One of the highlights of Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel is the Chidon HaTanach, the international Bible contest for high school students. Israelis crowd around their television sets to watch the intellectual jousting just as Americans do in front of their screens on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Chidon traces its history to David Ben Gurion who was famous for peppering his speeches with Biblical allusions in order to demonstrate how the modern State is a continuation of the ancient historical narrative of the Jewish people. As much as the early Zionists rejected the Talmud, they embraced the Tanach because they viewed it as the perfect model for Jewish national rebirth in its homeland.
Six decades later, TanenbaumCHAT Tanach aficionados are writing the next chapter in that Zionist story; our students continue to participate and place among the highest finishers in the Chidon.
Ryan Ripsman TCK Class of 2017, who placed 4th worldwide in the 2015 competition, competed in Chidon every year for the past five years. Now as a TanenbaumCHAT Chidon coach, he says: “it was an awesome experience. It was very special for me to be able to share all of the knowledge I had gathered over the past years with others who were just as passionate about Chidon as I. On top of my experience as a coach, I also helped judge this year’s contest. It was a fascinating experience to see how the contest I had competed in worked from behind the scenes.”
One of the forces behind the TCW’s participation has been Sofia Freudenstein who is graduating this year. Sofia placed 6th in the competition in Israel two years ago. She describes the impact the Chidon had on her: “The first thing I was required to do was to read about 80 chapters, which exposed to some texts that I had never even heard of before. I was lucky enough to place in the top 3 in the National Chidon Contest here in Canada, and this meant getting to compete on the international level in Israel the next Yom Ha’atzmaut. It also meant having to study a total of 426 chapters. The thing I gained most from the Chidon was an appreciation of my Judaism on a whole new level. Although the competition is on hard facts, lots of questions (theological, halakhic, ontological) arise when you study over half of the Tanakh. Reading Tanakh cultivated my love for Judaism and enhanced my overall curiosity in both Written and Oral Torah. I believe that my future aspirations to pursue a rabbinic role can be traced to my learning for the Chidon HaTanakh.”
Sofia was a coach at TCW, and she encouraged David Polisuk (Class of 2017) to participate. For David, “Chidon taught me how to study and I finally found something harder than taking eleven courses at TanenbaumCHAT. I guess all my work paid off since I won the day by finishing in the top 12 this year! Since I am in the Intermediate stream, Hebrew is harder for me and therefore I studied Chidon in English. That in itself was a challenge since the person running Chidon said that the official language is Hebrew, not English. In one of the questions on the test this year, the contest writer translated the Hebrew word for fish into peppers making a question have no possible answer in the English. Although they corrected this mistake, I found learning in English exceptionally hard. Since I am in grade 11 and did not progress to the Israel level, I cannot compete in Chidon next year. The next stage for me is ensuring that Chidon continues next year.”
At TCK, Ben Shore (Class of 2017 and the fastest Torah reader north of Rutherford Rd.) made a splash this year: “I have always had a passion for Tanach. I love the stories and the thought- provoking questions it raises. The preparation that helped me the most in this contest was laining. Once I lained a torah portion, it was memorized, which was a huge bonus for this contest. For the non-Torah sections we were required to learn, I looked over stories and memorized details, important quotes, and prophecies. What surprised me the most was some question styles which I did not prepare for or expect (such as defining phrases). The best part of Chidon for me was seeing my hard work pay off. I studied for dozens of hours, and it felt amazing when I looked at a question and knew exactly what the answer was. I placed second in Canada this year so for me, the next stage is preparing for the competition in Israel next year. I am preparing for this by memorizing as much as I can and by paying attention to the small details, such as obscure places, people and prophecies.”
As head of school, I can only imagine what it must be like for 70-80 participants to come from 30-40 different countries to compete in the final round of the competition. Amidst the multitude of languages, dress, and religious backgrounds, they all shared one thing in common: their love of Tanach in the true spirit of Ben Gurion, the founder of the modern State of Israel.