Friday, November 15, 2019

Ben Kepecs in Israel (Credit: courtesy of the Kepecs family)

Ben Kepecs of Riverdale, a junior at SAR High School, placed sixth out of 70 finalists in the International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Quiz), held on Yom Ha’atzmaut in Jerusalem. He earned a spot in the international competition as the US representative by winning the regional contest held in New York last year. Ben’s father, Gil Kepecs, explained the rigors of the contest.

“The national exam includes about 100 ‘perakim’ of Tanach,” he said.  “The syllabus for the international was 426 ‘perakim,’ about half of Tanach. The contestants must identify lines from the Tanach as to who said it, whom it refers to, or what the context is. The second round, for example, asked the participants to identify five lines in 60 seconds.” Ben prepared for the competition while taking advanced courses in school including two Advanced Placement (AP) classes. “It was tough for him to juggle,” his father said. Ben said his strategy was to review the syllabus several times, concentrating very hard on the specific speaker or subject of each verse.

A strong affinity for Tanach, and the challenge of predicting what the writers of the test would ask, drew Ben into the competition. The prospect of a free trip to Israel was another incentive.

Although he has been to Israel with his family, this trip was different, “more like camp,” Ben said. Approximately 70 teenagers from 33 countries toured around Israel together, visiting major cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Tiberius. “The tours were very historically oriented, with particular emphasis on Biblical history, where applicable. For example, on our trip to the Golan Heights, the guide talked about the various tribes that had lived there,” he said.

Meeting and becoming friends with Jewish teens from all over the world was one of the most fulfilling aspects of the competition, Ben said. “I became friends with people from Canada, Mexico, and Russia, in addition to the Israeli contestants and madrichim (counselors).” He added that the students and counsellors are keeping in touch with a “What’s App” (instant messaging application for smart phones) group.

The concentrated focus on Tanach has given Ben a deeper understanding of Jewish knowledge. “Having learned almost all of the interesting narratives and much of the prophecies in the Tanach, I recognize many of the verses and stories that I come across in Haftorahs, Talmud, and literature, and have a better appreciation of them for knowing their context. I know it well enough to draw connections between different points and appreciate some of the threads that run through the whole Tanach.”

Ben’s priority now is studying for the AP exams. After high school, he expects to pursue “something in biological sciences.”

By Bracha Schwartz

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