(Lubavitch.com) Hannah Dimbert and Hannah Otis, both recent graduates of Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, tied for first place in the national Yeshiva University Girls’ High School Bekiut competition. The contest, in its fifth year, tests the girl’s knowledge and analysis of Talmud on an academic level.
Both Hannahs became involved with the local Chabad, and eventually opted for a stronger Jewish education, switching from public school to Ida Crown Academy, where they were excelled both academically and spiritually.
The girls competed against several hundred others representing dozens of Jewish high schools across the nation. “I am amazed at the achievements of these girls,” Mrs. Michla Schanowitz, Chabad representative to Highland Park, told lubavitch.com.
Schanowitz was instrumental in encouraging the girls’ Jewish educational growth. Although switching schools always requires new adjustments for students of any age, especially when the change includes a new culture of high-level religious education, switching from a public school to a private Jewish school can be flat-out daunting. Mrs. Schanowitz, who directs Chabad activities of Highland Park, Chicago with her husband Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz, has been guiding families making the change for over 30 years. Dozens of children from Highland Park have swapped public school for a Jewish education thanks to the Schanowitz’s influence.
A strong advocate for Jewish education, Mrs. Schanowitz believes that attending a full-time Jewish institution bolsters the Jewish identity of children often raised in secular homes in this upper class Chicago suburb. Schanowitz says the philosophy she lives by is “we have to cultivate, tap the interest. We feel it’s there within every Jew, the desire for Torah, mitzvahs. G-d is in all of us, we just have to tap into it.”
Hannah Otis, 17, believes that her Jewish education significantly impacted her identity as a Jewish woman. “Growing up my family was probably conservative or conservadox. Once we started coming to Chabad we liked it and realized we weren’t living the life we wanted to lead. We liked what Chabad had to offer us. The Rebbetzin started tutoring us and we became a lot closer to our Judaism and eventually made the switch to a Jewish school.”
She says that going to a Jewish school meant becoming “spiritually strengthened.” “The school serves a range of students. We get kids who verge from lightly-affiliated to more religious, but everyone gains a deeper understanding of their Judaism.”
With a love for learning and a thirst for authentic Judaic text, Hannah Dimbert and Hannah Otis both enjoyed the faced-paced study of the senior girl’s honors Gemara course and subsequently competed on a national level. Competitors take five exams a year, for which they received cash prizes, based on their performance. Dimbert and Otis scored high throughout and the study and hard work paid off when both girls received the grand prize of $3,000.
Otis said the course helped her develop critical thinking skills that are applicable in any subject. “Gemara is really great. It’s kind of a challenge to understand the process behind the Jewish laws that we follow and discover how they came about. It is very logical and meaningful.”
She hopes the skills she gained will help her this fall when she attends Yale University, Otis said. Not sure yet which major she will pursue, “probably microbiology or biomedical engineering. Maybe a minor in history or Judaic studies,” she looks forward to having a relationship with the Chabad on Campus and continuing her affiliation with academic Jewish environments.
Otis visited the campus at Yale. “The student population there is about ¼ Jewish and there are a lot of committed Jews. They have an incredibly vibrant and tight-knit community. It reminded me of my Chabad shul here at home where everyone is welcoming and there is that small, cozy kind of feeling.”
Wherever she finds herself, Hannah says she will always be thankful for her solid Jewish education and is grateful for her relationship with Michla Schanowitz, her first Chabad Rebbetzin. “She is just a very good person and a good friend.”