Students to match wits in annual Judaic contest

Students to match wits in annual Judaic contest

Same one of the two countries that the most immigrants to Israel came from. What was Tzahal called before 1948?

Those are just two of the questions contestants will face on Sunday in the Fair Lawn Jewish Community Council’s ‘9th annual Judaic contest. This year, students will answer questions largely related to Israel, as part of the community-wide Israel@60 celebrations.

Steven Gotlib, far right, working with teammates at last year’s Judaic contest. Courtesy of the Gotlib family.

Sponsored by Herbert Heffler in memory of his late wife, Ruth, a past president of the FLJCC, the contest is open to all Fair Lawn Jewish children in the fourth through seventh grades.

Said Joan Goldstein, Heffler’s daughter, "My mother came up with the idea in the late 1970s to bring together Fair Lawn kids of different backgrounds who might not otherwise meet. It was chance for them to socialize, work together, and have fun."

The competition, now held each year at a different borough synagogue, began as an evening event at Fair Lawn’s Memorial Middle School. "It was a really big deal," said Goldstein, "complete with buzzers they made for the kids."

Today the teams huddle around small erasable white boards on which they write their answers, turning them over at the same time. Each correct answer earns that team’s members a point. Emcee for the event is Michael Baer, a teacher at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.

All pre-registered students received a set of questions to expect during the face-off, so they could study in advance. However, Goldstein noted, no one is turned away, and walk-in contestants are welcome.

This year’s questions focus on Israeli geography, ancient and modern history, Israel in the Tanach, and modern trivia. Students are grouped by grade level, with care taken to balance each team based on the students’ backgrounds. All winning teams’ members receive a monetary prize, and all attendees enjoy a pizza party afterwards.

While some students are competing for the first time, others — such as Miranda Alper, a fifth grader who attends Hebrew school at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center — are making return appearances,

"Our team was pretty well balanced last year, but we had some last-minute shuffling (of members) and only last-minute studying, so it was hard," said Miranda. "It’s good that we have the study guide this year. But I met a lot of new kids and it’s a lot of fun," she added.

First-timer Claire Lazar enters the contest from a very different perspective: that of a native Israeli who speaks Hebrew at home. "We moved here when I was in kindergarten," explained Claire. She does not attend religious school, but likes to support and attend Jewish events.

Her mother told Claire about the contest. "She thought it would be a nice event and wanted me to do it," said Claire, a seventh-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. "I thought, ‘That’s cool, it sounds like fun.’" Despite her home-court advantage, Claire said she might ask her mother to help her prepare.

It’s all in the family for Danielle Cohen, a fifth-grader at Temple Beth Sholom’s Hebrew school. Her older sisters, Rachel and Jessica, now in high school, competed every year they could. "They enjoyed it, so I really wanted to do it," said Danielle.

Steven Gotlib hopes the third time works like a charm. Now in sixth grade, he has competed twice already on winning teams. "It was fun to work with other kids I didn’t know," explained Steven, who attends the Fair Lawn Jewish Center. "Everyone who does it should enjoy it; it’s a fun experience." His younger sister, Melissa, will compete for the first time as a fourth grader.

"Our family is delighted to help keep this Fair Lawn tradition going," said Goldstein. "People whose children were in the contest a generation ago are now seeing their grandchildren compete. There’s a lot of continuity here, and our family feels it’s a fitting tribute to my mother’s memory to help it carry on."

The Judaica contest will take place at Temple Beth Sholom, 40-‘5 Fair Lawn Avenue, starting at 10:45 a.m.

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