Like many kids his age, Evanston resident Judah Averbuch, who just turned 11, attends fourth grade, plays sports and helps out at home. He also attends religious school one day a week – and that led to an experience that sets him apart from most of his peers.

Judah Averbuch is a surprised winner at the JewQ International Torah Championship on March 26 in Stamford, Connecticut. Credit: Rose Rimler

One day last fall, Rabbi Meir Hecht, his Chabad Hebrew school teacher and rabbi, asked Judah to consider participating in an extra study program. This program would start in late October and last through January and include three tests. The rabbi said that Judah would need to study a little bit every day because there was so much information. 

Judah, who during the week attends Science and Arts Academy in Des Plaines, agreed to the challenge. He said he was inspired by the rabbi to do it. “He said it would make me a better person,” said Judah. And did that happen? Judah said it did.

“Basically my goal was to learn something new every day. I did that and every single time I renewed what I had already learned. I memorized a lot of it. I came up with a memorizing strategy using my voice that helped me remember different things,” Judah explained. 

The course of study is determined by the student’s grade. The fourth grade course of study included knowing many of the 613 mitzvahs (commandments) mentioned in the Torah and the meaning (in Hebrew and English) of 12 specific religious texts. In addition, students would be tested on their knowledge of Shabbat (Sabbath) observances, the laws of keeping kosher, their understanding of the concept of tzedakah (charitable giving) and other topics. 

Judah did exceptionally well on the three tests and qualified to participate in the championship round.

Judah Averbuch, with Rabbi Meir Hecht, holds his trophy from the JewQ International Torah Championship. Credit: Wendi Kromash

The JewQ International Torah Championship took place during the weekend of March 24-26 at a hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. About 800 people attended – 300 to 400 kids in grades three through seven, accompanied by parents or guardians. 

The final tests for each grade were given on the Friday afternoon before Shabbat began. Judah said that after the test he listened to other students in his grade talking about the exam, and he was pretty sure he had gotten at least one of the questions wrong. 

But he didn’t let that ruin his weekend. There were special programs the Chabad team had planned throughout Shabbat, he was staying in a hotel with his dad and one of his younger sisters, it was his first time in the New York City area and he was meeting other Jewish kids from all over the world.

On Sunday morning, Judah and many other students participated in a live team competition, organized by grade and similar to College Bowl. Each team of six had 10 seconds to come up with an answer for each question. Judah’s team won, which was exciting. 

When the game shows for all the grades concluded, awards were given out. Much to his shock and surprise, Judah scored the highest of all the fourth grade students on the Friday test. No one watching in the hotel auditorium audience or online at home had any idea until his name was announced. He was flabbergasted.

From when the studying began in October to when the championship took place in late March, more than 3,500 students from 23 different countries participated in JewQ. All of the children attend a Chabad Hebrew school and are students at a secular day school. 

Judah said he isn’t on social media yet so he’s not staying in touch with the new friends he made, but he looks forward to participating in the program again next year. 

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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