Maryland Hebrew School Kids Compete In Regional JewQ

200 children from five Hebrew schools in the Washington area competed in the regional JewQ competition, answering questions on all Jewish subjects. The winners are headed to the International JewQ Torah Championship.

By Washington Jewish Week

In the wake of Purim, Sara Bluming, Chabad of Potomac rebbetzin and Hebrew school director, remembers an important part of the story sometimes skipped over: that Mordechai was a committed scholar. With that in mind, she says, early Jewish education is the key to the resilience of the Jewish people.

“These children are the ones that really give us the power to overcome our adversaries and that are the future,” Bluming said.

Bluming is trying to give Jewish children power through education. She is an organizer of Washington D.C.’s regional JewQ competition, a quiz bowl-style tournament available to 4th-7th grade Hebrew school students as part of CKids: Chabad Children’s Network.

On Feb. 26, more than 200 children from five Hebrew schools in the Washington area competed in the regional competition, where they answered questions about blessings, Torah passages, the Jewish calendar and Jewish heroes. At the end of March, about 10 students from the area will travel to Stamford, Conn., to participate in the International JewQ Torah Championship.

The international tournament will host 300 student competitors from 150 Hebrew schools. Worldwide, there are 3,500 students enrolled in the JewQ curriculum across 230 schools.“The goal is to educate, engage and empower Jewish kids through a variety of educational programming, social programming,” Bluming said.

Students in the Washington-area Hebrew schools with the JewQ program had been studying for the competition for the past six months, usually as a supplemental part of a religious school’s curriculum. Fourth graders learn more basic concepts, such as which blessings are said over which foods and for which holidays, while 7th graders learn more complicated concepts, such as Jewish figures in history.

The competitive component of JewQ adds excitement to the Hebrew school experience, Bluming said, making studying and learning something beyond rote memorization or test-taking.

“It’s like taking Hebrew school beyond the four walls of the building and bringing it home,” Bluming said. “There’s like this hype in the house.”

For Ethan Eggelstorfer, 8, a D.C.-area student attending the international JewQ competition, JewQ has helped foster Jewish pride.

“I wanted to be a person to represent something,” he said.

Ethan made the choice to attend Hebrew school because he wanted to learn Hebrew and become a bar mitzvah. Mother Heather Eggerstorfer noticed a bump in confidence from Ethan since he started competing in JewQ.

“This has been a great self-esteem booster for him,” she said. “This is something that he’s really succeeding in.”

Bluming has noticed that JewQ has a snowball effect: Kids just seem more enthusiastic about being Jewish after competing.

Prior to Ethan competing in JewQ, the Eggerstorfer family did not have mezuzot on their doorposts. Ethan recently requested that the family put some up in their home.

“We’ve grown in our understanding of Judaism, too,” Eggerstorfer said. Chabad of Potomac parent Jackie Shapo has also noticed a change in her family since her twins Jonathan and Michaela, 13, started competing in JewQ three years ago. This month, the family will travel to the international competition for the fourth time.

In addition to hosting the JewQ tournament during the competition weekend, CKids also hosts a Shabbaton for families of the competitors to attend, where parents and kids across the world participate in games and share a Shabbat dinner.

“There’s a real emphasis on unity, unity of the Jewish people,” Shapo said.

Like many of the competitors, the Shapo siblings were not raised Orthodox and attend a Chabad Hebrew school, rather than a Jewish day school. Despite having a different Jewish upbringing from the other competitors, the siblings still made meaningful connections with the other students.

“Just a whole lot of Jews there!” Michaela said.

With the basic tenets of Judaism taught through JewQ, the curriculum also gives students of all Jewish backgrounds a bedrock of Jewish knowledge to create Jewish joy and rituals at home with their families.

“This is the crux of what it means to be Jewish,” Shapo said.

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