The 59 contestants from 34 countries who are participating in the Bible Quiz that takes place on Independence Day each year, and will be held for the 46th time in Jerusalem on Wednesday, met on Monday with President Moshe Katsav, who told them that the Bible was the connecting link between dispersed Jewish communities during two millennia of exile.
Many historians wonder, he said, how the Jewish People had survived in the face persecutions, pogroms and exiles. It was the Bible that kept them together "long before there were telephones or Internet."
Independence Day, Katsav continued, is not an isolated date in the calendar, but is linked to many other important dates in the saga of the Jewish people going back 3,500 years to the exodus from Egypt and continuing through other significant events commemorated by festivals such as Purim and Hanukka. "Independence Day is an additional link in the long chain of Jewish history," he said.
Katsav expressed his pleasure that Jewish unity is the central theme of this year's Bible Quiz, and urged the contestants to contemplate on the significance of the fact that although they come from so many communities in so many countries with so many different cultures and languages that had been cut off from each other for centuries, they were still part of a unifying factor - the Bible.
He expected the contestants to return home without any sense of disappointment "because you are all already champions... but with a much stronger connection to the Bible to Israel and to the Jewish People," he said.
He also urged them to become leaders in strengthening the contacts of their home communities with the Jewish religion and the Jewish people at large.
In a subtle campaign for aliya, Katsav said: "We all met each other more than two thousand years ago. Now we have come together again. I want you to link your lives with Israel. Be certain that if you start families in the State of Israel, your progeny, a century from now, will be proud that you severed your ties with the diaspora."
Ben Kendall of the US, who won the diaspora section of last year's Bible Quiz for which he was given a scholarship that enabled him to study in Israel for a year, has made aliya. This is part of the purpose of the Bible Quiz, said one of the officials accompanying the group. They spend three weeks getting a broad picture and experience of Israel, including three days in the Gadna, a pre-military training program for teenagers, and then many of them come back, if not to stay, at least to study or for a long vacation.
Sometimes, it may even be a family affair. Rachel Bernard, a current contestant from the US, is in Israel with her brother Daniel, who is also a contestant.
Speaking on behalf of her fellow contestants, Bernard, who delivered her address in fluent Hebrew, albeit with a heavy American accent, told Katsav that they hoped that Israel as a democracy would be able to cope with the ongoing challenges that confront the country, and that its people would live in peace and economic stability.