Great Neck 4th grader wins international award

Great Neck 4th grader wins international award
Naomi Cohen was awarded as the champion of the International Jewish Knowledge Championship on April 8. (Photo by Sholem Srugo/Merkos 302, courtesy of the Chabad of Great Neck)

A Great Neck fourth grader prevailed over 4,000 other students from 25 countries in clinching the highest award at the International Jewish Knowledge Championship, a spelling bee-style competition focused on Jewish culture.

Naomi Cohen, who attends Baker Hill Elementary School and Chabad of Great Neck Hebrew School, came out on top at the final competition April 8 when she demonstrated her skills and knowledge in front of thousands of attendees and more than 50,000 people. Included in those tuning in remotely was a collection of Naomi’s supporters at Chabad of Great Neck.

“We are super happy for her, super proud of what she’s been doing,” her father, Florent Cohen, said. “I think it shows her how if you work and you dedicate yourself to something, you can achieve great things.”

The Jewish Knowledge Championship, also known as the JewQ Championship, drew in contestants from the United Kingdom, Colombia and France as well as Great Neck’s Naomi Cohen. It is facilitated by CKids, the Chabad Children’s Network that provides programming and curriculum for young Jews.

“Instilling a deep sense of Jewish identity through a comprehensive understanding of our heritage is essential,” Rabbi Zalman Baumgarten, director of Chabad of Great Neck Hebrew School, said. “It equips our children to face the world with knowledge, pride, and confidence.”

Naomi’s win comes after months of preparation, encompassing hours of studying, testing and competing in regional competitions. She said her months of preparation were months of hard work.

Baumgarten described Naomi as a star student whose win has brought pride to the Hebrew school.

“Naomi’s mastery of the material and her achievement in winning the trophy is not just a personal milestone but a source of immense pride for our entire community,” Baumgarten said.

Her award has made ripples beyond the Great Neck Jewish community, with Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky from Chabad Headquarters also praising the fourth grader.

“Naomi’s victory is a testament to the vibrant future of Judaism,” Kotlarsky said. “It sends a powerful message that despite challenges, our traditions and values will continue to thrive, led by young leaders like Naomi.”

Upon making her way to the international level and final stage of the competition, Naomi said she was surprised by her accomplishments. But once she processed the feat she had obtained, excitement set in after she had spent months working on capturing the top award.

“It’s humbling that we have a student that could win such a prestigious award out of about 4,000 students that are vying for the top spot,” Rabbi Baumgarten said.

Naomi said she didn’t achieve this award on her own, attributing it to the support she received from her family and rabbi along the way.

But while her award puts Great Neck on the map, Baumgarten said it also represents a prevailing of the Jewish community and its pride amid rising antisemitism.

“This is the way to fight hate, and to fight darkness is by shining bright,” Rabbi Baumgarten said. “When there’s darkness, a little light can dispel a lot of darkness.”

Alongside Naomi were other Great Neck students participating in the international competition. This included gold medalists sixth grader Nathaniel Moirzadeh of JFK Elementary School and fifth grader Ethan Moirzadeh of North Middle School; silver medalists fifth grader Nathaniel Halimi; third graders Oren Halimi and Olivia Halimi of Baker Hill Elementary.

Naomi said her work isn’t stopping now as she sets her sights on winning again next year.

While her months of prep will need to pick up again this fall, she said she is looking forward to engaging in her hobbies like gymnastics, ice skating and playing with friends until then.

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