Friday, November 15, 2019 -
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Yiddish for the win

Scripps Spelling Bee

Rishik Gandshari at the 2019 Scripps Spelling Bee (Facebook)

It’s Yiddish for the win at the Scripps National Spelling Bee!

OK, not quite, but last week, when the first rounds of the finals kicked off, the word “Yiddishkeit” nearly stumped contestant No. 5, Rishik Gandshari from San Jose, Calif.

The seventh-grader didn’t quite know what to make of the quintessentially Jewish word, which the contest defined as “a Jewish way of life.” After asking what the language of origin of the word was, and receiving the answer “Yiddish,” Rishik chuckled nervously: “I don’t know what I expected.”

On Twitter, avid Bee watchers were stunned as well by the challenging first word, which, let’s face it, not many 12-year-olds, Jewish or otherwise, are familiar with.

But Rishik is a spelling bee veteran and a total pro — he made it all the way to the sixth round at last year’s competition, and was valiant about being eliminated. What a mensch! (Hey, spelling bee runner-people, maybe that’s a good word for next year?) Despite his initial hesitation, he managed to spell Yiddishkeit and ascend to the next round.

Bizarrely, later in the afternoon, Rishik was dealt another Jewish word, this time a Hebrew one: In Round 8, he also spelled the word “keriah,” the traditional Jewish mourning ritual of tearing one’s clothes.

This is quite an amazing feat because, according to the data website FiveThirtyEight, Hebrew words have been the toughest words to spell at the competition, with more than half of them stumping contestants over the years. Looks like Rishik managed to avoid that fate!

Meanwile, another Yiddish word helped propel a contestant to the next round: Enya Hubers of Ontario, Canada, aced the spelling of “lekach,” the Ashkenazi honey cake served on Rosh Hashanah. What a sweet victory, and mazel tov to both of these young pros!


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