Friday, January 21, 2005

The Bible Quiz

Eleven-year-old Merav’s counselor from Scouts called a week ago on a Sunday night. “We’re having a bible quiz on Tuesday,” she explained to Merav. “I know it’s not a lot of notice. But would you be interested in representing us?”

Merav didn’t hesitate. And for the next hour, the two of them were cramming on the phone together, reviewing material that might be on the test, practicing potential answers.

They were back on the phone together the next night. And the night after.

It was a remarkable site. A bible opened on Merav’s bed rather than the usual Harry Potter. And she was so into it.

“Abba,” Merav asked me at one point, coming up for air. “Do you know a lot about Moses?”

“Um,” I stammered. “Well, a little bit...why?”

She then proceeded to grill me on questions that were way beyond the scope of knowledge of her late-to-observance father. She stumped me every time.

I was so proud.

After all, isn’t this is one of the main reasons we'd moved to Israel. So we could be shown up by our kids. In their knowledge of the Bible. In their command of Hebrew. In their more than passing familiarity with the nooks and crannies of the land.

On the day of the quiz, we all assembled in the troupe’s club house, a mostly empty room with smelly bathrooms in one corner. From the moment we entered, the room was buzzing.

OK, more than buzzing.

Campers were cheering on their representatives, chanting, doing hand claps. Some groups had painted their faces. Merav had stripes of green on one cheek and white on the other. Her friend Michal had green arms too.

Clearly, this was not going to be some staid Bible Quiz like the ones you see on the state-run TV.

At the front of the room, eight campers were sitting at a long table. They ranged in age from Merav’s eleven all the way up to fourteen. A lanky kid in Scouts-standard khaki, not that much older than the rest, was to ask each camper his or her own unique question.

Merav was first.

“How was Jethro related to Moses?”

Ha! One of those Moses wonder Merav had asked before. But I knew this one. And so did Merav. Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law.


Her fellow campers went wild. “Merav! Merav! Merav!” they chanted.

Merav sat quietly while the other campers answered their questions. All correct, too.

Question #2:

“Which of the following is true about King David?

A. He had blond hair;
B. He came to power after the previous king, Saul, died; or
C. He was a shepherd.

Well, everyone knows David was a red head not a blondini. And for sure he was a shepherd.. But what about the business about the king...David did come after Saul. But had Saul already passed away?

Merav gave her answer: C – he was a shepherd.

Right again.

Two girls had painted “Merav” in enormous Hebrew letters on a long banner and were now parading it just in front of the table while the chanting and cheering continued.

The campers answered their questions. One little boy missed his second question. And then another slipped up too.

Time for the third and final question. Another one about Saul and David.

“When the youth comes running to David to tell him that Saul and Jonathan had died, how did the youth know they were dead?”

This time, though, Merav was a tentative. Her answer was much more a whisper. “The boy killed Saul,” she said, then looked at the boy in charge.

Something about his face said to her that she had gotten this one wrong. She quickly changed her response. “Um...he was there when they died.”

This would prove to be her undoing. And she knew it. The color had already drained out of her face as the boy in charge informed her that her first answer had in fact been the right one. He was gracious, though. The second answer was technically correct.

“Half a point,” he said.

But it was too late. When the votes were tallied up, Merav was out. She left the stage, fighting back tears as she tried to slip unnoticed into a corner of the room, face to the wall.

The movement of her shoulders said it all.

But her fellow campers didn’t pick up on it, at least not immediately. They stormed her, bellowing enthusiastic congratulations, trying to high-five her.

Jody and I didn’t know whether to step in and comfort her, or maintain a safe distance. Jody made what I thought was an almost imperceptible move but Merav caught it and motioned her away. She knew the child’s secret creed: the second Mom comes close, you lose it.

Which is what she did on the way back home.

“We’re so proud of you, honey,” Jody said to her sobbing daughter.

“But I lost,” Merav whimpered.

“Lost? Are you kidding?” I said. “You were amazing.”

“None of your friends had the guts to do what you did,” Jody added.

“That’s true...” Merav said. “They didn't join because they were too afraid to lose.”

She reflected on this for a moment, then added: “But I did lose,” and buried her head in her hands.

“Says who?” I responded. “As far as we’re concerned, the important thing is got up there and you tried!”

“I did, didn’t I?” Merav said, brightening slightly.

“More than that, you took a risk. And you weren’t afraid."

“Yeah, I wasn’t really afraid when I was answering the questions!”

“And next year...”

Next year?” Merav looked shocked.

“Well, yeah, next year," I said. "Now you’ll know exactly what to expect.”

A slight grin settled over Merav. I don’t think there will be any question that Merav will step up the plate again. Because in the test of true courage, our eleven-year-old was already a big winner.

This week's story is dedicated to Jody's grandmother, Charlotte Fox, who passed away this week at the age of 91. She loved her great grand-daughter Merav and would have been very proud of her.

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