JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - Elior Babian, 16, an Israeli from Bet Shemesh near Jerusalem, and Yishai Eisenberg, 15, of New Jersey are the two winners of the 50th annual World Bible Quiz, held in Jerusalem on the nation's 65th Independence Day.
The fact that there were joint winners from Israel and the global Jewish community shows how the quiz brings Jewish youth together.
The international contestants were brought to Israel thanks to the involvement of The Jewish Agency for Israel. The Agency's International School Twinning Network also works to recruit particpants.
Out of the top five finalists, two were from the States, two from Israel, and one was from Mexico.
American-born Yesh Atid party Knesset Member Rabbi Dov Lipman, who also lives in Beit Shemesh, reiterated the importance of the two victors, and added, "We have joint values, built around the Bible."
While the event is run by the Israeli Defense Forces' Education and Youth Corps, it has many sponsors, including The Jewish Agency for Israel which looks after them during their stay here.
Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky addressed the crowd, and both he and Director-General Alan Hoffmann were seated as honorary dignitaries of the event.
A link to the full Israel Broadcasting Authority video of the festive event is here.
In the runup to the event, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated this year's finalists in a meeting held soon after their arrival in Israel.
"The Bible is the foundation of our existence, our right to exist, and our right to this land even though there are those who try to deny this," Netanyahu told the group of 12-to-18 year olds at a meeting held in his office last Wednesday, two days after they landed.
"In my view, it is the basis of our existence and it is important that this basis also be understood among the nations of the world and not just among us," Netanyahu told the 58 contestants, who hail from 26 countries, including Finland, Turkey, Italy, Colombia, Latvia, Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, and Great Britain.
"I ascribe great importance to teaching the Bible, and this is how it is in my family," the prime minister said, concluding that he was "pleased to hear that it is similarly important in your families and communities. I welcome you to Israel and wish you all good luck."
Prior to meeting with Netanyahu, several of the contestants shared their excitement about arriving in Israel for the festive event.
"This was exciting, because I'm going to be here longer than I've ever been - I'll be here for three weeks - with a lot of people who love Tanach (the Torah, Prophets and Writings that make up the Bible)," Shalhevet Schwartz, 15, of Riverdale, NY, told The Jewish Agency. "I'm studying, and it was cool to see so many people who learn."
Noting that she was religiously observant, she stressed that "Jewish studies have been sort of part of my life, forever," adding that her father and brothers also took part in the event in years past.
Pavel Fleischer, 16, of Tallin, Estonia said simply, "You must visit Israel."
"It's a great experience when you read Talmud or Tanach ... you can only imagine where and what and how it is," he said. "But when you're in Israel, and you see where it was, you can only say, 'Wow - Oh my God! - it's really incredible, totally.'"
The quiz goals are to increase the number of Bible students and thinkers among Jewish youth in Israel and abroad, strengthen the love of the Nation of Israel, the Land of Israel and the history of Israel among youth, help nurture educational values derived from the prophetic heritage and to awaken the origins of the Hebrew language, add a spiritual dimension to the Independence Day celebrations in the State of Israel and the entire Jewish nation, and to encourage educational interaction between Israeli youth and their global peers.