Tackling the Bible Quiz
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Tackling the Bible Quiz

Local student comes in third internationally; others win area contests

Yitzchok Spivak with the other top scorers in the 2022 International Bible Quiz in Jerusalem. (Sceenshot)
Yitzchok Spivak with the other top scorers in the 2022 International Bible Quiz in Jerusalem. (Sceenshot)

Yitzchok Spivak of Monsey, 17, looked as cool as a cucumber as he contemplated his first question at the International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Quiz) for Youth.

It was May 5, Israeli Independence Day, and he was on stage at the Jerusalem Theater on live TV, along with 15 other finalists.

However, he confided that despite his outer appearance, “I was nervous that I would get it wrong and be eliminated right away.”

He need not have worried.

Tamar Rosenfeld and Ari Spivack are U.S. Chidon finalists from Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus. (Jane Haslam Photography)

Yitzchok aced that question — he had to name the king (David) and the circumstances (the bringing of the Holy Ark to Jerusalem) referred to in verse 19 of 2 Samuel 6:19 — and “after that I felt confident and I was much calmer,” he said.

Yitzchok went on to place third in the famously difficult contest, coming in behind two Israelis who tied for first place.

He was one of 45 national winners from 20 countries vying for the 16 finalist slots in the inter-national round. The Bible Quiz sponsors, the Education Ministry and the Jewish Agency, treated them all to a weeklong “camp” of touring and preliminary rounds before the big day.

“I love all the friends that I made from all around the world,” Yitzchok said. “I will always treasure these memories and try to stay in touch.”

His prizes were a MacBook and a large Koren Tanach. (“Tanach” is the Hebrew acronym for the full canon of the Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings.)

Penina Crystal of Ilan High School in Ocean Township and Joshua Knoll of Yeshivat Frisch get their awards from Rabbi Dovi Nadel, coordinator of the USA Chidon HaTanach, after tying for third place in the Hebrew High School division. (Jane Haslam Photography)

The son of Aaron and Rikki Spivak, Yitzchok attended Yeshiva Ohr Reuven in Wesley Hills and now is enrolled in an all-day learning program at Yeshiva University.

Although the syllabus required an encyclopedic familiarity with all or parts of nearly all 24 books of the Bible, he did not work with a private tutor before the contest, as many competitors do.

“My father had begun teaching me Tanach from a young age and I just reviewed the material on my own over and over again,” Yitzchok said. “I love Tanach and want to share that love with the world.”

Asked who is favorite biblical character is, Yitzchok named Boaz from the book of Ruth, “because he was kind, caring, happy, and grateful. He also made sure to do things the right way instead of the easy way or letting things spiral out of control.”

Micky Cyrulnik of Yavneh Academy reacts as he hears that he won third place in the Hebrew Middle School division. (Jane Haslam Photography)

Yitzchok earned his ticket to Israel through his performance at last year’s national contest, the Dr. Shimshon Isseroff USA Chidon HaTanach. It was named in tribute to a former Chidon HaTanach chairman and Teaneck resident who died at age 100 in July 2021.

This year’s national contest, which took place May 1 at SAR High School in Riverdale, pitted 250 regional winners against each other in various divisions, and yielded some top scorers from our area.

Maya Tratt, 15, who lives in Scarsdale and is a sophomore at Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus, earned a free trip to Israel for next spring’s International Chidon HaTanach for her second-place finish in the Hebrew High School division of the event.

Maya said that she and her family are newly observant. Because she lacked a formal childhood basis in Bible study, she “opted to take the more methodical approach to understanding the Jewish community by studying the fundamental texts.”

Her interest in the Bible Quiz, she added, was sparked as well by her competitive nature and her love of reading and literature. “The opportunity to combine that with religion through the form of the Chidon was, and continues to be, a very exciting opportunity,” she said.

Maya Tratt of Yeshivat Frisch accepts her award from Rabbi Dovi Nadel, coordinator of the 2022 Dr. Shimshon Isseroff USA Chidon HaTanach. (Jane Haslam Photography)

Hebrew High School Division contestants had to be familiar with all of Genesis and 1 Kings, parts of Psalms, and parts of Ezekiel.

Maya began preparing by “reading through the material as if I were reading any other narrative, but part of what makes Tanach so special and the study of it so rewarding is that simple reading is far from sufficient. I would try to write down the details of what I thought would be important as a way of committing to memory.”

Fortunately for Maya, she has been learning Arabic at Frisch with Rabbi Yair Shahak, who in 2016 became the first American to win the International Chidon HaTanach for Adults in Jerusalem.

So it was only natural that his one-on-one classes with Maya morphed into studying the Bible Quiz syllabus when she became serious about the contest. “His guidance was invaluable, as was the help of the Chidon Club at Frisch,” she said.

Yitzchok Spivak is at the Jerusalem Theater after winning third place in the International Bible Quiz on May 5. (Screenshot)

Three other Frisch students placed in the top 10 of the Hebrew High School Division: Joshua Knoll of Teaneck, third place; Ilan Romm of White Plains, fifth place; and Tamar Rosenfeld of Stamford, Conn., sixth place.

Shimon Ross of Bergenfield, a junior at Torah Academy of Bergen County, placed eighth in that division.

His father, Rabbi Aaron Ross, is assistant principal of the middle school at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, from which three students had top 10 finishes: Emanuela Milman of Paramus and Eli Friedman of Teaneck in the Hebrew Middle School Division, and Eli’s brother, Daniel, in the Sixth Grade Division. These students studied all of Genesis and parts of 1 Kings and Psalms.

“We are so proud of all our students who participated in the Chidon HaTanach this year, dedicating time in and out of school to push themselves to greater heights of Torah study,” Rabbi Ross said. “A special thanks to Morah Karen Kedmi, our amazing Chidon coach, for guiding them throughout the year.”

Yeshivat Noam seventh grader Micky Cyrulnik of Teaneck came in third in the Hebrew Middle School Division, and Naftali Norman of Teaneck, an eighth grader at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, placed fifth.

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