Teaneck—Tanach, the five books of Moses, is the foundational text for students in Torah learning, and no knowledge of it can ever be wasted. The International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Quiz), an exam and live competition for students of Tanach, is long awaited and televised in Israel each year on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The Jewish Link was proud to report two weeks ago on the international participation of our community’s students, which included Teaneck’s Shlomi Helfgot, Uriel Simpson, and Englewood’s Nechama Reichman; Shlomi and Uriel achieved rankings in the top ten in the world competition; Nechama placed in the top 20.
This past Sunday, May 14, on Lag B’Omer, the cycle began again. Students from New Jersey and New York schools took many of the top honors in the 2017 Chidon National Finals, held at Manhattan Day School. Many communities in The Jewish Link’s coverage area “shepped major nachat” at their children and students making it to the national finals, which in itself is no easy feat.
“There is clearly a swelling of Chidon participants around the country; we are up to 400 participants from about 70 schools or clubs over the course of this year. Last year, we had 140 students [who scored high enough] who attended the national competition and this year 180 attended,” Dovi Nadel, the national coordinator of the US Chidon for the Jewish Agency, told The Jewish Link. He shared that the event has also expanded from the competition and exam to a full day of celebration of Tanach learning.
The Jewish Agency created a Chidon carnival this year that took place after the formal written exam, where the kids were able to win prizes for their Chidon knowledge (and blow off some steam) with different stations around the room quizzing them in various types of trivia-based games, Nadel explained.
“In general, the atmosphere in the room was one of true love of Torah and real pride in what each contestant had learned and accomplished. Clearly each student put a tremendous amount of time of studying over 70 chapters of Tanach, and from the smiles on the contestants’ faces, it was clear that the participants were proud of themselves for their accomplishments,” Nadel added.
“It’s not just a competition for a trip to Israel anymore. This year was one early manifestation of a real day of learning, of celebrating Tanach,” Nadel added.
The two high scorers in the Hebrew High School division will represent the United States in the televised international finals in Israel next Yom Ha’atzmaut. They are Esther Werblowsky of Passaic, a junior at Reenas Bais Yaakov in Highland Park, and Shira Orlian, also a former Passaic resident and current Spring Valley resident and a junior at Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley. In third place was Ephraim Helfgot, a freshman at Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) in Teaneck. Yehuda Zinberg of Teaneck, a sixth-grade student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus and the youngest student in the competition, placed first in the the Hebrew Grade 6-7 division.
Starting with our youngest winner who has burst onto the “Chidon scene” with considerable swiftness, “This year we salute Yehuda Zinberg for his terrific achievement on emerging as the national winner for middle school students,” said Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school at Yavneh Academy. “Yehuda is a young man with an incredible aptitude and appetite for Torah study. Additionally, he displays exemplary middot and kindness to all. He deserves credit for his superb accomplishment.”
Rabbi Knapp added: “We are exceedingly proud of the five Yavneh students who represented themselves, and the school, at the National Chidon competition. Their accomplishment reflects their sincere motivation and careful diligence in preparing for this wonderful event,” Rabbi Knapp added.
Esther Werblowsky, daughter of Rabbi Yaakov and Tova Werblowsky, is the second student from Passaic and Reenas Bais Yaakov to represent the US at the competition in Israel (the other being Elisheva Friedman, daughter of Cary and Marsha Friedman). (Rabbi Yaakov Werblowsky, who leads the Wexner Kollel Elyon at Yeshiva University, also participated in Chidon as a student.)
Both Werblowsky and Orlian, daughter of Etan and Shifra Orlian, and granddaughter of Rabbi Dr. Mitchell and Ethel Orlian (and niece of Rabbi Meir Orlian, who also competed in the Chidon as a student and placed fourth in the world), were coached by the now-legendary Passaic-based Chidon coach Reuven (Ruby) Stepansky. Stepansky has been preparing students for the contest pro bono for six years.
Stepansky’s free Sunday-morning Chidon prep classes at Passaic’s Adas Israel Congregation, which occur at separate times for boys and girls, have continued to grow in size. “Hopefully we can keep on attracting more students and return the learning of Tanach to its proper and deserved important standing,” he said.
Passaic-Clifton was proud to have sent 14 students to the nationals this year, according to Ourkehilla, the community’s listserv.
Teaneck’s Ephraim Helfgot, representing TABC for the first time as a freshman (he is a former Yavneh Academy competitor) appears to have a big Chidon future ahead, not unlike his brother, though of course we resist all comparisons. Ephraim placed third in the nation in the Hebrew High School division. His father, Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom, said, “Rachel and I are so proud of Ephraim for his tremendous passion for learning and engagement with Tanach that brought him to this point in the National Chidon. The knowledge gained through dedication, effort and commitment is the ultimate prize that will last a lifetime. We hope Ephraim will continue growing in his learning and middot, spurred on by challenges such as these.”
Jacob Colchamiro of Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy (JKHA) placed second in the Hebrew Grade 8 Division, and was the highest ranked winner from the east coast. Ariella Fohrman, a student at Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in East Brunswick, placed third.
The students who competed in the finals were selected in the finals based on their scores in regional exams held by Chidon clubs and classes throughout the country. The final round of testing included selections from Sefer Devarim; Sefer Melachim Aleph and Beit; Sefer Iyov; the entire Megillat Ruth; and for the high school students, selections from Sefer Yirmiyahu.
Students from schools in our area who competed in the finals include: From Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey (RYNJ): Tzvi Ginzberg, Chana Aspir, Sonia Weiner and Leora Goldstein. From Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC): Tani Greengart, Shmuel Ross, Ephraim Helfgot, Akiva Sturm and Nathaniel Vinar. From Yavneh Academy: Miriam Kahan, Arielle Levy, Shimon Ross, Adira Schreiber and Yehuda Zinberg. From Passaic’s Yeshivas Beis Hillel (YBH): Yakira Rothberger, Chaim Rothberger, Akiva Besser, Eliezer Zylberman, Akiva Zylberman, Tzvi Negnewitzky (son of The Jewish Link staff members Adam and Gila Negnewitzky! Go Tzviki!) and Chaim Glasser. From Yeshivat Noam: Ari Elkin, Yehuda Mazin, Eli Nat and Ezriel Vinar. From Bruriah: Shana Erblich, Mili Chizik and Shana Schwartz. From RTMA: Noa Pascher, David Pascher and Ben Zion Kapustin. From Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy: Jacob Colchamiro, Eli Novick and Liana Maza. From Bais Yaakov Machon Ora, Passaic: Rina Glasser. From Ben Porat Yosef; Noam Barenholtz. From Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva: Ephraim Luchins and Elana Rosenblatt. From Edison, Reenas Bais Yaakov: Esther Werblowsky. From Yeshivat Netivot: Ariella Fohrman.
Anyone interested in getting involved in the Chidon is asked to reach out to Dovi Nadel, national coordinator of the American Chidon HaTanach for The Jewish Agency. His email is email@example.com. Ruby Stepansky is also available for those who have interest in his Passaic Sunday Chidon prep sessions, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at https://chidonusa.wordpress.com/.
By Bracha Schwartz and Elizabeth Kratz