Early in the morning of May 10, kids from around the country sat down at their computers to participate in a competition, which is normally held in New York.
Chidon Ha-Tanach, an annual bible quiz contest, is hosted by The Jewish Agency for Israel. Day school students of all denominations take preliminary exams sent by The Jewish Agency. On the basis of their results, high scorers are invited to the national finals, usually in New York. This year, it took place virtually.
Yisrael Kaplowitz, a student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, won first place in the English division for sixth and seventh graders.
“I am honestly so surprised, and very happy,” said Yisrael. He had been studying though April mainly on his own because of school closing. “I read through all the things we learned one more time, and our teacher made a schedule for how many chapters to read in a day.”
At the start of the school year, Beth Tfiloh offered him two choices: compete in the competition, or take a regular course in Judaic studies. Yisrael chose to compete, studying in a class led by Rabbi Elie Levi with 10 other students.
“I wanted to do this, to learn a lot more than the other class. They went more in depth but we covered more material,” Yisrael said.
His favorite lesson from the class was Shmuel, or Samuel 1. “It was a very interesting story, probably the most interesting,” he said.
The morning of the competition commenced with an opening ceremony. Then, students received a link to a test online. During the competition, Yisrael favored the more straightforward questions that he said the test started out with. The competition also had a video function: One person would carefully watch each student, to
be certain no one cheated. Yisrael was probably too focused on a certain question to notice, though: he had to attribute a list of names with their given tribes, which he was sure he had messed up.
When testing concluded, there was a virtual carnival including Kahoot, Pictionary, and Music in Tanach.
Then, the winners were announced. Turns out, Yisrael knew more than he thought he did.
“I am very proud, very excited, we were pretty surprised. We didn’t expect he would do as well as he would, very proud of him,” said Yisrael’s father, Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz, the rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Pikesville. Despite the rabbi’s own master of religious texts, Kaplowitz stayed out of his son’s studies. Instead, he sat back and watched proudly as Yisrael shared his lessons with his siblings and brought the family together.
The best way to celebrate? With a bar mitzvah, of course.
Yisrael was joined by around 150 family and friends May 15 through Zoom to celebrate.
“Planning has been crazy,” said Kaplowitz. Particularly as the day falls on Shabbat, they had to time everything right. Kaplowitz is unsure if they will have a separate celebration later, since they had originally planned a larger party. However, they made sure to still make the day special.
That Friday, the house was warmed by the fresh scent of brisket sandwiches and chicken soup. “I’m excited to eat — my mom got like a lot of ice cream,” Yisrael said. More importantly, he was grateful that he was able to see more people through Zoom than would have been able to come in person.
“I want to compete again, to see how well I can do in the next years,” he said.
Yisrael, with three other champions from the contest, will have an opportunity to represent the United State in next year’s televised international contest in Jerusalem, according to Rabbi Dovi Nadel, coordinator of Chidon Ha-Tanach.