Yavneh student wins international Bible contest

TEANECK – Yavneh Academy fifth-grader Josh Meier bested contestants from several different countries in a contest testing their knowledge of Jerusalem.


Josh Meier is congratulated on winning the Bible contest by Rabbi Mordechai Elon, whose organization sponsors the event.

The Chidon Yerushalayim, for fourth- to sixth-graders, took place on Jerusalem Day, May 16, at the National Convention Center (Binyanei Ha-Uma) in Jerusalem. Josh, who’d gotten the highest score in the United States on the national round, went on to win the competition among the non-Israeli contestants.

Josh, who lives in this township, noted that Yavneh’s assistant principal, Rabbi Steven Penn, had come to each class handing out study booklets to students willing to try out for the competition. "I took the booklet," he recalled, and said, "’Why not?’"

Some 30,000 children worldwide also took the challenge, which is sponsored by an educational outreach organization called MiBereshit (mibereshit.org) founded by Rabbi Mordechai Elon of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem.

After working with his Judaic studies teacher, Sarah Ancelovitz, and his parents Elizabeth and Ronny, Josh easily passed two qualifying tests and then aced the national round. His prize: a free ticket to Israel for a week of touring prior to the international round.

At that point, the studying got tougher, with 30 new pages of material on the history of Jerusalem, all its gates, its neighborhoods, its notable buildings, the holidays and fast days that revolve around it, and about the waves of immigration over the years to Israel.

"Most of it was new to me," said Josh, who studied one hour each day at school with Yavneh graduate Ari Manas, now a senior at Torah Academy of Bergen County, and another hour and a half at home with his ‘5-year-old brother, Dani.

"He was just very driven," said Elizabeth Meier. "He loved the history and he kept saying, ‘I know I can win it.’"

The Meiers joined their son in Israel, where he was the only American contestant. "There were three from France, two from South Africa, one from Peru, and three from Uruguay," said Josh. Each group had its own counselors/interpreters.

Separate competitions were held for 15 Israeli children attending religious schools and another 15 attending secular schools. But all the kids roomed and toured together.

"It was a phenomenal experience," said Josh’s mother. "They took them on a tour of all the places they had learned about. And after the two-hour exam, they took us to the top of Yeshivat HaKotel and showed us where everything was that the children had studied about, and then all the families came together to sing ‘Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.’ There were tears running down everyone’s faces."

Josh won a tallit, a tefillin bag, and "a beautiful book about Jerusalem." Back at school, the whole fifth grade threw a party for him on Monday, his first day back.

Josh has been to Israel many times, as his grandmother and other relatives live there. But now, he said, "I feel Jerusalem is more important and special to me and I can recognize all the places there."

He has posted photos of his adventure on his own Website, www.bigmeierhouse.com