Local Student Wins the International Jewish Knowledge Championship

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Stella Tolin of Potomac displays the trophy she won for finishing first among seventh graders in the International Jewish Knowledge Championship. Photos courtesy of Louise Tolin

A seventh grader from Potomac, Maryland, won first place among seventh-grade students in the International Jewish Knowledge Championship, a competition with over 4,000 participants and 25 countries.

Stella Tolin, who attends Chabad of Potomac Hebrew School, spent several months learning Jewish history, traditions and other essential components of Jewish knowledge to compete in the international JewQ competition run by CKids, the Chabad Children’s Network.

The competition’s structure is similar to a spelling bee and has students attend a championship event and Shabbaton in Stamford, Connecticut, to test their knowledge in front of a live audience of more than 1,000 people.

It’s meant for Jewish kids who don’t attend a Jewish day school, according to Rebbetzin Sara Bluming of Chabad of Potomac.

“Stella has extended her knowledge of Jewish ways of living and, in doing so, has a stronger Jewish identity. She is putting her learning into action, for example finding opportunities to do more mitzvahs to make the world brighter,” said Louise Tolin,
Stella’s mother.

This is Stella’s last year of competition, as the event includes students from third through seventh grade. Bluming said that Stella has competed in every eligible year, making this a perfect conclusion to her JewQ experience.

Part of the success story comes from the fact that Stella didn’t do any of the studying for the competition in Hebrew school, where Bluming said they study out of a standardized book for around 15 minutes during weekends.

“It was exclusively her studying at home; she did this all 100% on her own. Nobody taught her, nobody learned with her, she was motivated enough to take the study book, open it up and for a middle school student to do that, to me, is mind-boggling,” Bluming said.

That drive to study is partially a product of Stella’s environment, according to her mother, who credited the leadership at Chabad of Potomac for encouraging students to learn and participate in the competition, as well as having a large, strong Jewish family to instill important values.

“Our leaders not only promote and encourage the children in the Hebrew school to participate in events like JewQ, but they bring enthusiasm to celebrating Jewish customs and rituals. They instill Jewish pride. They also find ways for families within our own synagogue and the surrounding community and world to feel united and connected,” Louise Tolin said.

That spirit of connection that Stella says Chabad of Potomac works hard to foster is a key component of the JewQ competition, bringing thousands of Jews from around the globe into a space to spend time together, learn and compete.

Bluming said that a major highlight of the championship event in Connecticut was having the Shabbaton prior to the contest on Sunday and interacting with Jews from various corners of the U.S. and around the world.

“The whole Shabbat is spent together. It was just such an amazing experience. One of the mothers that was there from my community, she said that for the first time since Oct. 7, she felt safe and she felt comfortable being Jewish,” Bluming said.

All of the kids, including Stella, were able to make friends that they kept up with and talked to long after the competition ended.

Bluming said that she knows of several kids at Chabad of Potomac that planned to get together with friends they met at the event, and others that have enjoyed staying in touch with those they met.

“I was able to meet people from various countries around the globe. Many of them became my good friends during the trip and we still keep in touch! I have also made connections to my everyday life while learning about the different heroes and traditions the Jewish culture has,” Stella wrote in an email.

The competition benefits Jewish students and their families as the kids gain a better and more personal understanding of Jewish culture. Bluming said that it boosts Jewish pride for many, including one student who brought his competition rewards to school to show his peers.

That pride, combined with the creation of a Jewish network, where these young students can see that people like them are also becoming knowledgeable and involved, can be a motivator for them to continue their involvement in the future.

“It [the competition] certainly impacts the families in terms of their Jewish pride, their involvement in the Jewish community by feeling more a part of it. The friendships, you see it, you see that it has impacted these families in a real way,” Bluming said.

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