it requires a focused and dedicated attitude. At the same time, public speaking skills are developed as the students work together in lunch recesses and throughout the year to absorb all the information. It is not surprising that siblings often compete; having a partner is immensely helpful. This year, Penina Waghalter was 11th on the Hebrew Middle School test, and Miriam Waghalter of YULA was 7th on the Hebrew High School.
Rabbi Frazer was the US champion in 1994. Now, a well respected Tanach specialist which developed from his early learning for the Chidon competition, Rabbi Frazer explained the competition’s appeal, “Some kids are just delighted to have learned enough to merit the trip to New York but for others there is a strong competitive element. The winners launch their study program for the following year’s competition on the day after the current Chidon competition is held. These students learn in their school’s recess time and through their vacations and their dedication is impressive. While we recognize that the competitors are young, it is impossible to take all the stress out of the event and the finals are, of course, very exciting.”