Two seventh-graders at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge swept the top two spots in the Hebrew middle school division of the 55th annual National Bible Contest-Chidon HaTanach on May 11 at the Manhattan Day School.
Tehila Kornwasser of Teaneck won first place, and second place went to Nechama Reichman of Englewood.
In the Hebrew high school division, Shalva Eisenberg of Passaic placed second. Her older brother, Yishai, tied for first place in the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth in Jerusalem last year.
|Tehila Kornwasser, left, and Nechama Reichman with RYNJ teacher and Bible Contest coach Sharon Motechin.|
Because her score was high enough, Shalva has qualified to join the first-place winners at the international round in Jerusalem next May.
The Hebrew middle-school contestants had to answer detailed questions about people, places, and events in the books of Genesis and Judges, as well as parts of Psalms and commentaries on Genesis by Rashi. The high-school syllabus also included parts of the book of Ezekiel.
Tehila said the most difficult part of the quiz was the second half, which requires contestants to identify minor differences between similar verses in the syllabus material. Altogether, contestants must answer about 125 questions.
Last year she placed fifth, and also launched a bat mitzvah fundraising project for the Babian family of Israel, whose financial straits were publicized after their son Elior tied with Yishai Eisenberg for first place internationally.
Tehila attributes her performance to “a love for learning Torah, which I got from RYNJ and my amazing family, the help and support of my Chidon teachers, and an insane amount of studying.”
As a first-place winner, Tehila has won a place in next spring’s international round.
She and Nechama studied with a group coached by Reuven (Ruby) Stepansky of Passaic.
Mr. Stepansky has a record of coaching local Bible Contest champions, including Asher Brenner, then an eighth-grader at YBH of Passaic-Hillel, who won first place in the Hebrew middle school division last year with a perfect score.
He started coaching three years ago at the request of the Eisenberg siblings’ father, Sa’adia. “I believe that Hashem has given me the enthusiasm of learning and allowing the Tanach, and learning in general, to be an integral part of life,” he said, adding that he tries to convey his enthusiasm and attention to details.
“I make the learning fun by including germane but tangential material as it relates to the Tanach, such as Hebrew grammar, history, and Jewish law,” he added. “For the students, I believe the fun is a key aspect.”
Nechama gave kudos to “most of all, Hashem,” and to her coaches – Mr. Stepansky, RYNJ teacher Sharon Motechin, and Rabbi Moshe Stavsky of the Bais Medrash of Bergenfield and the Ramaz Upper School. “In addition, I would like to thank my school for introducing me to Chidon HaTanach. I very much enjoyed this wonderful experience, especially because I experienced it with my classmate and good friend, Tehila Kornwasser.”
Though she did not qualify for a trip to Israel, she may reenter the competition any time through 11th grade.
Shlomi Helfgott of Teaneck, a student at the Yavneh Academy in Paramus, placed seventh in the Hebrew middle school division. Altogether, 134 students participated in the contest.
At this year’s international round, broadcast on live television in Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), May 6, North Jersey students Elisheva Friedman of Passaic and Dani Peyser of Teaneck were among the 16 finalists.
Rabbi Ezra Frazer, coordinator of the National Bible Contest for the Jewish Agency for Israel, related that when he was introduced on stage in the 1995 International Bible Contest, host Avshalom Kor mispronounced Teaneck as “Teanock,” and was corrected by head judge Yosef Burg.
“This year, when Dr. Kor introduced Dani Peyser, he said, ‘Dani Peyser of Teaneck, New Jersey – a city that has provided us with many Tanach champions,’ which speaks to the tremendous number of children from this region who have represented the United States in the International Chidon over the past 20 years.”
“As a young Chidon participant in Teaneck, I felt that the Chidon’s values – dedication to Torah study and connecting that study to a love of Israel – corresponded to the core values of my community,” Rabbi Frazer continued. “I believe that the continued success of children from northern New Jersey in the Chidon reflects the fact that we have many communities in this area that continue to cherish these values.”