“The eight finalists include Elizabeth Goldmeier, Yeshivat Akiva, Southfield, Michigan; Dovi Nadel, Yeshivat Akiva, Southfield, Michigan”

According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, it was the first time that two students from the same school finished among the eight finalists in the Hidon HaTanach competition, an academic decathlon where young men and women worldwide demonstrate their mastery of the Bible.

The next two rounds would decide who would win the coveted titles, “World master of the Bible and runner-up awardees.” Historically, these top places have been captured by Israeli students who, admittedly, enjoy “home court advantage.”

After a grueling round of 20 questions, delivered by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the names of the awardees were read.

“And this year’s second runner-up is Dovi Nadel, from Yeshivat Akiva in Southfield, Michigan.”

The young man walked to center stage and accepted his award, shyly acknowledging the thunderous applause. He was totally oblivious to the cheers of his bleary-eyed friends and classmates an ocean away – who watched the proceedings at 4 a.m. that morning. Dovi and Elizabeth had made history, and their friends could not be prouder.

It has been a long road for 15-year-old Dovi and 18-year-old Elizabeth. A year ago they bested some 400 contestants from across the United States, earning the privilege of representing their country at this year’s competition.

They spent the past year poring over hundreds of chapters of Biblical text under the guidance of their teacher and mentor, Rabbi Pinchas Amior. At the end of April, they flew to Israel as part of a group of 70 young scholars representing a diverse geographical and religious spectrum. A May 2 qualifying exam eliminated all but the 16 students who stood on the stage of the Jerusalem Theater on the anniversary of Israel’s 60th year of independence. They answered a battery of questions in a ceremony broadcast live on Israeli television.

Over approximately the past 40 years, the Hidon has become part of the national celebration of Israel’s independence. It is held from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., so Israeli families can enjoy the glittering, star-studded event before leaving for their barbecues in the parks – another Yom HaAtzmaut tradition. The event is coordinated jointly by the Ministry of Education and the IDF. What more appropriate way to celebrate Israel’s independence than by highlighting not only its military prowess, but its intellectual prowess, as well?

At the opening of the Hidon, the TV moderator reminded the audience that when David Ben-Gurion, speaking before the Peel Commission, was asked to validate the claim of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, he drew from his pocket a worn copy of the Tanach and announced, “Right here is our deed to this land!” Israel’s first prime minister, a secular Jew, understood that more than a shared history and common language, it is the Bible that defines and unites the Jewish people. This was clearly evident, as Jewish youth from every part of the world and from every point of the religious spectrum shared a platform and forged friendships that could otherwise never have come about.

“The most exciting part for me,” Elizabeth said, “was meeting kids from all over who loved Tanach as much as I do Boys and girls my age who spoke languages that I did not understand, but were fluent in the language of Torah.”

“It was like kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles,” Dovi added. “You really sensed the shared heritage of our people – acheinu kol beit Yisrael. It took no time for all of us to feel like family.”

The televised final awards and presentation by Prime Minister Olmert can be viewed at www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/174822.