Despite Covid, Torah Competition for Hebrew-School Kids Comes to Australia

Despite Covid, Torah Competition for Hebrew-School Kids Comes to Australia

By Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org

JewQ educates students who learn about Judaism after their regular school day

And the winner is … That’s the big question waiting to be revealed this Sunday afternoon as more than 110 children in Australia who participated in the continent’s inaugural JewQ competition will find out who is taking home medals and top prize honors, though many would say they’ve already gotten their rewards.

“This year I have taken part in JewQ, which has helped me to expand my Jewish knowledge,” Chloe Ariella Auslender told Chabad.org. “I love JewQ because it’s fun to learn new things, and it makes me so happy that I’ve achieved something I’ve worked so far hard for. I am so excited to see who wins the competition.”

This is the first time that the competition is being held in Australia, and of course, the first time on Zoom. The kids began studying seven months ago, despite the fact that many were facing lockdowns and other restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Initially, we were unsure if we could make it happen, so much was unknown,” said Dinie Liberow, educational leader of the Lamdeni School and a Chabad emissary to Melbourne, Australia. “We had committed to taking it on for our school before the pandemic. When COVID hit home, we as Chabad emissaries were not going to let anything get in our way. Nothing happens by chance, and if a door closed, it was obvious G‑d wanted us to open another. We would find a way to make it work, and we did. It was a success quite beyond our expectations.”

JewQ teachers and organizers bring the joy of Jewish learning and practice to public school students.
JewQ teachers and organizers bring the joy of Jewish learning and practice to public school students.

In Awe of Students and Their Parents

Liberow added that despite the challenges of getting kids on Zoom after their full day of online school, “our extraordinary children took on extra learning, and I am personally in awe of both the kids and the parents who supported them and encouraged them through it.”

Participants came from three Australian states: Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. They represented youth in third through seventh grade. Each year, regional winners gather in New York for the finals, but as there will be no in-person international competition in New York this year, the top winner in Australia will instead receive $1,018 and a trophy. The other winners—there are different winners in each age group—will receive a medal marking their achievements.

As part of the competition, students took a series of exams to test their Jewish knowledge. The seven-month-long program culminated in an online “game show” pitting children from different regions against each other as they sought to answer the moderator’s questions about a host of topics on Judaism.

“This whole thing has been incredible for me,” said JewQ participant Ella Weinstein, 12. “I loved connecting with the culture and learning more about Jewish history, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in it. The teachers and everyone on the Zoom call were so supportive. I think it’s a great idea to learn about your culture and have fun at the same time.”

Australia's first JewQ Championship will take place, Sunday, Nov. 29.
Australia’s first JewQ Championship will take place, Sunday, Nov. 29.

An Impact on the Whole Family

And it wasn’t just the competitors who felt that they were accomplishing something special.

“We see an impact on the whole family,” said CKids director Rabbi Zalman Loewenthal. “Parents are learning with their kids, and that’s very powerful. It engages the whole family.”

That was certainly true of the Wittels family.

“Every Sunday, my daughter and I would sit down and read through the JewQ stories and learn about our values and the culture of our Jewish history, as well as the mitzvot,” said Lara Wittels. “We would have beautiful conversations where we would share each other’s thoughts. It’s been an amazing program, and I look forward to doing it again next year.”

She won’t have long to wait as plans are already underway for next year’s competition.

Said Liberow: “We know that Torah learning and our youth are at the heart of the Jewish future. Investing in them is the most worthwhile cause we Chabad emissaries can do. I was honored to be a part of it, and I am confident the other emissaries would say the same.”

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