It was possibly the hottest Yom Ha’atzmaut ever enjoyed in Britain and it provided a suitably sunny backdrop for the inaugural Etgar Israel Challenge last Thursday.
Building on the success of Etgar’s primary quiz — the biggest inter-Jewish schools event of the year — its first challenge for secondaries attracted five teams from JFS, two from Immanuel College and one from City of London Boys.
The 65 students, mostly from year nine, tackled their 100 multiple-choice questions on Israel with GCSE intensity, showed verve in their creative tasks and relaxed afterwards at a barbecue to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday at Shenley Cricket Ground.
Their commitment was all the more notable as they had barely two months to swot up the information contained in Etgar’s new Israel handbook.
Behind the contest was a serious purpose, to encourage students to absorb basic facts about Israel amid concern from community leaders at the level of modern Jewish history taught in schools.
Jo Rosenfelder, co-founder of Etgar with Adam Taub, said the response was “extraordinary. The challenge involved difficult and complex questions about the history of Zionism and the geography, politics and culture of the state of Israel. Although the students only had a few months to master a great deal of material, they embraced the challenge and displayed a huge amount of knowledge on the day.”
Local Rabbi Alan Garber from Shenley United Synagogue said it was “great to get people together and the knowledge they gain is so important”.
City Boys, with a score of 88 per cent in the quiz, narrowly pipped JFS B team with 86 per cent. City captain Jacob Gibson, a year-eight pupil, said the event was “brilliant and really enjoyable”.
JFS B member Sylvie Green said the contest had motivated her to “learn stuff I’d never learned before”.
In the creative section, teams had to make hummus, devise a rap to greet Prince William on his forthcoming trip of Israel and plan an itinerary for his historic royal visit.
Combining imagination with a realistic schedule, JFS C team produced the best itinerary; equal top rappers were JFS B and City; while the hummus champions, with an offering fit to grace any pitta and falafel, were JFS B.
Amy Hirschowitz, who was the winning team’s designated hummus-maker with Chloe Miller, acknowledged she had “never made it” before but “our mums are good cooks.”
“Without the Balfour Declaration/We wouldn’t be a recognised nation,” began the City rap.
“In 1948, we got the state and even though it happened quite late,” went a line from JFS B.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi of the S & P Sephardi Community, rounded off proceedings with a rousing address, saying the rebirth of the Jewish state was “the greatest miracle our people have seen in 4,000 years. You have studied that miracle... Don’t forget what you have learned, encourage others to learn.”
Ms Rosenfelder said “many adults have requested a copy of the handbook and many communities beyond the UK have expressed interest in the programme.
“Above all, we are delighted that the students who participated enjoyed themselves so much. We hope the programme will grow in the future and help to strengthen the Jewish community’s ties to Israel through a deeper knowledge and understanding of the country.”