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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 rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

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Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine — lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East — to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of — and in fact to apply pressure toward — the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

 
 
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