Sunday, February 19, 2017

Memories of a Bible Contest, Russian Vodka and a Ponytail

Every now and then contemporary events reported in the media evoke memories of my past. So it was with last Tuesday’s New York Times article about a Bible quiz of the Tanach, the Jewish Old Testament (BTW, The Times refers to the Jewish Bible as the Tanakh, but I prefer a transliteration of the Hebrew that is more gutteral, hence the “ch” ending  of Tanach with a sound similar to the beginning of the Yiddish word “chutzpah”). 

Anyway, to return to the present and memory at hand, here’s a link to The Times article:

Fifty-seven summers ago, as an 11-year-old, I competed in the first Bible quiz at Camp Massad Aleph in Tannersville, PA. I was well prepared for this endeavor, having attended six years of intensive Jewish instruction at Yeshiva Rambam in Brooklyn. Of course, all the other contestants my age had similar preparation, though not from Rambam. They came mostly from other Brooklyn Jewish day schools: Yeshivah of Flatbush, or Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, or Yeshiva Bialik, or Shulamith, an all girls school.

Preliminary testing of the 300 or so campers culled the finalists down to three boys from my age group. Years before feminism took hold, camp administrators realized it would be wrong not to have a girl among the finalists. 

She sat next to me on the stage in front of the assembled camp. I can’t remember her name. Nor do I remember any of the questions. I do remember we were the two final contestants and that she answered a question that stumped me. 

For her victory she received a large Bible. As the runner-up, my Bible measured half as large. Same complete text, but in a much smaller font.

Za zdorovje: The Russian toast “for health” is a cruel joke these days, given the outbreak of deaths from tainted vodka. As reported in The Times, a cheap substitute for vodka presumably made from ethanol actually contained methanol which is deadly.

At least 76 unsuspecting drinkers in Irkutsk have died from imbibing the lethal mixture. (

It is not the first time bad vodka has killed Russians. When Gilda and I took a river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow back in 2010 we were told about the time Mikhail Gorbachev tried to cure excessive drunkenness by limiting the sales of vodka in state-run stores to one bottle a month. Thirsty Russians resorted to distilling their own brews. But their vodkas exceeded the safe 40% alcohol levels and many became ill or died.  

Ponytail Down: Two weeks ago during a monthly poker game, Gregg asked aloud if I was still retired. Told I was, he wondered, again aloud, why I didn’t have time to get a haircut. 

Normally a reliable reader of this blog, Gregg had missed or forgotten the December 29 posting in which I wrote I was growing a ponytail to fulfill my wife’s request. Alas, my curly hair becomes a Jewfro which is not, as Gregg diplomatically observed, always appealing. So last week I told Gilda my valiant try at a ponytail would be sheared away. 

While sitting in the haircutter’s chair, I was reminded that about 30 years ago she was set to cut the ponytail that our son Dan had grown during day camp. “Set to cut” because upon further inspection she spotted an all-too-common invasion in any camper’s hair—lice. 

An application of Rit resolved that problem. A week later Rosie clipped off his tail which for many years he kept in a clear plastic storage bag.