Jerry Seinfeld, the popular American Jewish comedian, quipped that “according to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death.... Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!”I recently had the honor of being a judge at the eighth annual Harry Hurwitz National Public Speaking Competition. The contest, held in Hebrew, Arabic and English for junior and senior high schools across Israel, was the brainchild of Ann Kirson Swersky, a South African immigrant, and Bronislava (Bronya) Kabakovitch, who made aliyah from the former Soviet Union. They sought to raise the level of public speaking among Israeli schoolchildren. Swersky, the founder and chairperson of Sia’h Va’Sig: The Israel Debating Society, named it in memory of Harry Hurwitz, an eloquent South African journalist who made aliyah and served as an adviser and speechwriter to prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir before founding Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center in 1988.Among those attending the competition, held for the first time via Zoom, was Hurwitz’s pediatrician son, Hillel Hurwitz. “The current format in memory of the late Harry Hurwitz was initiated eight years ago when two desires met on my desk,” Swersky says. “Bronya needed a venue for the finals. I was looking for a way to commemorate Harry, who had been a close friend of my late father (Edwin Oscar Kirson). Harry was a superb public speaker and believed in the power of speech to promote the image of Israel. I had already initiated the Junior Knesset (a role-playing simulation of how Israeli democracy works) with Harry’s blessing and it seemed the perfect venue for a memorial event. Hillel agreed.” Some 180 children from 16 schools participated in the competition, which ran from October 2020 to January 2021 in two stages – regional speaking contests for schools across the country and the grand finale on January 6. The theme was “New Challenges - New Goals - New Opportunities.” The 10 high school students I judged (together with two other judges) focused their English-language presentations for 5-7 minutes on the coronavirus crisis. The winner we chose was Shahed Ghnaim from a school in Sakhnin who spoke brilliantly about the pandemic widening gaps between students, followed by Shira Yisraeli from a school in Lod who talked about new mental health problems caused by COVID-19. (The judges, incidentally, did not see their full names until the final ceremony.) “The most important value of the competition was that the young speakers of different ages (6th-12th grades), of different ethnic, social, religious and secular backgrounds from the northern, southern, Jerusalem and central areas, got their voices heard,” says Kabakovitch, who serves as director and coordinator. “Israel is bringing up its future generation of young leaders who are able to take a stand on the issues of importance, addressing the current challenges, conveying their message and voicing their opinion.”It is no surprise that Israeli students have fared well in international competitions. In 2018, Israel’s national high school debate team was crowned European champions at a tournament in Stuttgart. A year later, Hebrew University of Jerusalem students Roy Schulman and Elaye Karstadt won the World University Debating Championship in the English Second-Language (ESL) category, hosted by the University of Cape Town.I was so impressed by the student speakers – boys and girls, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular – that it renewed my faith in the future of Israel. If only some of them would go into politics – or journalism!