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Teaneck students compete in International Bible Contest

 
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Two township boys, both congregants at Cong. Rinat Yisrael, took fourth and fifth place respectively in the International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Contest) at the Jerusalem Theater on Israel's Independence Day, April '4.


Yakir Forman, right, with his father, Etiel, after winning fourth place at the International Bible Contest in Jerusalem.

Yakir Forman, an eighth-grader at The Moriah School of Englewood, came in fourth place. Earlier that week, he had won the preliminary round for non-Israeli contestants.

Yosef Kornbluth, a sophomore at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy-Yeshiva University High School for Boys, placed fifth. He, too, is a graduate of Moriah.

"I don't recall, ever, an elementary school child doing that well," remarked Rabbi Neil Winkler, Moriah's longtime Bible Contest coach, upon hearing that Yakir had won the title of Chatan HaTefutzot ("bridegroom" of the Diaspora). "Thirteen is the cutoff age for the competition, and Yakir just turned 13 [in August]."

The three top winners were 17-year-old Israelis, one from Jerusalem and two from Be'er Sheva.

Yakir and Yosef had won free trips to the competition by virtue of their first-place finishes last May in the national round given in Hebrew — Yakir in the elementary school division and Yosef in the high school division. (A separate quiz is given for students competing in English.)

The International Bible Contest, founded by David Ben-Gurion and overseen by the Education Department of the World Zionist Organization, attracts young Bible scholars from across the world. This year, it included 64 participants from 35 countries, including three new ones to the competition — Peru, Colombia, and Macedonia.

Yakir, reached in Israel, said he'd been paired with contestants from Ohio, Panama, and Canada during the contestants' two-week stay. "I didn't expect to make so many friends here," he said.

Based on a written exam, the top scorer from each country gets to participate in the Diaspora round. The international final includes those with the top 16 grades among all contestants and includes the Israelis who almost always win the top spots.

Contestants had to know the entire books of Genesis, Judges, Samuel I and II, Kings I and II, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, Song of Songs, and Ruth, and many parts of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Michael and Joanne Kornbluth and Lianne and Etiel Forman all flew to Israel to watch their children in the televised international final.

Etiel Forman described his feelings during the experience as "a mixture of intense anxiety, pride, and excitement." He could tell from the look on his son's face that he knew the answer to his first two-part question, on a section of Nehemiah.

So did he, because he'd studied a talmudic passage about that very section with Yakir more than a year ago, in preparation for Yakir's bar mitzvah. "I take the tiniest bit of credit for helping him with that one," said the proud father.

The Forman parents returned last week, while the Kornbluths and their children stayed on in Israel; attempts to reach them by press time were unsuccessful.

Before and after the competition, the contestants were treated to touring, hiking, and biking through the country, as well as meetings with dignitaries including the ministers of education and defense, the chief rabbi of the IDF, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who presented them each with a book of Psalms.

Lianne Forman said that Yakir, who will begin Torah Academy of Bergen County next year, kept to a strict study schedule following his national win. "He sat at the computer and made himself a timetable," she said. "He'd do his homework first and whatever time he had left, he would dedicate to studying. That meant giving up a certain amount of social life and some of his chess tournaments."

The payoff is a four-year full scholarship to the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev) for winning the Diaspora portion of the contest.

Yakir said he was grateful to Winkler and to his parents for encouraging him.

Many Moriah graduates have placed in the national and international Bible Quiz over the years, and Teaneck residents in particular have done well.

But it's relatively rare for two township residents to capture top-10 spots in the international round. Six years ago, Rebecca Koolyk and Chava Chaitovsky, then students at Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, placed sixth and eighth respectively. In '003, Nomi Presby, then a senior at Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, placed sixth, while Ashrei Bayewitz, a graduate of the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, placed ninth.

 
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‘A do-it-yourself disease’

Before Saddle Brook walk, families of ALS patients talk about the disease’s impact

In early 2014, just shy of his 12th birthday, Eitan David Jacobi of Teaneck told his parents he was having trouble raising his arms. It was particularly hard for him to shoot basketballs.

This was a first for the youngster, said his mother, Rabbi Lori Forman-Jacobi, who described her son as an active, funny, and very social kid.

In fact, she said, he had spent the previous summer as a camper at Ramah Nyack. And when he fell off a horse in early November, “we told him to get back on.” Usually that’s good advice. But Eitan did not have the strength to stay on the horse.

“We didn’t have a clue,” Rabbi Forman-Jacobi, a past vice-principal of the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. “It took us until Thanksgiving to get to a neurologist.” By that time, Eitan was “unable to reach to get to the microwave or to open cabinets.”

 

News from a Jersey girl

CNN’s Dana Bash talks at a benefit for the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School

Dana Bash is CNN’s chief congressional correspondent.

At 43, she has more than a decade of high-visibility work for the network behind her, and she will provide its coverage of the almost ludicrously crowded Republican field, as more than two dozen candidates compete for camera time and voter approval.

Ms. Bash is also a graduate of Pascack Hills High School, a self-proclaimed Jersey girl, and a deeply committed Jew.

Ms. Bash will speak on Sunday, May 3, at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, to benefit the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland. Laurie Nahum and Rick Krieger will be honored that evening for their service to the school as well.

 

Gap year alternative

Teaneck native offers new gap year option for boys

At the end of the summer, hundreds of recently graduated yeshiva high school students from North Jersey will board planes bound for Israel, where they will spend a “gap year” of intensive Jewish studies before starting college.

Many of them will thrive and mature. But many others will skip classes and flirt dangerously with newfound freedom far from home, wasting their potential and the money their parents spent on tuition for a program that probably wasn’t a good fit for them from the start.

“On any Thursday night in Jerusalem, you can go to the center of town and see hundreds of young people involved in chaotic behavior — drinking, drugs, and violence. And the overwhelming majority of these kids are from America or England on one-year programs,” said Dr. Simcha Chesner, director of two Jerusalem high schools for boys with severe educational and emotional challenges: Yeshivat Bnei Chayil for Israelis and Matara Therapeutic Boarding School for English-speakers.

 

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Burning questions

Rabbi Lawrence Troster reflects on papal environmental letter

On Sunday, Rabbi Lawrence Troster of Teaneck will march through downtown Rome to Vatican City.

The march is being organized to support Pope Francis’ call for action on the environment embodied in the papal letter, or encyclical, he released last week, called Laudato Si (“Blessed Be”). An international interfaith coalition, Our Voices, whose goal is “bringing faith to the climate talks,” is organizing the march. Among the coalition’s members are the American interfaith group GreenFaith, where Rabbi Troster is scholar-in-residence.

This is a period of increased activity for Rabbi Troster and the broader Jewish environmental movement, jumpstarted by the papal letter that Rabbi Troster called “amazing” and leading up to global talks on a new treaty to fight global warming scheduled for November in Paris.

These next few months, Rabbi Troster said, will see the environmental issues taking a higher profile on the Jewish communal agenda, as it becomes a priority for the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and a group he is organizing of rabbis and cantors called Shomrei Breishit. He hopes it will surface in high holiday sermons, and in interfaith actions during Sukkot.

 

A new home for Bonim

‘Builders’ moving to Rockleigh

When Bonim was created in 2002, it brought together volunteers of all skill levels to fix, renovate, and refurbish homes for Jewish families and individuals who could not afford to do it themselves.

Over the years, the group’s mission has not changed, though the number of individuals, families, and groups it helps has grown each year, surpassing 100 at last count. What has changed, however, is Bonim’s official home.

As of July 1, Bonim — formally called Bonim Builders, though “bonim,” in fact, means builders — will become part of the Jewish Home Family, based in Rockleigh, moving from its longtime home at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of Jewish Home Family, sees the new placement as “ideal.”

 

Musical mitzvah raises money for AIDS organization

Local teen (and friends) perform for a good cause

Haworth teen and stage performer Jeremy Shinder had his first gig when he was 2. It was when his grandfather, Rabbi Frederic Pomerantz, called him up to the bimah to play drums at Temple Beth-El of Northern Valley in Closter.

It is fitting, then, that his recent bar mitzvah celebration — which included a benefit concert for Equity Fights AIDS — took place at that same synagogue.

In fact, his bar mitzvah spanned two synagogues, said his mother, Rabbi Rebecca Shinder, religious leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Florida, N.Y., and associate rabbi at Tenafly’s Temple Sinai for many years.

“My shul is small, so we did Friday night there,” said Rabbi Shinder, who also is the congregation’s cantor and educational director. “It was packed. My father had done a jazz service [at Beth-El, where he is now rabbi emeritus] and Jeremy wanted that to be part of his bar mitzvah celebration. He played the drums for it. We brought in musicians through former congregants at Beth-El.”

 
 
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