Dr. Neil Pollock hands out some of the awards, as Larry Barzelai and student participants look on. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
Based on the numbers alone, the 27th Annual Public Speaking Contest on March 19 at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver was a success. Participants: 120. Prizes: 30. Volunteer judges and moderators: 30.
Founded by Larry Barzelai in memory of his father, the event was co-sponsored by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and State of Israel Bonds, with additional support from the J and the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library. As one of the volunteer judges, I witnessed a well-organized event that thrived on controlled chaos – almost all of those 120 student participants were accompanied by family and/or friends, and in the crowd were potential future speakers and their parents sussing out what participating next year might be like.
“My father, Morris Black, alav ha’shalom, would be very pleased to see the legacy he created,” Barzelai told the Independent.
Indeed, he would. Speakers were from grades 4 through 7, and they had their choice of topic from a list of 10, one of which was to choose their own. The most popular choices in the Grade 4 class I co-judged were to create a day to mark an event from Jewish history that is not currently being celebrated or commemorated; to describe an app that would enhance Jewish studies at your school; to explain why recycling is a Jewish concept; and to explain what you think is/are the best innovation(s) to have come out of Israel in recent years.
The enthusiasm of the competitions taking place in rooms around the J was corralled in the Wosk Auditorium afterward, and Alex Konvyes entertained the excited students and their guests while the results were being tallied. As each winner was announced, huge cheers went up. As some winners read their speeches, the auditorium came to a hush.
“Several parents in attendance this year had previously been public speaking contestants in their youth, so the legacy continues,” Barzelai noted.
While pleased that “the contest continues to be healthy” and that it is strongly supported by the principals and teachers of the three day schools – Vancouver Talmud Torah, Vancouver Hebrew Academy and Richmond Jewish Day School – Barzelai expressed concern about “the inability to attract students from Jewish supplementary schools and students that are not affiliated with Jewish schools. In former years, the contest had a wider cross section of students,” he said.
Barzelai credited Lissa Weinberger, JFGV manager of Jewish education and identity initiatives, for doing “all the work, with only occasional input from me. Her organizational skills are great. A few prospective judges dropped out close to the event, and she was able to recruit new ones at Shabbat services. Beware, synagogue attendees!”
In order of first, second and third, this year’s Public Speaking Contest winners in each contest were:
Hebrew: Omer Murad (Grade 4, VTT), Ofek Avitan (Grade 5, VHA), Yael David (Grade 4, VTT).
Grade 4: Rachel Marliss (RJDS), Mendel Bitton (VHA), Jesse Millman (VTT).
Grade 4: Zac Peter (VTT), Ellis Jackson (RJDS), Chase Dodek (VTT).
Grade 4: Aaron Guralnick (VTT), Cassie Porte (VTT), Devorah Leah Yeshayahu (VHA).
Grade 5: Ava Abramowich (VTT), Benjamin Gutman (VTT), Elana Robibo (VTT).
Grade 5: Sarale Bitton (VHA), Adin Tischler (VTT), Rubi Katz (VTT).
Grade 5: Alex Ritch (VTT), Shoshana Pollock (VTT), Tristan Georges (VTT).
Grade 6: Menachem Yeshayahu (VHA), Riva Berger (VHA), Mordechai Wolfson (VHA).
Grade 7: Eva Dobrovolska (VTT), Neev Mizrachi (VHA), Teah Bakonyi (VTT).
Grade 7: Avrel Festinger (VTT), Romy Ashkenazy (VHA), Elliot Pollock (VTT).