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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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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Israeli band full of New Jersey locals hopes to tour U.S.

If a crowd-funding appeal is successful, the Israeli band G-Nome Project is coming to the United States.

This is not the scientific kind of genome project having to do with decoding DNA, but a musical project launched by four young expatriates — two of them from Teaneck.

It’s also a kind of chesed project. The band’s proposed 10-city “Giving Tour” aims to combine nightly gigs with days of good deeds such as visiting nursing homes and working in a soup kitchen.

This unusual twist was inspired by drummer Chemy Soibelman’s volunteering with Israeli children suffering from cancer.

 

Less is more

Moriah to institute new tuition affordability program

Good news for the middle class — and for Jewish day school affordability.

The Moriah School in Englewood, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has announced a new tuition affordability program, which will cut tuition for parents making as much as $360,000 a year.

Full tuition at the school ranges from $12,000 for kindergarten to $15,425 for middle school. (The prekindergarten program is not eligible for the tuition breaks.)

“We’ve been talking, as a board and as a community, about tuition affordability and the tuition crisis for years,” said Evan Sohn, the school’s president. “We decided this was the year we were going to address that issue.”

 

Scrolling through Jewish art

Local exhibit looks at text and images in old and new ways

The English letters that Harriet Fincke of Ridgewood learned when she was young are straightforward symbols that combine to form words, just as they are for everyone else.

But Hebrew letters — ah, they are something else again. “They always seemed kind of solid,” she said. “They seemed more like things,” objects in their own right, opaque. “It’s both the meaning and the look, and the relationship between them,” she said.

Those letters were a foundation part of her childhood — she went all the way through school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. “I’d always had a kind of richly ambivalent relationship with my religious upbringing, and with the text,” she said.

 
 
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