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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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Laughing with Joan

I made Joan Rivers laugh.

Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.

At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s — a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)

 

Cookin’ it up!

Tales of a Teaneck kitchen prodigy

How did 12-year-old Eitan Bernath of Teaneck come to be on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Chopped”?

“He’s always been curious and he likes science,” said his mother, Sabrina Bernath. “He thinks it’s cool to mix flavors and watch things rise. He also likes to make people happy,” she added, pointing out that he had just brought his friends a freshly baked batch of cinnabuns.

For Eitan, a student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, cooking is more than just a hobby. Struggling for the right word, the fledgling chef — whose website, cookwithchefeitan.com, will launch this week — described his relationship with the culinary arts as a “passion.”

 

Policies are the best policy

Teaneck synagogue forum addresses child sexual abuse

Does your synagogue have policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse? Do your children’s schools and camps?

Such policies, Dr. Shira Berkovits told a meeting in Teaneck on Sunday night, can make a difference to children’s safety.

Dr. Berkovits is a consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, and she is developing a guide to preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. She was speaking at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael, as part of a panel on preventing child sexual abuse co-sponsored by three other Teaneck Orthodox congregations: Netivot Shalom, Keter Torah, and Lubavitch of Bergen County.

 

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‘Because the Middle East is funny…’

He hates to say so, but American-Israeli comic Benji Lovitt must admit that last summer’s war was good for business.

It led to a 14-show cross-country tour that will include stops at Temple Emanu-El of Closter on October 30 and at the United Synagogue of Hoboken on November 11.

Since making aliyah from Texas eight years ago, Mr. Lovitt has come back to perform in the United States many times, using his immigrant experiences as fodder for his standup routine. But his daily helpings of humor during Operation Protective Edge in July and August splashed his name across the social-networking world like never before.

“People are looking for really positive Israel programming after the war,” he said. “I spent a lot of the war expressing how a lot of us in Israel were feeling, and many people told me that when everybody was depressed I was the one they looked to for a smile.

 

Project Ezra offers help to job seekers

Robert Hoenig of Teaneck takes over as its second director

This is a tough economy that we live in.

It can be hard to find a job, and hard to think straight when you lose one. It’s hard to figure out how to reorient yourself, how to present yourself, how to maintain at least the façade of confidence.

And it’s also hard to figure out how to pay your bills at the same time.

Project Ezra, founded in 2001, has provided help to local Jews ever since then. It was the brainchild — and really, by all accounts, the heartchild and soulchild too — of Rabbi Yossi Stern of Teaneck, who was its first director, and led it until he died unexpectedly in February. His work not only allowed many people to find work, but also helped support them and allowed them to maintain their dignity as they searched.

 

Roy Cho shows up

Democratic challenger in House race talks about Israel and more

What if the Jewish Community Relations Council held a candidates forum — and one of the candidates never came?

That was the situation in Temple Israel in Ridgewood on Monday night.

Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, had invited both candidates for Congress from the 5th district.

Roy Cho, 33, the Democratic challenger was there.

Scott Garrett, 55, the Republican incumbent, was not.

 
 
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