Rishik Gandhasri of San Jose aced two Jewish terms — yiddishkeit and keriah — in the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Rishik Gandhasri of San Jose aced two Jewish terms — yiddishkeit and keriah — in the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

This San Jose 7th-grader won the National Spelling Bee with Yiddish and Hebrew

Yesterday, when the first rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals kicked off, the word “Yiddishkeit” nearly stumped contestant no. 5, Rishik Gandhasri from San Jose.

The 7th 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.” (He’s smart and funny!)

On Twitter, avid Bee watchers (you know who you are!) were also stunned 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 6th round at last year’s Bee. And this year, he ended up one of eight co-champions. Despite some initial hesitation, he managed to spell Yiddishkeit perfectly, and ascend to the next round.

Twitter, of course, was very impressed:

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

According to 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!

Another Yiddish word helped propel a contestant to the next round: Enya Hubers, from 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!

This piece was distributed by JTA and first appeared on Kveller.

JTA

Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.

Lior Zaltzman
Lior Zaltzman

Lior Zaltzman is the social media editor at 70 Faces Media, a not-for-profit Jewish media organization that includes JTA, Kveller, Jewniverse and more.