Calling All Aspiring Public Speakers

Public speaking is one of those activities that people either seem to enjoy or try to avoid. However, ask any expert and they will tell you that anyone can master it—it’s all about practice and building one’s confidence.

Developing competence in this important life skill is one of the reasons that Jewish Federation has presented the Public Speaking Contest every year for more than three decades. This year’s contest will be held online by video. Details will be available soon. 

Now in its 32nd year, the contest is open to any student in grades four through seven who wishes to participate. Public speaking is a part of the curriculum at local day schools, and all students are asked to write a speech, even if they don’t choose to present it.

“The contest provides an important first building block to help young people organize their thoughts about a subject and boost their confidence about presenting their ideas,” explains Lissa Weinberger, Jewish Federation’s manager of Jewish education and identity initiatives.

Participants can choose from a range of Jewish education topics that are posted in advance—from an important person in Jewish history that you would name a street after, to what Judaism says about bullying, to how Jewish values are integrated with environmental protection—and then prepare a three-minute speech. Speakers can also choose their own topic, if they prefer, and may speak in English or in Hebrew. 

These subjects are chosen to “prepare these students to tackle all things Jewish,” Weinberger adds. “That’s an important integration to us—they’re not just talking about news or history, but Judaics.”

Initiated in 1988 by Larry Barzelai in honour of his father, this educational event has become a highlight in the Jewish community. Larry’s father, Morris Black, believed that education, and in particular Jewish education, was the most important value in life. The contest was created with a legacy gift that he left.

“I think my father would be pleased to see how the contest has grown over the years,” said Larry Barzelai. “Our family has been proud to support this educational experience, which has allowed elementary school children to educate themselves and others on a wide variety of Jewish topics.”