Nine-year-old Sara Moncarz was a little nervous as she prepared to step onto the stage at the New Heights Middle School in Brooklyn, N.Y. Not only was she about to participate with dozens of kids in a competition testing her Jewish knowledge, she was doing so in front of hundreds of strangers, far from her home in Bethesda, Maryland.
It worked out better than she could have imagined. Sara’s team, representing Chabad of Bethesda’s Hebrew School, won the JewQ Championship for the 3rd grade division.
An initiative of CKids (the International Chabad Children’s Club), JewQ is an innovative international Torah knowledge competition that challenges students who do not attend Jewish day schools to learn independently under the guidance of their local Chabad Hebrew schools.
To qualify for the main championship, students had to excel on a series of exams testing their knowledge on verses and concepts from the Written and Oral Torah, mystical and ethical teachings in Judaism, and more. Students with the top scores from their Chabad Hebrew schools were invited to spend a Shabbat together with other finalists in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and compete in the final round of JewQ in front of a live audience.
Over 1,000 Jewish children from more than 77 locations took part in studying for the competition. Around 80 students from across the country participated in the final in-person round, and almost 20 of those finalists were students from across the Greater Washington area’s Chabad Hebrew schools. Finalists earned medals for their achievements based on their final grade, with the highest scores earning a gold medal.
“Our twins are 3rd graders in public school and this is their first year in Hebrew School at the Reston-Herndon [Virginia] Chabad,” said Jackie Shapo. “We were amazed how both embraced the JewQ curriculum, despite the extra home study. The JewQ study book was so positive... Even I learned a lot reading it with them.”
“My son bonded with many of the other children at the Shabbaton and one of the sons from our host family,” said Aaron Perlis, whose 10-year-old son Sam attends Chabad of Potomac Hebrew School. “These interactions demonstrated to him that leading a meaningful religious life and a life where you get to have fun are not mutually exclusive.”
And what of the JewQ Competition itself? “I felt really good that I won a gold medal. All the hard work was worth it,” said Sam Perlis, after winning gold for the highest scores.
Chabad of Potomac Hebrew School Director Sara Bluming is on the board of Chabad Hebrew Schools International and is a leading curriculum developer, working to create innovative and cutting-edge Hebrew School curricula. “As Chabad Hebrew School directors, we invest our heart and soul into creating innovative and relevant ways to keep our students engaged in and excited about Judaism” said Bluming. “Watching these precious Hebrew school students, six of whom were from our Chabad of Potomac Hebrew School, proudly sharing their mastery of a broad scope of Torah knowledge moved me to tears.”
Although the JewQ Competition is over, Shapo’s daughter Michaela is not done studying, she said. She hopes she’ll make it back next year (and her brother hopes to join her this time, too). She’s so serious about returning that she’s still reading the JewQ study book before she goes to sleep at night.
Partially adapted from an article on Chabad.org/News written by Faygie Levy Holt.
By Emily Cohen
Emily Cohen lives in Potomac, Maryland, and enjoys writing articles in her free time.