By Chaya Nessa Krycer
Pawn, Bishop, Checkmate. These terms are never found in backgammon, and you’d have to be an expert to include them in Scrabble. However, they are most frequently applied to the age-old game of chess. Contrary to popular opinion, chess is not for the cream of the crop, those who are destined to become high powered doctors and lawyers. In fact, according to Josh Bowman, chess can be enjoyed by all people as long as they are interested and stimulated enough to remain in one place for a half-hour at a time. That is the crux of the criteria for joining Chess Chevra.
Chess Chevra was founded in April 2020 by Josh Bowman. The goal is simple — to bring Jewish children together using a healthy and constructive outlet. All that is necessary for joining is access to Zoom and a willingness to learn the skills necessary to play. As of now, Bowman is the only instructor on Chess Chevra. He teaches group classes ($15 per 30-minute class or 4 classes for $50) or one on one sessions ($30 for 30 minutes) using the chess.com interface on his shared Zoom screen. With these resources, Bowman can facilitate games between his students or demonstrate numerous techniques and strategies using the computer as his opponent.
Bowman is exceptionally qualified for his position. Not only does he have a Master’s in Education from Harvard’s Mind Brain and Education program, but he also knows what it is like to be a chess student, studying for years with Nationals Master Dan Heisman and Jonathan Hilton and International Master Yaacov Norowitz. In 2016, Josh made his expertise official when he earned the title National Master from the U.S. Chess Federation. Before becoming religious through the Meor program at Stanford University, Bowman spent thousands of hours poring over chess books, exploring abundant approaches to boost his performances in the various tournaments in which he participated. Now as an Orthodox Jew, he has reallocated this time to Torah learning. He wishes, however, to harness the positive aspects of his secular background and apply them to the frum world. As he states “The wisdom of chess is universal. It’s already respected in the frum world”.
This brings us to another important aspect of the Chess Chevra program. Many parents are hesitant to allow their children to participate in secular activities. Understanding the wide scope for entertainment on the Internet, they wish to ensure that their children are only involved with safe, productive, and wholesome activities. When creating Chess Chevra, Bowman took all this into account. He specifically structured Chess Chevra in a way that will ensure that parents are comfortable with allowing their children to participate. For example, he markets the program specifically to frum communities, and there are separate classes for boys and girls.
Although Chess Chevra has only been around for a few months, it has become extremely widespread. Members range from all corners of the U.S to various cities in Israel (as Bowman is extremely proficient in instructing in both Hebrew and English). This provides an opportunity for fellow chess players to meet Jews from other communities. This coincides with Bowman’s intention for Chess Chevra. He explains, “There should be a special place where kids can join together. My mission is to provide something new and important in the frum community.”
But chess is beyond an entertaining game. In fact, chess instills important life skills that can be utilized in Gemara and other important facets of life. Especially in today’s day and age, children struggle with impulsiveness, as they are accustomed to video games that require split-second action. Chess teaches children to look at problems from various angles while thinking slowly and deliberately about their decisions. It can also be applied in the classroom, where many children have trouble focusing their attention on one aspect for a lengthy duration. As Bowman writes (link to https://www.chesschevra.com/blogs/thinking-deeply-not-playing-a-videogame) “Chess Chevra’s goal is to help kids become deep, thorough, sharp, and creative thinkers.”
Although Chess Chevra is beneficial at all times, it is especially crucial now, during the coronavirus outbreak. Due to social distancing, many ties are severed because of the lack of interaction between peers. Chess Chevra provides an opportunity to connect with Jews from many communities, all from the safety and comfort of home. With just a click of a button, www.chesschevra.com can ensure its goal of reducing the gap between frum communities while providing cognitive skills for the future generation- which is what is happening right now. Checkmate!