One of only a few competitors not in high school, Tehila Kornwasser of Teaneck, an eighth-grade student at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey (RYNJ), placed 10th in the International Chidon HaTanach in Jerusalem, held on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The road to the competition began last year when Tehila won first place in the Jewish Agency’s US Chidon in New York, giving her the opportunity to represent the US in Israel. She arrived on April 15 and the next day took a qualifying test. Out of 60 questions, she correctly answered 50, securing her spot as the youngest competitor in the top 16 and the next round of the contest.
Over 70 students from all over the world took part in the competition, joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency. As part of the competition, the students travelled around Israel together.
“This has been an amazing opportunity to learn Tanach at my own pace, the way I wanted to learn it,” Tehila said in a phone interview from Israel. “It has given me a love for Tanach I will never lose.”
Tehila credits the support of RYNJ for helping her make it to the contest, as well as two coaches she met with on Sundays: Ruby Stepansky, who teaches a class in Passaic for serious students to prepare for the competition, and Shalhevet Schwartz, an SAR high school student who represented the US two years ago, and offered to coach Tehila after meeting her at the US Chidon.
“The entire RYNJ family is bursting with pride. We admire Tehila’s love of Torah, commitment, relentless dedication, and the dignity and poise with which she carries herself. Tehila is a true Bat Torah,” said Morah Cindy Zucker, RYNJ Mashgicha Ruchanit.
According to Tehila, her biggest challenge was Nevi’im Achronim (the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the Twelve Prophets), which is on the national syllabus for high schoolers but not on the syllabus for elementary school—and she was the only middle school student competing. “It was more intimidating, but the beautiful thing is, I stopped being scared,” she said.
While Tehila has been to Israel previously, the atmosphere on this trip was unique. “There were so many people from different backgrounds but we all shared a focus on Tanach and our love for Israel. We’re 70 kids but we all got along.”
Tanach isn’t the only thing Tehila learned. “The experience taught me a lot about myself and my relationship with Hashem,” she said. “After studying so much, I realized that you can’t know everything, and you have to trust that whatever happens is meant to be. It gives you strength. You realize you can do so much.”
By Bracha Schwartz