The 13-year-old Bayside Hills resident won the national competition on May 30 by correctly spelling “knaidel,” the Yiddish word for matzo ball.
Mahankali was presented with an American Flag that flew at the U.S. Capitol by Meng.
“Only in Queens, the most diverse county in America, can an Indian-American kid win a national contest for correctly spelling the Yiddish word for matzo ball,” Meng said. “It truly exemplifies the outstanding diversity that exists in our great borough, and I am proud to help celebrate that.”
Additionally, Ben's Best owner Jay Parker unveiled a new dish of mini-knaidels that the restaurant will name in honor of Mahankali. It was the first time Mahankali tasted the “word” that brought him so much fame.
“Now I’m going to blow off the lid of our dirty little secret,” Parker told the young spelling sensation. “Do you know why we call it matzo ball? Because nobody could spell knaidel!”
Joining in lunch were Mahankali’s family, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing, and Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council.
“It was dream like,” said proud father Srinivas Mahankali. “It has been his dream, and our dream, but once he won, we didn’t know how to react.”
Mahankali placed ninth in 2010 and moved up to third in both 2011 and 2012. He finally won this year, besting 280 other spellers from around the country, taking home the grand prize of $30,000.
Mahankali said he studied over 100,000 words to prepare for the competition this year, and felt confident with every word thrown his way.
“I know what a lot of them mean, but not all of them,” he said. “I definitely like to study.”
Mahankali has been receiving much attention for his recent win, including an appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live show in Los Angeles.
But life is slowly returning back to normal now that Mahankali has graduated from Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School MS 74 in Oakland Gardens and plans to begin his freshman year at Stuyvesant High School this September.