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International teen contest promotes study of Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (JTA) — Who divided the Old City of Jerusalem into four distinct quarters, and why? Which Jerusalem street is named after a British monarch? According to the latest Israeli census, how many Jews, Muslims and Christians reside in the nation’s capital? Those who do not have this information at their fingertips — sorry, referring to reference materials is not permitted — were obviously not among the thousands of Jewish teen-agers, in Israel and abroad, who spent the past 18 months cramming for the Jerusalem 3000 International Quiz. The quiz was sponsored by the Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education of the Jewish Agency for Israel and World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund and the Jerusalem Municipality. The contest came at the end of 18 months of activities and festivities marking Jerusalem’s 3,000th anniversary. Ninety of the finalists, who proved their knowledge of Jerusalem’s history and culture in qualifying rounds around the world, were in Israel this week to compete in the competition. Although only one competitor received top honors, the rest agreed that winning a trip to Jerusalem was reward enough. To prepare the teens for the quiz, Israeli educators created a series of reference materials and distributed them, in translation, to Jewish schools, youth groups and synagogues in more than 30 countries. In many cases, the 13- to 18-year-olds decided to carry out additional research, consulting everything from ancient Jewish texts to Jewish sites on the Internet. In acknowledgement of their achievement, the contestants received a VIP welcome upon their arrival in Jerusalem. The teens were personally welcomed by President Ezer Weizman and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. While it sometimes has been difficult for the teens to find a common language, many of the participants said meeting Jewish kids from countries as diverse as Peru, India, Portugal and New Zealand was fun and inspiring. “It’s been very exciting to be with such a big group of Jewish students,” said Selin Saylag, a 16-year-old from Turkey. “We share the same thing, sing the same songs, pray the same way, even though we’re from totally different countries. “It’s made me proud to realize that wherever they are, Jews are maintaining their Jewish identity.” This sentiment was shared by 14-year-old Georgia Stone of New Zealand. “It’s amazing to see people from so many different backgrounds having so much common ground,” Stone said. “Our common denominator is that everyone here can discuss Jewish history.” Coming from a country with a Jewish population of some 5,000, Stone added, “It’s great to meet other Jewish kids my own age. In New Zealand there aren’t many Jews and it’s pretty hard socially.” Tamara Jaye, a 16-year-old South African, said, “The best part of the trip has been visiting all the places I learned about. It definitely means more to visit a historical or holy site after you’ve studied its history. “When I read the street signs, which are named after important people or events in Jewish history, I recognize the people and the period.” It was the third trip to Israel for Yehuda Hausman, 14, of Los Angeles. “The things I’ve learned about Jerusalem have enhanced the pleasure of visiting the sites,” Hausman said. “You walk around the Old City walls and know who built them. You walk through the four quarters and you know their history. It’s a really exciting way to learn history.” Even Adi Harari, a 14-year-old from Israel, said she had learned a great deal about her country’s capital by studying its history. “I live in Haifa, so I didn’t know all that much about Jerusalem,” she said. “I’m not religious, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Jerusalem is so old and so sacred. I’ve learned a lot about our past, and I now know Jerusalem a lot better.” David Harman, who heads the joint Jewish Agency-WZO education authority, said he and his colleagues had been extremely gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response to the Jerusalem study project. Having 90 finalists competing in the quiz “is secondary to the fact that thousands of students all over the world have been involved in the process,” he said. “Every student, not just the finalists, benefited from the experience.” Thanks to the project’s success, Harman and his fellow educators hope to organize a similar quiz in honor of two important Jewish milestones: the 100th anniversary of Zionism, which is being marked in 1997, and the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel, which will be celebrated in 1998.