This screenshot from the 30th anniversary video of the Public Speaking Contest shows participants’ excitement. Larry Barzelai can be seen at the back of the crowd on the right.
On March 14, about 90 young participants and their families and friends, as well as volunteer judges and moderators and others from the Jewish community gathered for the annual Public Speaking Contest, presented by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and State of Israel Bonds.
“This contest was established in memory of my father, Morris Black, who left money in his will to support such a contest,” Larry Barzelai told the Independent. “It has morphed from a Peterborough-based essay contest for famous people in Jewish history, to an Ontario-based essay contest, to a public speaking contest in Hamilton (run by my brother Rick) and the present public speaking contest in Vancouver. I give credit to my brother Rick, who originally came up with the idea of a public speaking contest in Hamilton, where he lives, and I started the contest in Vancouver a few years later.
“For my father, family, education and Judaism were the most important things in life,” Barzelai added. “This contest combines all three.”
This year’s Grade 4 through Grade 7 participants came from Gilpin Elementary School, Richmond Jewish Day School, Temple Sholom Religious School, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Vancouver Hebrew Academy and West Point Grey Academy. Some of the public school entrants may also attend a synagogue school.
Speeches had to run less than three minutes, but could cover any topic. Students were given a list of suggestions, such as the following: What is your favourite Jewish holiday and why? Describe a family member or someone from Jewish history and tell us why you admire them. Israel is often described as the “start-up nation” – name something invented in Israel and discuss how you think it has made a difference to people’s lives. Reduce, reuse, recycle are terms used to describe how people protect the environment – tell us about two Jewish values that you feel are connected to environmental protection. If you only had time to visit one city in Israel, which city would it be and why?
“To prepare a talk, students must conceive of a topic, organize information about that topic, and be prepared to deliver a speech to an audience of fellow students and strangers,” said Barzelai. “The preparation helps their ability to organize their thoughts in a coherent manner. Subsequently, they have to be prepared to present the information in a manner that is convincing to other people. These tasks require time and effort. After they give their speeches, they usually feel a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. What could be a better learning environment for the students and more positive experience for the families!”
Lissa Weinberger, manager of Jewish education and identity initiatives at Federation, is in charge of managing the literally hundreds of moving parts of the machine the contest has become. She provided the Independent with the list of winners for this year’s event, though the contest organizers rightfully stress that every participant is a winner for having participated and put in the work.
With the contest in its 31st year, Barzelai said, “It continues to be rewarding to watch the smiles on students’ and parents’ faces after they have given their speeches. This reflects the fact that the students have worked hard, have accomplished something valuable and are proud of themselves.”
He added, “It is also rewarding to see the children of parents who were in the contest themselves when they were in elementary school.”
Last year, to celebrate the contest’s 30th anniversary, Barzelai had a video created.
“It was hoped that the video would encourage future students to participate,” he said. “They would see that most participants seemed to enjoy their involvement in the contest, and viewed it as a positive learning experience.”
Written and directed by Adam Bogoch and edited by Thomas Affolter, the video gives a brief history of the contest, shows clips of the 2018 event and features interviews with the students, community leaders and volunteers, including Barzelai’s spouse, Rhona Gordon, who is an advisor on the project and is always on hand to help give out the awards on contest night.
This year’s awards went to, in Grade 4: Myelle Leung (1), Lia Golik (2) and Miri Grad (3) in Group 1; Miriam Ora Yeshayahu (1), Arlo Foxman (2) and Yanky Baitelman (3) in Group 2; and Naomi Bernal (1), Hannah Pressman Chikiar (2) and Jake Silver (3) in Group 3.
In Grade 5, the winners were Mira Hurwitz (1), Baila Shapiro (2) and Anne Cohen (3) in Group 1; Adina Ragetli (1), Sophie Rossman (2) and Jakob Murphy (3) in Group 2; and Sarah Malul (1), Hannah Setton (2) and Hannah Norden (3) in Group 3.
In Grade 6, winners were Chaya Malul (1), Eden Almog (2) and Tamir Gini (3) and, in Grade 7, they were Chasya Berger (1), Rivka Feigelstock (2) and Max Dodek (3).
For more about this year’s contest and to watch the 30th anniversary video, visit jewishvancouver.com/psc2019.