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.