By SUSAN MINUK
Yemina Goldberg’s approach to life and to Bible study, marked by determination and resolve – paid off when the TanenbaumCHAT student won the Chidon HaTanach Bible contest earlier this month.
Goldberg will represent Canada next year at the international competition in Israel, which is broadcast on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
“It is unusual for someone in Grade 9 to win the high school division, it’s really quite a distinction,” said Laura Wiseman, chief judge of the Bible competition, held May 3-5 in Toronto.
Born with cerebral palsy, the 14-year-old has needed every ounce of that determination.
“Yemina’s physical disability affects her speech, the use of her hands and she needs help to walk,” said Shoshana Hahn Goldberg, her mother.
Goldberg wrote the test separately from the other students in her own Zoom room, with a proctor.
“Yemina needs help to turn the pages of the Tanach, and because she has to say the answers out loud, someone else writes them down for her,” said her mother.
In preparation for the contest, Goldberg attended Chidon Club meetings at school and met with her coach weekly. With the onset of the COVID pandemic, she transitioned to virtual coaching.
Students study chapters from Torah – Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) – depending on grade level.
“The most challenging part was to remember everyone’s names…you really have to know each person and which book and story they are in,” said Goldberg. “There are so many people to remember.”
Goldberg has been competing in the Bible contest since Grade 5. In Grade 6, she won her first competition.
“I’ve been at a Jewish school for a long time. I read the Tanach over and over. I wanted to win,” she said.
Chidon Canada is presented by the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education in Toronto and the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre in Montreal.
The contest is open to students in grades 5-11 from Jewish day schools, part-time Jewish education programs, and independent schools, and draws hundreds of contestants.
“The participants were from all backgrounds of Jewish life,” said Wiseman. “It’s a real connector. I think the students who participate really appreciate one another because they know how much work, time and effort goes into the preparation.”
Chidon HaTanach has two parts, a regional test and the national competition. The regional rounds were held in March, testing students’ knowledge on details of biblical stories with difficulty based on grade level. The top scoring students continued on to the national competition, held on alternating years in Toronto and Montreal.
The Bible contest questions were constructed by local educators.
“They really crafted the questions well for breadth,” explained Wiseman. “The term we use for familiarity is called bekiut – an abiding familiarity with content and details, and it’s a base for Bible knowledge for life.”
The panel of nine judges included students who were previous winners.
“The vibrancy in the judges’ room comes from the energy from previous contestants,” said Wiseman. “There is a concept called Torah lishmah, Torah for its own sake.
“These are students who just love learning and find a connection to their yiddishkeit, their Jewish education to their people and to their community through learning Torah.”
Goldberg has been celebrating her victory with friends and family, who have showered her with treats and congratulatory messages.
“The best part has been learning it,” she said.
Her message to other students is simple: “Always try your best and do things that are fun.”