Two Bergen County teens took top honors in the national and international rounds of the prestigious Hidon HaTanach (Bible Contest).
Isaac Shulman, a Torah Academy of Bergen County junior from Englewood, placed second in the high school division last Sunday in Manhattan.
Joshua Meier, a home-schooled Teaneck 14-year-old, came in sixth in the international round on Israeli Independence Day, April 20, in Jerusalem (see sidebar).
In addition, Ben Sultan from The Frisch School placed fifth in the high school division and Elisha Penn of Yavneh Academy placed seventh in the junior high division. Both schools are in Paramus.
Isaac qualifies for a free trip to Israel for next year’s International Bible Contest. Initiated by David Ben-Gurion and overseen by the World Zionist Organization, the annual event is open to young scholars from across the world who place first or second in national rounds on each levels. Finalists this year included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son.
TABC Principal Rabbi Yosef Adler called Isaac “a real ‘ben Torah’ and mensch who excels in Judaic and general studies.” Isaac play tennis and soccer, competes on TABC’s Torah Bowl team, and reads the Torah at Cong. Ahavath Torah’s early Shabbat services.
The son of Elliot and Victoria Shulman, Isaac said he had attended an after-school Hidon preparation class with Rabbi Neil Winkler when he was at The Moriah School of Englewood, but never passed the qualifying test. This time, he added, “I studied.”
Based on a syllabus that included Genesis, Samuel I, and parts of Hezekiah and Psalms, contestants had to identify common themes and details, such as matching biblical grandsons with their grandfathers. Isaac sometimes studied with friends Sruli Farkas and Yakir Forman. Yakir won fourth place in the international round in 2007 when he was a Moriah eighth-grader.
Sunday marked the 20th consecutive year that Moriah has sent finalists to the nationals. Its students compose a large percentage of past winners.
Principal Elliot Prager said that Winkler “has transformed an after-school club into an annual focus of pride and excitement for all of our students. Above and beyond his superb command of Tanach, and the knowledge and text analysis skills which he imparts to his students, it is his ‘ahavat Torah’ – the passion for Torah learning – which Rabbi Winkler embodies and which has produced several generations of Hidon finalists and winners at Moriah.”
Winkler has taught Judaic studies at Moriah for 32 years and has offered his weekly prep class for a quarter-century. Many of his Hidon protÃ©gÃ©s went on to become prominent rabbis and teachers.
He does not stress winning, Winkler said, but encourages his students to “enjoy and absorb the forest of [biblical] knowledge. In the end, you will know the material so well you will know every tree in that forest.”
Six students qualified for the nationals by answering multiple-choice questions such as: Which of the Egyptian plagues was described in Psalms as having entered “the royal chambers”? What practice was said to have become “a law and statute in Israel”? Why did David accuse Abner and his men of deserving of death? How high did the waters of the flood reach? Which gifts did Abraham not receive upon leaving the house of the Pharaoh?
Promising Israeli students get half-days off from school to study for the nationals, while foreign students lack that luxury. “You can tell which kids have a fire burning within them and push themselves to study on their own time,” said Winkler, who is rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee. “When kids pick up some passion for it, then my job is finished.”