This past Tuesday, on Israel’s Independence Day, the annual International Youth Bible Contest finals were held in Israel. The victor, Eitan Amos, an 18-year-old Yeshiva high-school student at Or Chaim (Light of Life) in Toronto, Canada, won first place making history by becoming the first Canadian to ever win the contest.
The runners up were Tefilla Berenson, from Rehovot, Israel who came in second place, and Itamar Khalifa, also from Israel who came third.
The finals hosted 16 contestants from all around the world who made it through the final elimination round of 75 participants, each one having gone through numerous rounds of qualification while still in their own countries. Participants hailed from 33 countries, stretching from Australia to Belgium, Turkey to Brazil, and many others in between.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in attendance, as was Education Minister Shai Piron, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and other dignitaries.
Speaking to the 16 finalists at the beginning of the contest, Piron called on them to make the Bible their “conscience and compass.”
“The Bible is not meant for the bookshelf, but rather should be in your backpacks, when you explore the Land of Israel and walk its length and breadth,” said Piron, who is also an Orthodox rabbi.
“Take it with you to work, and learn the laws of fair trade. Come home with it and learn how important it is to respect your parents, and how terrible a civil war is. Go to the street corners, meet there ‘the other’ who is afraid to walk in the spotlight. Learn from the Bible how to treat a stranger, widow and orphan,” the minister continued.
Piron said that Israel’s Ministry of Education was doing “everything possible to connect the Bible to people’s hearts, to make it a way of life, and to give it a place of honor at the times when the identity of Israeli youth is being shaped and formulated.”
Amos’s high-school was ecstatic about the win and sent out a special newsletter to all of their alumni, many of whom have competed in the competition in previous years, of which I myself am one.
Rabbi Seth Grauer, a spokesman for the Or Chaim school, told Breaking Israel News via email: “We wish a very hearty congratulations to Amos on winning the competition and being the first Canadian student to do so. We also wish a special congratulations as well to Eitan’s classmate, Shlomo Sabovich, who also made it to the final grouping and has brought much honor and pride to our school and community. We look forward to celebrating this historic event with Eitan and Shlomo upon their return to Canada.”
This year was the second year in a row in which a non-Israeli won the contest. Last year Yishai Eisenberg from Passaic, New Jersey, shared the prize with Israeli Elior Babian. This was the first time in 20 years that there had been a non-Israeli winner.
Netanyahu, who asked a number of the questions to the contestants, stated: “The Bible is not just the foundation of our existence, it also the foundry that ignites the flame of Zionism in everything that we do in the State of Israel. It is the compass and map that help us navigate our way in a changing and unchanging reality, the foundation of our existence.”
After awarding the prizes to the winners Netanyahu said, “Foresight and being prepared for the future are the most important things. Without them, we are like leaves blowing in the wind, unable to influence our national existence.”
“The return to Zion, the ingathering of the exiles, the revival of the Hebrew language, our steadfastness against our enemies, the creation of a successful society, and the building of the country in the hope for peace, and the hope to strengthen our future above all else, all of this was built on Israel’s connection to the Bible,” the prime minister added.
After completing the competition Amos and his classmate Shlomo stayed in Israel for a few days to enjoy their trip before returning home to finish their studies and graduate. Both are planning to be back in Israel this coming fall for a year of study before going to university.