What do teens from Omaha, Boston, Los Angeles, Denver, Palm Beach, Passaic, Phoenix, and so many other American cities all have in common with one another? They all gather in Manhattan for the National Bible contest—the Chidden Hatanach— finals. This past Sunday I had the privilege of accompanying my students to the National Finals of Chiddon Hatanach in New York, a culmination of almost a full year of work and studying. The beauty of this ancient book coming to life in such a beautiful way in such a modern city, conveys the power of Tanach to bring people together, creating such a positive impact on their life.
Being more than just a bystander at this event gave me an inside glimpse into the transformative power of participating in the Chiddon. In a generation in which there is so much talk of finding different educational pathways to every child’s heart, valuing so much differentiated education, effective impact, enrichment, and so much more, Chiddon Hatanach has a magnificent ability to get students excited about learning, to enhance their historical and linguistic knowledge, and to allow students to excel and get a bird’s eye view of what Tanach is all about.
Chiddon Hatanach brings Tanach back to life on so many levels: individual, communal, and national. Students who study for the Chiddon find themselves taking their Hebrew and Judaic knowledge to a whole new level, helping them climb to a level of learning not narrowed by any curriculum or classroom schedule. They can learn it when they choose to, they can decide who much they are putting into it, and ultimately, they are the beneficiaries of that learning. It does not end at the end of the school year or with one kind of grade or the other; the knowledge stays with students forever. Students participating in Chiddon Hatanach also get to transform the community, school, synagogue in which they are in.
A 2009 survey showed the power of the launching of the Apolo into space and how it influenced the number of scientists, engineers, and tech experts in future generations. Excellence and dedication inspire those who observe the world around them. When you see a child taking flying in from a different time zone to participate in Chiddon Hatanach, you better be sure there is a family, a synagogue, a community, that is cheering for that child. Children participating in the National Bible Contest serve as an inspiration to their families, schools, and communities. Standards of Hebrew language, Judaic knowledge, and historical perspective are sure to rise when children are shooting for the stars.
Finally, the transformation of the broader community. As I have noted previously:” In today’s deeply divided political climate, Jewish leaders and organizations struggle with the question of how it is that we can create a “big tent”; how it is that we can include radically different ideas and ideologies under the same umbrella. Well, looking at what we just witnessed at the Chidon HaTanach, as the event is known in Hebrew, the answer is quite simple: Bring us a book and let us learn together. Focusing on the areas that bring us together rather than those that tear us apart has the power to heal the fractured world that we live in.
Learning that is stripped of any political or controversial element holds the key to uniting people from vastly different backgrounds. Nothing has the potential to strengthen Jewish identity as much as the core of Judaism: the engagement in learning. Known for thousands of years as the “the people of the book” and a “nation of philosophers,” our sacred texts have always been the veritable epicenter of who we are and remain exactly that to this day.”
Seeing the Bible come to life in such a vibrant and beautiful way, right here in Manhattan, reminded me of the timeless lessons this book contains, its ability to bring people together, and of the embodiment of what Isaiah has said (chapter 51) more than 2500 years ago, more than 6000 miles away from here: “And I placed My words into your mouth, and with the shadow of My hand I covered you, to plant the heavens and to found the earth and to say to Zion [that] you are My people.”