News Briefs


American wins International Adult Bible Contest in Jerusalem

JTA – Yair Shahak of New York City was one of two winners of the International Adult Bible Contest in Jerusalem.

Shahak, 28, representing the U.S., shared the honor with Israeli Yafit Silman, according to Ynet News. Shahak’s wife, Yaelle Frohlich, was also a finalist in the competition, representing Canada. The contest ended on Dec. 28.

The contest – sort of a spelling bee, but with biblical verses rather than words – has the contestants answer the minutest of details about the most obscure of biblical books. Contestants must locate or complete fragments of biblical verses, identify who said which quotation to whom, or name geographical details of the ancient Land of Israel.

The competition drew 27 finalists from all over the world, ages 24 and up, who took a rigorous written exam. It ended in a final round of 16, where contestants were quizzed orally in front of an audience that included Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Shahak, a cantor and graduate student of violin, was one of the international competition’s final eight contestants when it was last held in 2014.

“Something that bothers me is how little most Orthodox Jews know about Jewish history, and you can’t know Jewish history without knowing Bible,” Shahak told JTA. “Biblical history is not in a vacuum, that it maybe happened but we don’t really talk about it. I think it was real and it did happen, and we have to understand how it happened and what it means for us.”

Over 2 million people visited Auschwitz museum in 2016

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) – More than 2 million people from around the world visited the Auschwitz museum in 2016, setting a record.

The 2,053,000 visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum were led by the host country, Poland, with 424,000, according to a Jan. 2 statement on the museum’s website. The museum this year marks the 70th anniversary of its creation.

Rounding out the top 10 countries were the United Kingdom, with 271,000 visitors; the United States, 215,000; Italy, 146,000; Spain, 115,000; Israel, 97,000; Germany, 92,000; France, 82,000; the Czech Republic, 60,000, and Sweden, 41,000.

The numbers include 61,000 organized tour groups, and individually conducted tours by museum guides for 310,736 people, according to the museum. In addition, some 150 movie crews produced documentaries last year at the museum and memorial.

“In today’s world, torn by conflicts, increased feeling of insecurity and strengthening of populist tones in public discourse, it is necessary to re-listen to the darkest warnings from the past,” museum director Piotr Cywinski said in a statement announcing the 2016 numbers.

Last week, a Polish organization fighting for fathers’ rights compared Auschwitz to the obligation to pay alimony. On its website, the group posted a photo of the entrance gate, where the sign “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work makes you free,” was changed to “Work on alimony makes you free.”

The group is demanding the elimination of the obligation to pay maintenance for fathers fighting for custody of their children.

The museum protested on Facebook and asked for the removal of the doctored photo.

“The use and instrumentalization of the tragedy of Auschwitz is sad and inappropriate, and painful for many people, including those who survived the nightmare of Auschwitz,” said the Facebook post.