TEL AVIV – The newly crowned American spelling bee champion earned his title by correctly spelling the little-known Yiddish word “chremslach” in the final rounds of the competition.
13-year-old Jairam Hathwar from Corning, New York won first place in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in a tie with 11-year-old Nihar Janga from Austin, Texas.
So what does the winning word mean? Chremslach are flat fried matzah cakes sometimes eaten by Ashkenazi Jews during the Passover holiday.
Some of it was guesswork for Jairam and Nihar, who admitted they hadn’t heard of all of the words given to them in the competition, which was broadcast live on ESPN. The boys will each take home $40,000 in cash among other prizes.
This year wasn’t the first time a Yiddish word came up in the spelling bee. “Knaidel,” a matzah ball dumpling often placed in chicken soup, was the winning word in 2013. However, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that YIVO, a New York-based institute that is an authority on Yiddish history, claimed the correct spelling was “kneydl.”
In the same contest, 13-year-old Hannah Citsay was asked to spell the word “hesped” — the Hebrew word for eulogy.
In 2009, “kichel” — a Jewish dessert cookie — was featured. The sentence used to put the word in context for a contestant was the impossible-sounding: “The thought of someone kvetching (complaining) about her kichel gave Meryl the spilkes (anxieties).”
In 2006, a 14-year-old Saryn Hooks was eliminated after judges deemed that her spelling of “hechsher,” meaning kosher certification, was incorrect. However, after the brother of a fellow contestant magnanimously let the judges know that the word was indeed spelled correctly, Hooks was let back into the contest. JTA reports that she didn’t end up winning.