I have been waiting for this week since the first time I was introduced to the Akiva community. During the meet-and-greet when I first spoke at Akiva, I shared the following story:
Growing up in Toronto, I did not have the privilege of going to a school like Akiva. Rather, I attended supplementary school at my synagogue. I always dreamed of going to a Jewish day school, as I dreamed of visiting the State of Israel, but my parents could afford neither the tuition nor the travel.
Then, in Grade 5, my Hebrew School teacher, Mrs. Beniah, told our class about the National Bible Contest, the Chidon HaTanach. If we won the National contest, she said, we would get a free trip to Israel for the International finals. I saw that if won, I would be able to achieve one of my two Jewish dreams. I had never read the Bible, but Mrs. Beniah, knowing I was an eager student, encouraged me to take this exciting opportunity. Proudly, I succeeded in the Toronto exam, and headed for my first trip ever to Montreal for the national finals.
When I arrived in Montreal I told the organizers how excited I was to have the opportunity to win a trip to Israel, at which point I was informed that, unbeknownst to Mrs. Beniah or me, the winner of the Supplementary School division did not get to go to Israel, but would instead be awarded a book about Israel.
Of course, I was devastated. But, that experience was the beginning of my love of the Hebrew Bible, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to become a Bible scholar and Jewish educator.
Since that time in Grade 5, the Hebrew Bible and Montreal have held a special place in my heart. And so, I swelled with pride this week when I had the honor of presenting certificates to the Akiva students who participated in this year’s Chidon HaTanach. I took the opportunity to share my story with them, and to show them the bookshelves in my office, which are filled with volumes about the Hebrew Bible that I have accumulated since that time. I blessed the students by sharing my hope that this experience would be for them the beginning of a life-long love of our Holy Scriptures, and a special connection they would always have with the Bible, with Akiva, and with God.
A special thank you to our Chidon coach, Avi Sabbah, and a mazal tov to all of our participants this year.