Every year for the past twenty years, after Pesach, high school seniors or their parents drop manila envelopes off at the cRc’s front desk. The envelopes don’t contain contracts from new companies or requests for publications. They contain essays on Torah topics written by the students entering what is now named the Rebbetzin Shoshana Schwartz a”h, Torah Essay Contest.
The contest is open to seniors attending Jewish high schools in Chicago who will be attending yeshiva or seminary in Israel after graduation. It is led by cRc member Rabbi Michael Myers, Chair of the cRc Education Committee. Rabbi Myers is a legend in the Chicago chinuch world. In addition to having served as the Dean of Hebrew Theological College and a teacher at Fasman Yeshiva High School, he has been a teacher at Ida Crown Jewish Academy and Telshe Yeshiva for the past 38 years.
“The cRc looks to assist in the development of the next generation of leaders,” said Rabbi Myers. “A good avenue to accomplish this is through developing serious research and creative thought through the writing of essays.”
The contest was founded and funded for many years by cRc member, Rabbi Harold Karp. Rabbi Moshe Kushner, z”l, former cRc Executive Director, continued the contest through the cRc in memory of Rebbetzin Shoshana Schwartz a”h, the first wife of our Rosh Beth Din, Rabbi Gedaliah Dov Schwartz.
Rabbi Myers leads a committee of three mechanchim who share their time and expertise to judge the essays, considering organization and presentation, research and sources, clarity of expression, and originality of thought.
Rabbi Myers works hard to ensure the anonymity of the authors. The entrants list their name, their school’s name, and contact information on the essay’s cover page only, which Rabbi Myers separates from the essay, which is assigned a number for reference. Before reading the essays, Rabbi Myers waits about two weeks after processing to help him forget which names are associated with the essay titles.
After reading the essays, Rabbi Myers gives what he feels are the best eight entries to the judging rabbis. They individually assign points for each of the four criteria in each essay. Each year there is a first-place winner whose prize is $1000 and three runners-up who receive $300 each.
“I gained so much from writing the report about simcha,” said Tova Ginsparg, one of the runners-up of the contest, from Bais Yaakov High School of Chicago. “I discovered new concepts to apply to my understanding of this middah and at the same time learned how to research a concept in Yiddishkeit through original Torah sources and Sifrei Mussar.”
In addition to the essay contest, the cRc sponsors Torah Achievement Awards for graduating seniors who will be studying in a Torah institution in Israel after graduation, and who display dedication to Torah and to the maintenance of high middot standards.
“Because the cRc values learning, we strive to facilitate and encourage others to learn through our programs,” said Rabbi Myers.
The Torah Achievement Awards are gift certificates to Kesher Stam and Rosenblums World of Judaica. The winners are chosen by each of the participating high schools, Bais Yaakov High School of Chicago, Fasman Yeshiva High School, Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov, Ida Crown Jewish Academy and Lubavitch Girls High School. Three of the awards are in memory of cRc past Presidents. Fasman Yeshiva’s award is in memory of Rabbi William B. Gold, Hanna Sacks’, is in memory of Rabbi Albert H. Ellison, and Ida Crown’s is in memory of Rabbi Herman L. Davis.
“The cRc is assisting me in continuing my Torah studies by enabling me to purchase seforim that will enhance my Torah growth,” said Chava Rena Bachrach, Bais Yaakov High School of Chicago’s winner this year.
“We are proud of the work of Rabbi Myers and the Education Committee, and our contribution to supporting Torah learning in the community,” said Rabbi Levi Mostofsky, Executive Director.
This year’s winners are: First Place: Shana Grunwald (Bais Yaakov High School). Runners Up: Chaya Rena Goldwag (Bais Yaakov High School) and Chana Schusterman (Lubavitch Girls High School).