TEANECK Township residents Yakir Forman and Yosef Kornbluth captured the two first-place spots in last Sunday’s National Bible Contest (Hidon HaTanach), held at the Ramaz Middle School in Manhattan. Both earned free trips to Israel next spring to take part in the international round.
Kornbluth, a freshman at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy-Yeshiva University High School for Boys, took top honors in the high school division of the famously difficult Bible quiz, which is sponsored by the World Zionist Organization.
Yakir Forman & Yosef Kornbluth
Forman, who won first place in the elementary school division, is a seventh-grader at Yosef’s alma mater, The Moriah School of Englewood.
Both young men got their start at Moriah in an after-school Bible Contest club led by Rabbi Neil Winkler, a longtime Moriah teacher who’s seen at least ‘0 of his prot?g?s go on to win the national round. This year, five Moriah students qualified for the finals and four participated including seventh-grader Shulie Kornbluth, Yosef’s sister.
"I was there during the test but couldn’t stay till the end," said Winkler. "I gave them all my cell phone number, and Yakir called me and said, ‘Yosef won and by the way, so did I.’"
Students who make it to the finals have already demonstrated a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the biblical material, and must answer questions in Hebrew for day-school students, in English for public-school students to test their facility in remembering the placement of individual phrases and making connections between similar passages.
This year’s syllabus included Genesis, II Samuel, and parts of Psalms. The high school contestants also had to know parts of Ezekiel.
Kornbluth said he had been studying the material since last summer, "leining" (chanting) his way through the verses over the course of three-week cycles. "The sheer size of it was challenging," he said. "But I felt pretty confident going in."
Michael and Joanne Kornbluth were there to cheer on their two children along with one of their older sons, himself a former finalist, as was another Kornbluth brother. "We’ve had a child in the finals for eight consecutive years," Joanne Kornbluth noted with a smile. Yosef had captured seventh place as an elementary school contestant.
Winkler was tickled that a former student and Bible Contest winner, Moshe Stavsky of Teaneck, was Yosef’s coach this year. Stavsky ran an after-school club similar to Winkler’s and helped participants understand the material and anticipate questions.
Lianne Forman described her son’s achievement as "a once-in-a lifetime experience, an unparalleled accomplishment. We’re stunned, awed, and proud," she said of herself and her husband, Edward.
Yakir recalled one answer he missed: it was a multiple-choice question about Jacob’s use of the word "Hineni" ("Here I am") in Genesis. He remembered that Jacob said "Hineni" when he was going to reunite with his son Joseph in Egypt, but he had forgotten that he’d also uttered that word during a dream at his uncle Lavan’s house many years before.
Obviously that small gap in memory didn’t matter much. Like Yosef, as first-place winner, he was awarded a Tanach (complete Bible), a biblical atlas, and a concordance, and is looking forward with excitement to competing in Israel next year.