Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest
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Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest

July 03, 2012 04:10AM
An occasional Lookjed feature is one that I call "Creative Responses to Educational Challenges," where educators are given a platform to share initiatives that have worked for them in their schools.
This is an opportunity for others to understand and respond to successful ideas and consider them for implementation with their own students. In the past, Lookjed has featured such varied programs as the David Project, teaching spirituality in school, Israel education, teaching about social justice and so forth.

Today Lookjed is featuring an essay on the Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest. In contrast with standard Lookjed posts, however, this one offers the perspective of two students on their experience as participants in this program. I asked Ezra Frazer, the coordinator of the Chidon HaTanach in the United States to offer an introduction to the program, its goals and purpose, which is followed by an essay written by Yishai and Yael Eisenberg that describes the Chidon from the perspective of student participants.

I welcome your thought and comments.


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Shalom

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Introduction: Ezra Frazer

The US National Bible Contest (Chidon HaTanach) is a contest that the Jewish Agency for Israel sponsors for American Jewish youth in grades 6-11. The contest tests students on the details of stories in several Biblical books. Last year, we studied selections from the books of Vayikra, Bemidbar, Melachim, Yeshayahu (for high school only), Ezra, and Nechemiah.

The contest groups divides students by grade level into separate groups for junior high students and high school students (through grade 11). Within each age group, Day School students (of all denominations) take exams in Hebrew, while others take exams in English. On the basis of preliminary exams, we invite high scorers to the national finals in New York in May. The top scorer on each exam in New York wins a free trip to represent the USA in the subsequent year’s International Contest in Jerusalem. In 2012, over 280 students took the preliminary exams. Of these, approximately 110 students traveled to New York to compete in the national finals.

The preliminary exams tend to focus on fairly straightforward facts, such as recognizing better-known quotes. On the other hand, I write extremely difficult exams for the national finals, focusing on more obscure quotes and facts. When I look back at the end of a year, I feel tremendously gratified on 2 levels – a) seeing that so many children have put in the effort to study for the Chidon, and b) seeing that a handful have achieved a level of mastery that will position them to become the future scholars of the Jewish community. In addition to the knowledge of Tanach that these students amass, they develop levels of self-discipline and commitment to Torah study that serve them well in the future. (Indeed, at Yeshiva University – where I teach Biblical Hebrew – I am amazed at how many Roshei Yeshiva, Bible professors, and Bible doctoral students were Chidon champions in their youth.)

This year, two siblings from Passaic – Yishai and Yael Eisenberg – pulled off a remarkable achievement for a pair of siblings. They both scored perfectly on all preliminary exams, and Yishai answered all 120 questions correctly on the Junior High national finals. Yael, for her part, was one of 2 students who came within a few questions of a perfect score on the High School national finals, and she wound up in second place by the narrowest of margins. A third Eisenberg sibling, Shalva, performed quite well, too, considering that she was a 6th grader in her first year of Chidon eligibility.

I was very touched to see that the Eisenberg siblings decided to write some reflections about their experience. I hope that their experience and accomplishments will inspire other students to work hard at Chidon and grow in both their knowledge and their self-discipline.

For more information about the US Chidon, please visit our website: [chidonusa.wordpress.com]

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What We Learned from the Chidon
Yishai and Yael Eisenberg

We spent a lot of time this school year studying for the National Chidon Tanach, and we wanted to tell people what we learned from it. Aside from the Torah knowledge we gained, we learned many other things as well.

Perseverance:
We decided to study for the Chidon because it seemed like an interesting challenge, and because we wanted a free trip to Israel. There weren't too many other kids we knew who were interested in preparing for the Chidon, and although our schools were not against us participating in the Chidon, we really had to prepare on our own. We gave up our spare time, and we concentrated on learning the Chidon material.
Chidon taught us the importance of time, and taking advantage of every second. We had limited amount of time to study, so every second was important. Very often we would sit on the bus to school or on the line at the supermarket reviewing the material. We never realized how much spare time we had until we started Chidon. Suddenly every second became valuable.

Pain and Pleasure:
Because we wanted to win we studied as hard as we could. It wasn't easy. There were many times we wanted to give up. We were stressed from school, and barely had time to do our school work; how would we find time to study Tanach? We felt this way more than once, but when we did we would take a (short) break, and focus on school for a while. After a while, we were ready to go back to Tanach.
The hardest part was when we had to learn the Chidon material for the first time. The words were hard, we didn’t know the story, and the learning seemed to go very slowly. When we thought about the job ahead of us, we were overwhelmed. We had to learn sixty to eighty perakim of Tanach, and to know them well! How could we master all of this material? The first time we read the text we couldn’t really understand or appreciate it. It was just like any other difficult subject.
The second time we learned through the text it was easier, and the third time it became easier still. When we reached a level of knowledge that we were comfortable with, we began to appreciate the material much more and began to enjoy the learning. We began to cross-reference on our own. We would ask each other questions: where did we learn about water before? How many times does fire appear in the material? Where do different coronations take place? These questions forced us to do quick mini-reviews of the all the material, and made the learning exciting.
But the excitement included more tediousness. In order to answer our own questions, we had to go over the material again and again – and then another time. It was material we knew already, but no matter how well we thought we knew it, we needed to know it better. Because we knew the material so well we assumed we knew what was coming and this made it hard to maintain our focus or even interest. And even though we assumed that we knew what was coming, we weren’t always right – and this could be very frustrating.

Chidon and School:
Studying for Chidon is different than studying for school. In school, our goals are usually short-term: we study for a test, for a final, or in order to write a report. The goal is not more than two weeks away, or two months at most. With Chidon we had to study, study, study, towards a goal that was months, almost a year, away. We had to learn how to schedule ourselves, setting smaller goals, and then moving on to bigger goals.
Furthermore, in school we don't usually have to remember material that we were already tested on. When preparing for Chidon, we could not throw away our old notebooks – and with them our “old knowledge” – at the end of a unit of study; we had to master the old material, learn new material, and incorporate the old information. This was really hard!
Chidon also taught us how to study. People who don't really know what the Chidon is have told us that the Chidon is all memorization. It is true that you need to remember a lot of material for the Chidon. But this is true of all subjects – you can't analyze information unless you know it really well. But the truth is that Chidon requires much more than just memorization. Learning for the Chidon taught us to pick up on details while reading, to notice anomalies in stories or in language, and to be conscious of ways in which to compare and contrast similar stories. We learned how to review and review, and to increase our knowledge with each review. Constantly re-reading the Chidon material while paying close attention to the language of the text allowed us to develop broad theories about what we were learning, lessons that we could apply to our lives.

Skills and Appreciation of the Rabbis:
We've picked up a number of skills during Chidon learning, some of them almost unconsciously. For example, studying for tests suddenly became much simpler. We have developed a number of techniques to help us remember things in our own way, and have learned how to make material interesting for ourselves even after reviewing the same material multiple times. We've learned how to turn ourselves into ‘Google search.’ Now, if someone mentions a word we can go through 60 perakim of Tanach quickly to find all the places where that word is mentioned. Since then, whenever we are learning Tanach in school and we don't understand a word in a pasuk, we can go through the perakim that we know in our head and find a word from the same shoresh. We can then use the cross reference to discover the meaning of that unclear word. Very often after doing this we look into mefarshim and see that not only have they brought down our pasuk (to explain the unclear word) but many other psukim as well! This gives us a real sense of accomplishment.
As we gained knowledge in Tanach, we gained appreciation for the knowledge, effort, and wisdom of Chazal. When we saw how they would cross-reference far-flung psukim to examine a detail, we realized how much effort and skill that took, and we were awed by their accomplishment; they didn't have books, concordances, or even electric lights to study by at night, and yet they somehow managed to have Tanach at their fingertips!
Reviewing the material again and again gave us an appreciation for the subtlety of the text, and the creativity of Chazal. Part of preparing for Chidon makes you aware of poetic language. This made us realize the beauty of Tanach's style. We also learned to appreciate that Chazal noticed the subtlety of Tanach language, and used it for deriving halacha and midrash.


Tanach: Our Heritage
Studying for the Chidon gave us the simple knowledge of the timeline and stories that formed the Jewish people. We were able to experience the ups and downs of Bnei Yisrael in the desert, what the Bible tells us about life for the Jews in the desert, and many of the rules the Jews received in anticipation of entering the Land of Israel.
We learned about the importance of Jewish unity. Once the Jews set up their monarchy in Israel we learned that succession to the throne was not smooth, and discovered how easily the Jewish people were broken in two. We learned about the power of a prophet, and the risks he took when he would challenge a king. We also learned about the difficulties of returning from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel to rebuild a country and re-establish religious observance.

Jewish Appreciation
We spent a lot of time learning for Chidon, and we know that a lot of other kids did too. When we – finally! – made it to Nationals it was exciting to see all the other kids who loved Tanach and put lots of time and effort into learning it. There were kids who looked more religious than we did, and kids who looked less religious than we did. But they were all Jewish kids like us who appreciated Tanach and what it had to offer. For us, it was like seeing the pasuk: Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morasha kehillat Yaakov come to life! The Torah belongs to all Jews, not just the religious ones, or the ones living in Israel, but to all of us, equally. Despite our different backgrounds, the Tanach is what made us Jews, and is what still binds us together today.

Call to Action
All Jewish Day Schools should have Chidon programs! It builds school spirit, since everyone can cheer on the "Chidoners", and everyone can be a part of it, and every participant is a winner. It is a way that every school can be a part of the Jewish people regardless of their level of Jewish observance, through their love for Tanach. And for the most part, Day Schools are covering this material anyway. Why not review it, and learn for Chidon?
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/03/2012 04:46AM by mlb.
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Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest

Shalom Z. Berger July 03, 2012 04:10AM

Re: Chidon HaTanach

Neil Winkler July 03, 2012 11:09AM

Re: Chidon HaTanach

Jeremiah Unterman July 03, 2012 11:11AM

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Alex Schindler July 09, 2012 10:44AM

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Aliza Libman July 15, 2012 03:54PM

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Joseph Goldberg July 04, 2012 03:21PM

Re: Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest

Pessie Busel Novick July 05, 2012 01:10PM

Re: Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest

Karen Kedmi July 06, 2012 07:24AM

Re: Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest

Russell Jay Hendel July 18, 2012 11:06AM

Re: Chidon HaTanach - The US National Bible Contest

Pessie Busel Novick July 18, 2012 11:08AM



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