Int'l Bible Contest for Youth held in person for 1st time since COVID-19

Chidon Ha’tanach, the International Bible Contest for Youth, takes place annually on Israel’s Independence Day.

 Contestants from around the world at the Jewish Agency building, meeting with Yaakov Hagoel. (photo credit: WORLD ZIONIST ORGANIZATION)
Contestants from around the world at the Jewish Agency building, meeting with Yaakov Hagoel.

Dozens of Jewish teens from many countries around the world have arrived in Israel for the upcoming Chidon Ha’tanach, the International Bible Contest for Youth that takes place annually on Israel’s Independence Day. This year the contest will take place physically, after two years of being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 45 contestants from 20 countries (including 16 contestants in the finals of the International Bible Contest for teens) gathered for the first time in two years at the ancient building of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The International Bible Contest camp, which takes place the week before the contest and is organized by the Education Ministry and the Jewish Agency, is a unique preparatory camp for the contestants, who tour the country and participate in preparatory workshops.

They met with former contestants and with Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and acting chairman of the Jewish Agency. 

The Jerusalem Post met with a few of the candidates during their first days in Israel.

“I started to study for the ‘hidon’ four years ago,” said 17-year-old Sharon Amiga from the Or Hajayim school in Mexico. “ Since I was a little girl it was my dream to participate in the contest because I love studying and I saw an opportunity to learn different things in Judaism.”

 Contestants from around the world at the Jewish Agency building, meeting with Yaakov Hagoel (credit: WORLD ZIONIST ORGANIZATION) Contestants from around the world at the Jewish Agency building, meeting with Yaakov Hagoel (credit: WORLD ZIONIST ORGANIZATION)

When asked about her favorite character in the Bible, Amiga answered “Eliyahu” (Elijah) “because in his time and through the miracles he made, we can see the hand of Hashem (God) in every moment.”

Even though she’s excited to be in Israel, she doesn’t expect to win. “I think that I don’t have a chance to win because the Israelis have been studying a lot more than me. My principal’s goal in Mexico was for me to participate in the pre-contest camp and I exceeded that since I've made it to the finals – the international contest. I want to enjoy my experience here and therefore won't spend all of my time studying,” she said.

“When I started the camp, I saw that we, as a people, have many different traditions and customs – some are Sephardic and some Ashkenazic – but what unites us is the Tanach (Hebrew scriptures).”

AVI FLATTO-KATZ, a 15 year-old boy from New York, said that “I’ve loved learning Tanach since the fourth grade. I knew I was going to participate in the contest around then, because my mom would tell me what it was like when she competed as a child.”

Flatto-Katz studies at the Ramaz High School in Manhattan. “My favorite character in Tanach is Shlomo (King Solomon), because he was the wisest person ever, and because the books that he wrote are some of my favorite books in Tanach,” he said.

Like his Mexican counterpart, Flatto-Katz doesn’t think he has a shot at winning the contest, but he hopes that a Diaspora participant will. “I don’t think that I have a chance to win, but I hope that one of my fellow American competitors will. One thing that I do to study is I make charts and lists of the important things that I need to memorize, and then memorize them,” he said. 

Jake Weinstein, a 16-years-old contestant from Johannesburg, South Africa, is a student at the King David Linksfield Jewish school. He said that COVID-19 actually was what got him into learning the Bible. “When the coronavirus pandemic began, I looked for something to do with all of my free time, so I decided to enter Chidon Ha’tanach and I immediately fell in love with all the learning from the moment I started,” Weinstein said.

“My favorite character in the Tanach is Iyob (Job), since no matter how bad his life got, he still stayed true to his values and still had faith in Hashem,” he said.

“A tip that I can give to those studying for the chidon, is to try to think like the person setting up the test and if you were the examiner, which questions you would put in," he recommended. This will help a lot with studying.”

Weinstein thinks that we have so much to learn from the Bible. “The story of the Jewish nation has always been difficult, yet our resilience has always carried us to eventual success," he said. "This story of the Jewish people is bound to continue and please God forever and ever.”

ELISHA KAHAN a 15-year-old contestant from Yeshivah of Flatbush High School in Brooklyn told the Post that “I have loved Torah since I started learning it in kindergarten. I participated in the contest twice, in 7th grade and in 9th grade.”

His favorite character in the Bible is the “prophet Elisha of course.” Kahan thinks that the winner will definitely be from Israel, although “I think whoever comes to Israel for whatever reason is a winner.” He said that the way he learns best is to “read the Tanach in the ‘leining’ (Torah reading) melody.”

He would like to share his gratitude towards Israel for organizing the contest. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity to come to Israel and see the land, people and leaders of Israel.

I know everybody at Yeshivah of Flatbush loves Israel and the Chidon.”

“I started learning Tanach about three years ago and I absolutely love it,” said Miri Garber, a 15 year old from London, England. “My family and I have always had a passion for Tanach, but I only got introduced to the Chidon when my older brother did it. He would always talk about it at home and one day he told me to give it a try. So I started learning for the junior Chidon, where I was second place. I then started loving Tanach even more. So right after I did the junior, I started revising for the senior Chidon.”

Out of all the contestants the Post spoke to, Garber is the only one who chose a female character from the Bible.  “My favorite character in Tanach is Queen Esther because I love her courage and bravery,” she said.

“In the competition I hope to do my best, so that all the work and study I’ve put in will show. I also want to make myself, my family and my friends proud.”

Regarding how she studied for the competition, “I personally am a visual learner. So I make colorful posters and pictures of details that I need to remember and put them around the house.”

She concluded by saying that “as a representative of my community, I want to express my love of Israel and say how hard it is to live in the Diaspora, away from our home.”

FOR ALMOST 60 years – every year since 1963 – the  International Bible Contest for Youth has been held in Israel, drawing the attention of the general Jewish public to the importance of the Bible and Jewish identity. Thousands of young people aged 14-18 participate every year in the process of admission to the quiz and prepare for it for several years.

Hagoel met the contestants on Monday and told them that “the Bible is the beating heart of the Jewish people; the same ember that unites us for thousands of years. The Bible is the historical connection point of Jews from around the world.

"Therefore, encouraging the study of the Bible and the participation in the International Bible Contest for Youth, constitute a cornerstone in our ability to work to preserve the heritage of the Jewish people throughout the chain of generations," he said. "This is the purpose of the existence of the national institutions and that is why we are proud to be a partner every year in this important enterprise, which is a significant founding layer in the components of the history of the people of Israel."