|From left, the Education Ministry’s Shlomo Ventura; fourth-place winner Daniel Cohen of France; Ezra Frazer; third-place winner Lenny Warner of Canada; first-place winner Refael Meyuchas; Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Shtauber. INTERNATIONAL BIBLE CONTEST|
Thanks to Superstorm Sandy, Teaneck’s Rabbi Ezra Frazer nearly did not make it to the International Bible Contest for Adults in Jerusalem.
An official from the Israel Education Ministry had been trying to reach him for two days in order to tell him that his score on the preliminary quiz qualified him for a free trip to Israel for the international round on Dec. 12, the fifth night of Chanukah.
It’s a good thing she persisted. Frazer, who grew up in Teaneck and lives there now, took second place in the contest, held before a live studio audience at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, broadcast throughout Israel and webcast worldwide.
“The Torah is the birth certificate and identity of every Jewish person,” Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said as he opened the competition. “It is a priceless treasure and source of the Hebrew language; it is the foundation of our values and historical rights of our people.”
The show included a musical interlude, video clips of the contestants and of Jewish life in their home countries, and a final white-knuckle lighting round of 10 questions in 60 seconds read by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Frazer’s triumph was a sort of dÃ©jÃ vu. He had won the U.S. Chidon Ha-Tanakh-National Bible Contest for Jewish Youth in 1994, when he was a sophomore at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, and placed fifth in the 1995 international competition. Since 2009 he has been coordinator of the U.S. National Bible Contest, and he also teaches at Yeshiva University.
“A couple of years ago the Education Ministry announced that they wanted to bring back the chidon for adults, and ever since then I kept my eyes peeled,” Frazer said on his last night in Israel.
In 2010, the adult version indeed was revived, but only for Israelis. This year, for the first time in 32 years, the contest was offered globally. Some 300 Jews in 51 countries took an online qualifying exam on Oct. 24. Frazer got 49 out of 50 questions correct, making him one of three Americans invited for a free week of touring, meetings, and rehearsals leading up to the contest.
“I remember thinking I wouldn’t have time to study, but I would try out just to see how much I know and how much I need to study better in the future,” said Frazer, a recent first-time father.
“Unlike in high school, where I could make it a major priority, here I have a two-month-old baby and a job. I studied on Shabbat, or when the baby was awake early anyway. I didn’t expect to do that well. But when I got to Israel, I realized all of us have other stuff going on; nobody is reading Tanach [Bible] all day.”
The winner was 24-year-old Rafael Meyuchas of Netanya, and Canadian contestant Lenny Warner took third place. The original field of 27 contestants – four Israelis and 23 foreigners – was whittled to 16 through a written test on Dec.10.
“They decided to have only one competitor per country in the televised round, but they allowed two from United States, because it’s so big, and two from Israel,” Frazer said. “In our group, all four Israelis were unbelievable. I’m sure any of the four of them would have beaten me.”
The first-round elimination question required contestants to recall an episode from Kings II (12:8 and 10) regarding a leader’s directive to priests to collect money for repairing the Holy Temple. They had to state the name of the leader (King Yeho’ash) and where the priest (Yehoyada) deposited the money (through a hole he bored in a chest beside the altar).
Eight remaining contestants were paired off by country for an elimination round. One of the pair answered while the other stayed in a soundproof booth.
“There was no time to think it through. The answer had to be at your fingertips,” Frazer said. “You had to stay calm in front of a huge crowd. Being in the Chidon as a kid definitely helped me to be calmer. I got eight out of 10 correct and the other American got seven out of 10 correct.”
In the final lighting round between Meyuchas, Frazer, Warner, and a French contestant, Frazer got nine out of 10 questions correct, while Meyuchas earned a perfect score. Frazer won NIS 30,000 (about $8,000) in addition to other prizes.
Among about a dozen relatives and friends cheering him on were his brother, Rabbi Aaron Frazer; Estelle Harris, a family friend and retired teacher from Yavneh Academy, from which Frazer graduated eighth grade, and Rabbi Zvi Grumet, Frazer’s assistant principal and Chidon coach at TABC back in 1994. His parents, wife, and students were watching on the Internet.
“Having a whole group of people rooting for you feels great,” Frazer said. As he told a reporter from Israel National News: “In what other country do you see an auditorium packed with people who want to see a Tanach contest?”