The auditorium at Tel Aviv University’s Beit Hatfutsot-Museum of the Jewish People on Monday was a veritable smorgasbord of world Jewry, with children from Latin America, North America, Russia, Europe and Israel packed into its seats and aisles along with their beaming parents and grandparents.
The crowd, which was whipped into a frenzy by dancing and drumming courtesy of a troupe from the Tararam School of Performing Arts, was on hand to celebrate the winners of My Family Story, an annual initiative of Beit Hatfutsot that encourages Jewish students across the globe to dig deep into their family history and describe their Jewish roots through 3-D art.
The 42 winners were honored Monday at a ceremony beamed globally via livestream to all the contest’s participating countries — Argentina, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, the US and Venezuela.
Eighty-two Jewish day schools and synagogues competed in the competition, with winners chosen from more than 13,000 submissions. In addition to a trip to Israel to receive their prize in person, winning students will have their projects displayed at the museum for public viewing for the next year.
Gabriel Simpser, a student at the San Diego Jewish Academy in San Diego, California, earned first prize among students from North America, Australia, Europe and the former USSR for his intricate display of a miniature synagogue ringed by photographs of his family and filled with Torah scrolls whose parchment tells individual stories of each relative.
“No matter what race you are, if you are Jewish you can always come to a synagogue,” he said after the ceremony while showing off his design. “That’s where Judaism becomes one.”
Talia Byrnes, a student at the Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, Calif., earned second place in the same category for her project, “Women of Valor.” Fashioned in the style of a jewelry box, Byrnes’ design features a female relative in each miniature drawer and is anchored at the top with a photograph of her 106-year-old great-grandmother, who lives in Hadera, Israel, and was on hand for the ceremony.
“I was always surrounded by women,” said Talia, who has seven aunts. “They are my roots.”
Projects were judged on four criteria: Jewish peoplehood, creativity, depth of research and aesthetics. The winning projects were shipped to Israel, where Beit Hatfutsot workers – after navigating the bureaucratic hurdles of both a Foreign Ministry strike and and a postal workers’ strike – collected them, carefully reassembled them and placed them on display.
They can be viewed by the public through July 15.
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