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Local youths score as Bible scholars

Teaneck teen represented U.S.

Rabbi Menahem Meier flew to Israel to watch his student, Joshua Meier (no relation), compete in the 47th International Bible Contest on Israel’s 62nd anniversary. Joshua, 14, was one of two participants representing the United States among 75 contestants from 22 countries. His parents, Ronny and Elizabeth, also went along.

For one year, Meier worked with the home-schooled teen to master nearly 500 chapters, including sections from lesser-known books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zachariah, and Proverbs.

“Joshua proved to be a formidable contender, scoring third from those in the diaspora and sixth in the larger group that included Israelis,” wrote Meier, the founding principal of The Frisch School in Paramus, to The Jewish Standard. The winner was Or Ashual, a 17-year-old girl. Avner Netanyahu, son of Israel’s prime minister, captured third place.

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Josh Meier with his teacher, Rabbi Menahem Meier.

Avner was Josh’s roommate during the two-and-a-half-week traveling camp for participants sponsored by the Israeli government and the Jewish National Fund. Contestants got acquainted as they toured historical sites, slept at an army base, and met VIPs. Many had already corresponded via a Facebook group that Josh began beforehand.

“Avner moved to our room because he saw me and another Israeli studying together,” said Josh, whose father is Israeli. “He had been rooming with a South American who wanted to be with Spanish speakers, and he wanted to be with Hebrew speakers.”

Elizabeth Meier said her son studied at least six hours a day for the Hidon. “Rabbi Meier is an amazing mentor and role model and Josh bonded with him incredibly,” she said. “He learned almost the entire Tanach by heart and he was the youngest competitor there.”

Meier said that the prime minister spoke of the Tanach as “the book that unites all Jews, religious and secular, young and old, those living in Israel and those in the diaspora.”

The contestants — from places as diverse as Panama and Lithuania, Holland and Brazil —responded to questions in the packed Jerusalem Theater before television cameras. “Each question in one round was preceded by a brief video of contemporary Israeli achievements or challenges, leading to the actual question,” Meier related. “In another section, the students were called upon to respond rapidly, within 45 seconds.”

In the final round, Josh correctly identified the source for the phrase “from Jordan to Jerusalem,” which refers to the population that declared its loyalty to King David following the rebellion staged by his son Avshalom.

Three years ago, Josh took first prize in an international Hidon on the history of Jerusalem. A composer and pianist, he mentors an autistic boy in music. Upon his return from Israel, he dove right back into studies with Meier, appropriately beginning the book of Joshua. Abigail Klein Leichman

 
 

Local youths score as Bible scholars

Two Bergen County teens took top honors in the national and international rounds of the prestigious Hidon HaTanach (Bible Contest).

Isaac Shulman, a Torah Academy of Bergen County junior from Englewood, placed second in the high school division last Sunday in Manhattan.

Joshua Meier, a home-schooled Teaneck 14-year-old, came in sixth in the international round on Israeli Independence Day, April 20, in Jerusalem (see sidebar).

In addition, Ben Sultan from The Frisch School placed fifth in the high school division and Elisha Penn of Yavneh Academy placed seventh in the junior high division. Both schools are in Paramus.

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Isaac Shulman

Isaac qualifies for a free trip to Israel for next year’s International Bible Contest. Initiated by David Ben-Gurion and overseen by the World Zionist Organization, the annual event is open to young scholars from across the world who place first or second in national rounds on each levels. Finalists this year included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son.

TABC Principal Rabbi Yosef Adler called Isaac “a real ‘ben Torah’ and mensch who excels in Judaic and general studies.” Isaac play tennis and soccer, competes on TABC’s Torah Bowl team, and reads the Torah at Cong. Ahavath Torah’s early Shabbat services.

The son of Elliot and Victoria Shulman, Isaac said he had attended an after-school Hidon preparation class with Rabbi Neil Winkler when he was at The Moriah School of Englewood, but never passed the qualifying test. This time, he added, “I studied.”

Based on a syllabus that included Genesis, Samuel I, and parts of Hezekiah and Psalms, contestants had to identify common themes and details, such as matching biblical grandsons with their grandfathers. Isaac sometimes studied with friends Sruli Farkas and Yakir Forman. Yakir won fourth place in the international round in 2007 when he was a Moriah eighth-grader.

Sunday marked the 20th consecutive year that Moriah has sent finalists to the nationals. Its students compose a large percentage of past winners.

Principal Elliot Prager said that Winkler “has transformed an after-school club into an annual focus of pride and excitement for all of our students. Above and beyond his superb command of Tanach, and the knowledge and text analysis skills which he imparts to his students, it is his ‘ahavat Torah’ — the passion for Torah learning — which Rabbi Winkler embodies and which has produced several generations of Hidon finalists and winners at Moriah.”

Winkler has taught Judaic studies at Moriah for 32 years and has offered his weekly prep class for a quarter-century. Many of his Hidon protégés went on to become prominent rabbis and teachers.

He does not stress winning, Winkler said, but encourages his students to “enjoy and absorb the forest of [biblical] knowledge. In the end, you will know the material so well you will know every tree in that forest.”

Six students qualified for the nationals by answering multiple-choice questions such as: Which of the Egyptian plagues was described in Psalms as having entered “the royal chambers”? What practice was said to have become “a law and statute in Israel”? Why did David accuse Abner and his men of deserving of death? How high did the waters of the flood reach? Which gifts did Abraham not receive upon leaving the house of the Pharaoh?

Promising Israeli students get half-days off from school to study for the nationals, while foreign students lack that luxury. “You can tell which kids have a fire burning within them and push themselves to study on their own time,” said Winkler, who is rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee. “When kids pick up some passion for it, then my job is finished.”

 
 

Frisch student Zachary Neugut’s cancer project makes semifinals in Siemens competition

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Zachary Neugut plans to spend a year in Israel. Courtesy Frisch School

Zachary Neugut, a 17-year-old senior at The Frisch School in Paramus, was selected as one of 300 national semi-finalists from more than 2,000 applicants in the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology for his research project on cancer.

For the last three summers, Zachary has worked at a laboratory at Columbia University investigating why some cancers are recurrent and resist chemotherapy. The answer may be that these cancers arise from stem cells, which can then start cancer anew when moved to other areas of the body.

At Columbia, Zachary worked with Dr. Igor Matushansky, identifying cancer stem cells in sarcomas. The 25-page paper that earned Zachary the award was titled “Identifying Sarcoma Stem Cells Through Surface Marker Profiling of Sarcoma Cell Lines with Higher Tumorigenic Potential,” a mouthful that Zachary himself does not keep memorized.

In summarizing his paper for the competition, he wrote, in part, “The traditional theory of the origin of cancer is the multistage model of carcinogenesis, in which cancer is caused by a series of mutations to the DNA that cause cells to have uncontrolled growth. However, a new theory hypothesizes that a small segment of the cancer cell population, cancer stem cells, is the cause of the abnormal growth of cancer. My work focused on understanding whether either (or both) of these models are applicable to sarcomas, which are malignancies arising in connective tissue.”

“Dr. Matushansky,” Zachary said in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard, “helped me gain a complete understanding of all the current theories about cancer, and the various projects being done by the leaders in research to combat cancer.”

He added that the overall experience “helped give me a sense of how a real job will be in the future. It helped me understand how important hard work is, as I devoted three summers to having a 40-hour work-week instead of working in a summer camp…. The project really helped me gain an understanding of what a profession in the medical field would be like.”

Zachary credits Frisch and in particular his teacher Albert Tarendash with supporting his interests. On the side, Zachary is captain of the chess team and active on the debate and math teams. His parents are Elyssa and Dr. Alfred Neugut, an oncologist who suggested a research adviser for him. He follows in the footsteps of his sister, who was named a semifinalist for a study of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh.

Zachary is still in contention to be a finalist in the Siemens-Westinghouse competition.

“In the future,” he said, “I’m hoping to spend a year in Israel, go to Columbia University and major in physics, and then see where that takes me.”

 
 
 
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