What would it take to unite Jewish kids living in tiny Far East communities so isolated that their closest Jewish friends could be a three-hour flight away?
Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon and his wife, Goldie, Chabad emissaries to Hong Kong for more than 17 years, and directors of LIFE- Lubavitch In the Far East, the Chabad umbrella organization for Asian Jewish communities, pondered this question for years before finally coming up with the All Asia-Pacific Torah Cup Competition, a revolutionary initiative that begins this Sunday, March 2.
“The idea is to connect Jewish kids and make them feel part of something Jewish and bigger, while teaching them about Judasim—something many of them know very little about,” says Goldie Avtzon.
Truly an international effort, preparations for the competition have “crossed the Atlantic many times over,” says Goldie, who coordinated the event, working with the writer in New York, the graphic designer in Manila, Philippines, the cartoonist in New Jersey, and back to their home base in Hong Kong, where they are directing the project with Shluchim from other Asian countries.
Using the internet as the ideal medium for today’s hi-tech savvy kids, the competition is a series of four weeks worth of a kid-friendly Jewish education. Emailed to all participants who can then read it on-line, each week’s curriculum includes attractive graphics and test-yourself study games. Participants on each team—every country forms a team—will gather weekly at their local Chabad center to take a test on the previous week’s studies. Chabad Shluchim in Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, and several other cities are coordinating the weekly gatherings.
“The genius of it is that you don’t need to travel anywhere—you can take the test from your computer as well—and you don’t need to have any Jewish background to succeed in the competition,” Goldie Avtzon says. At the end of four weeks, the children with the highest scores will be linked via video-conferencing for a grand competition. The winner will be awarded a Torah Cup Trophy for their team.
Some 70 children have joined the Torah Cup competition, and anticipation is high for the grand kickoff event this Sunday. In Hong Kong, participants will gather at the Chabad House to receive a username and password, Torah Cup T-shirts and detailed instructions for the competition. Smaller gatherings will be take place simultaneously at Chabad centers in other cities.
“This is the first wide-spread unified effort for Jewish kids in the Far East,” Avtzon says. “Thanks to the latest advances in technology, it will hopefully be the first of many.”