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King David pupil makes International Bible Quiz history

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Jake Weinstein, a Grade 11 pupil at King David High School Linksfield, became one of the first South Africans to come in the top four in the history of the International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Quiz) in Jerusalem on Yom Ha’atzmaut on 5 May.

Gidon Fox of Yeshiva College came fourth in the Chidon HaTanach in 2016, in which 16 teens from Jewish communities around the world pit their knowledge of the Tanach against each other every year.

Weinstein is the first South African to achieve 100% in the Paul Abelman National Chidon HaTanach Bible Quiz before he and this quiz’s other top two  – Grade 11 home-school student Chana Sussman and Grade 11 Yeshiva College student Gabriella Swartz – went to Israel to compete in the international competition.

“My goal was always to be in the top eight, but I always thought that making top four was unreachable for someone who does the Chidon in English,” said Weinstein, who had all his questions asked to him in Hebrew and answered in English.

Sussman made it through to the final eight places of the Chidon HaTanach and came in sixth place. Swartz placed in the top six in the final of the Diaspora Quiz, which is for the next tier of students who didn’t qualify for the Chidon HaTanach.

Rabbi Gary Braude, the Chidon advisor and teacher, helped prepare the South Africans for the competition.

When Weinstein was in Grade 8, he wanted to win his school’s Star of David award, which meant he had to participate in six school activities throughout the year. He did five sports and the Bible Quiz as a cultural activity.

Although he didn’t perform very well in the quiz in that first year, he went on to place first out of all the students in Johannesburg and Cape Town who participated in the Paul Abelman National Chidon HaTanach Bible Quiz, which consists of three tests each on about 80 perakim (chapters) of the Tanach.

The international syllabus covers 400 chapters. After a preliminary written test, the top 16 finalists are selected to participate in the International Chidon HaTanach final quiz.

Swartz’s road to participating in this year’s Diaspora Quiz began as a 15-year-old, when her shaliach (emissary) introduced the Chidon HaTanach to her school. “I thought to myself that this isn’t going to be easy, but the knowledge I’ll be able to gain will last a lifetime,” she says. “At the end of this Tanach journey of mine, I can say that my thought process was true.”

Sussman says her principal, Morah Dina Goldfein, was the first one to tell her about the Chidon HaTanach and pushed her to participate in it. “Morah Goldfein was very supportive and gave me a ton of help and encouragement,” she says.

For two weeks, the finalists participated in the Chidon camp, organised by Israel’s education ministry. They toured biblical sites, and met President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “We did get to see quite a bit of Israel,” says Sussman. “We were moving around constantly from place to place.”

The Chidon HaTanach was televised live in Israel and attended by Bennett, who asked a few questions, and members of the Knesset.

Yeshiva College alumnus Zeev (Warren) Schwartz, who came 12th in the Chidon HaTanach in 1982, was one of the six judges of this year’s Diaspora Quiz. “I was very proud as an ex-South African to see two finalists from South Africa in the Chidon HaTanach and one in the Diaspora Quiz. That brought back really wonderful memories because we were also two [finalists from South Africa] at the time,” he says.

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