River Edge—Two Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey students made history as winners of the Jewish Agency’s U.S. Chidon Ha-Tanakh competition, with 12-year-olds Tehila Kornwasser of Teaneck and Nechama Reichman of Englewood placing first place and second place, respectively, in the Hebrew middle school division. Another notable Bergen County winner in the competition was Yavneh Academy student Shlomi Helfgott of Teaneck, who placed seventh.
This year the material covered the entire book of Bereishit (with select Rashis), Shoftim, and parts of Tehillim. Day school students take the exam in Hebrew, while others take the exam in English, with separate Hebrew exams for junior high students and high school students through grade 11. The Jewish Agency sends preliminary exams to schools during the school year and on the basis of those preliminary exams they invite high scorers to the national finals in New York. The top scorer on each exam in New York wins the opportunity to represent the United States in the subsequent year’s International Contest in Jerusalem, which is nationally televised in Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).
The United States event took place last Sunday, Mother’s Day, at Manhattan Day School. There were 134 total participants with 94 middle school competitors taking the exam in Hebrew, 27 high school competitors, and 13 taking the exam in English.
In addition to RYNJ, Moriah, Yavneh Academy, Yeshivat Noam and Ma’ayanot all had students who qualified to participate in the finals, in addition to several Teaneck-based students who go to school in Manhattan and Staten Island, said Rabbi Ezra Frazer, the coordinator of the national contest.
The finals included a two-part, two and a half hour exam, followed by an afternoon video exam for the morning’s top scorers. The students also heard from former champions and saw a special video presentation about the event in Israel. The first place winner, Kornwasser, won the right to compete in next year’s International Chidon Ha-Tanakh competition in Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut (5775/2015).
Kornwasser and Reichman are both in Morah Cindy Zucker’s 7th grade class at RYNJ.
“All of us at RYNJ are extremely proud of our talmidot chachamot and their love of learning. As their Morah, I am absolutely awed by their commitment of so much time and energy to preparing for chidon, in addition to their regular studies, and by the breadth of Torah knowledge that they have acquired. They serve as role models who have taught their fellow classmates (with a great deal of humility) that success comes with setting goals and working hard,” said Zucker.
Sharon Motechin, RYNJ’s Chidon Ha-Tanakh coach for the past seven years, who also teaches Hebrew and general studies in the resource room, shared some details of the level of preparation the girls have engaged in. “The girls have been studying since last summer. Some get up early in the morning or meet on weekends. Hundreds of hours went into this,” Motechin said. The team, which includes half a dozen other students, also meets twice a week in school during lunch, she added.
“Both Tehila and Nechama are too modest not to be embarrassed by all the attention. They are mature, reserved, respectful, and obviously very motivated and bright. Both were regional champions of Bergen County this year,” said Motechin.
Last year, Kornwasser placed 5th in the national competition when she was only in 6th grade, the first eligible year, and her bat mitzvah project last year was dedicated to helping an Israeli Chidon winner whose family was struggling. Kornwasser is the daughter of Lazer and Jessica, and they live in Teaneck. They are members of Congregation Beth Abraham.
This is Reichman’s second year placing at the national level. She is the daughter of Rabbi Zev and Chana Reichman of Englewood. Rabbi Reichman teaches at Yeshiva University and is mara d’asra of East Hill Synagogue in Englewood.
Kornwasser joins another northern New Jersey high school division winner, Shalva Eisenberg of Passaic, who placed second overall. While only first place winners usually go to Israel, Eisenberg’s score was high enough that she will join the first place winner at the competition next year.
Rabbi Frazer, who is coordinator of the contest in America, teaches Biblical Hebrew at YU, is also a lifelong Teaneck resident in addition to being a former Chidon champion, shared how special it is to have such exemplary students coming from Bergen County to compete in the Israeli event. “When I was introduced as a contestant in the 1995 International Chidon, legendary host Dr. Avshalom Kor introduced me as “Ezra Frazer of Teanock”—mispronouncing my hometown’s name, and Dr. Yosef Burg, the head Chidon judge, had to correct Dr. Kor’s pronunciation,” Frazer recalled.
By Elizabeth Kratz