Alongside barbecues and air force fly-bys, the International Bible Contest is another Independence Day institution.

This, the 49th year of the event, saw Elchanan Bloch, 17, from Netivot, walk away with first place and the free tuition at Bar-Ilan University that accompanies the prize. Akiva Abromovitz from New York was this year’s runner-up.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar opened Thursday’s event at the Jerusalem Theater, and spoke of the unique connection of the Jewish people to the Bible.

“This contest is always an exciting event, and reminds us who we are: the people of the book,” he said. “It reminds us that we all have a shared inheritance, one destiny and a shared destiny.”

The 53 contestants who fought it out to be crowned champion hailed from 22 countries, from Ireland to South Africa, Canada to Turkey, Argentina to Australia and, of course, Israel. Of the 53, 16 were teenagers.

The contestants were bombarded with questions from throughout the Bible and the centuries of Jewish history contained within it, from Saul’s lost donkeys and his meeting with Samuel the Prophet, to the still, small voice Elijah heard in the desert on Mount Horeb.

The contest is organized by the IDF chief education officer, the IDF Rabbinate, the Ministries of Defense and Education, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund.

In Israel alone, more than 12,600 students participated in the earlier stages of the contest, Sa’ar said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who, as tradition demands, poses a “prime minister’s question” to the contestants and also presents the awards, praised the teens who took part for their dedication to their Bible studies over the past months.

“These are boys and girls who know about the history and origins of their people, and who have acquired not only knowledge of the Bible but an understanding of their national, religious and moral identity,” the prime minister said.

This year’s theme was social justice, which IDF Chief Education Officer Brig.-Gen. Eli Sharmeister spoke of in his address to the contestants.

“Social justice is not just about the price of goods, but about humanity, equality and repairing the world, one of the expressions of which is shared service in the IDF,” Sharmeister said.

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