Levi Bitton (photo from Vancouver Tzivos Hashem)
The International Chidon boasts 5,000 participants from around the world and, this year, there were eight participants from Vancouver: Levi Bitton (Grade 8); Liba Baitelman (Grade 4); Yanki Baitelman (Grade 6); Menucha Prinsloo (Grade 8); Shoshana Prinsloo (Grade 5); Yonatan Prinsloo (Grade 7); Miriam Ora Yeshayahu (Grade 6); and Dovber Zhornitsky (Grade 6).
Tzivos Hashem is an international educational program for Jewish children ages 3-13, founded in 1980 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. It focuses on teaching kids about kindness, good deeds and refining their character to become better people and more effective influencers in our community. The program’s goal is to increase Jewish identity and provide children with inspiring and immersive Chassidic Jewish learning through fun, informal activities.
The Vancouver chapter of Tzivos Hashem was established in 2017 as part of Lubavitch BC’s outreach activities and now has approximately 45 children registered in the Sunday morning program. The biggest event of the year and the most highly anticipated part of the program is the Chidon, usually held during a Shabbaton in New York, but virtual this year because of COVID. This event highlights the advanced knowledge and understanding of all 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah, as codified by Maimonides. Kids from around the world compete, and this year’s Chidon took place on May 23. Each of the Metro Vancouver students won a plaque (indicating a grade of more than 80% on the final test) and Levi had the distinction of winning a gold trophy for his grade. He was tested on the fifth book of the Torah, and had the highest mark internationally.
Riki Oirechman, principal of Tzivos Hashem Vancouver and the local Chidon coordinator, said: “The most important thing is that the kids gain a lot of knowledge. By learning the 613 mitzvot in depth, they gain a deep appreciation and understanding of all the mitzvot, resulting in an increased excitement for, and commitment to, fulfilling them. They work super hard and really commit themselves to fulfilling the Rebbe’s direction and vision.”
Oirechman explained that all the kids in the program study and complete the five books of Torah and master the 613 mitzvot over five years. The Tzivos Hashem program uses the Yahadus curriculum created by the Living Lessons Foundation in memory of Sarah Rohr. It’s a series of textbooks explaining each mitzvah, its source in the Torah and its details.
To participate in the Chidon, students must pass multiple tests. If a child gets a 70% average, they are eligible to join the Chidon Shabbaton. The child with the highest mark in their class gets to represent their class and school at the Chidon competition. On the weekend of the Chidon, the international participants take the final test, which includes everything they learned during the year. Winners receive certificates, plaques, medals and trophies.
“The Chidon includes not only the incredible game show competition, but also an exciting award ceremony. This year, over 100,000 people watched from around the world,” said Oirechman. The Chidon started in 2014 with 54 finalists and eight staff and has grown to 2,414 finalists and 375 staff this year.
Local supporters of the program include founders of the Vancouver Tzivos Hashem chapter, Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Kollel and Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld of Chabad Lubavitch of BC, as well as a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and local community donors.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer, including with Chabad Richmond.