Tag Archives: Olympics

An Israeli Olympics

by Daniela Enriquez

The build-up to the Olympics is always a busy one for those participating. The athletes need to be in good shape and well prepared in order to succeed, the flag-bearers for the opening ceremony have to be chosen and heads of state are called to take photos with their national teams.

As with other countries, Israel’s July was full of “Olympic” contingencies and problems to solve. First of all, the decision to hold the opening ceremony on a Friday night led Shimon Peres to remain home, refraining from flying to London in order to respect Shabbat. The decision made by the Israeli president is admirable and well represents the culture of his country; I wonder whether we will follow his example and abstain from watching the opening ceremony this Friday evening…

Thumb up for President Peres!

The second issue regards the initial decision made by the BBC Olympics 2012 website, to list Jerusalem as the national capital of Palestine, rather than of Israel, leaving a blank space under the name of the Israeli capital. Requests for an explanation came from all over the country, including from the press and politicians. Bewildered by the BBC’s decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used Facebook to launch an appeal to all supporters of “Israeli Jerusalem.” This social network campaign is called “Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel,” and already has almost 20,000 fans. After this protest, BBC Olympics 2012 decided to move Jerusalem to Israel, living a blank where Palestine has formerly had a capital city. Complicating the situation, the BBC website located Israel in Europe, while Palestine remained in Asia.

Definitely, thumbs down for BBC!

(http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=268154)

However, the most serious problem relates to the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, in which 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches were taken as hostages and killed. The International Olympic Committee is refusing to observe a one-minute silence, requested by the state of Israel, in honor of the people who lost their lives in that terrible event. Israel has not given up on this, and the quarrel over whether or not there will be a moment of silence remains open, with many public figures–including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and NBC sportscaster Bob Costas–joining the call for a moment of silence. Iranian athletes let the world know that, in the event that the Committee decides to respect the Israeli request, they will keep the silence along with the rest of the world.

I am holding my thumbs on this, and await Friday!

In the meantime, still shocked by the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, Israeli and British forces are working together to assure the highest level of security for all athletes at the games.

Before checking out the Israeli Olympic team of 2012, let’s have a look at how Israel did in past games. Israeli athletes seem to be especially good at canoeing, judo and sailing. In the last event, they won two bronze medals in 1996 and 2008 and a gold in Athens in 2004. In 1992, the Israeli team earned one silver and one bronze medal in judo, and another bronze in 2004. Finally, during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Israel took the third spot in canoeing. To summarize, overall they have won one gold, one silver and five bronze for a total of…..seven medals.

Come on Israel, you can do better! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

This year’s Israeli team is composed of 37 members, 19 men and 18 women, who are set to compete in several fields. Among these are badminton, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, synchronized swimming and Tennis.

Two members of the Israeli team have unusual stories: Donald Sanford and Zohar Zimro, two athletes with very different stories but two things in common–their love of sports and an acquired Israeli citizenship.

Sanford was born in the United States and his Olympic journey started at Arizona State University. As a student there, he met Danielle, an Israeli girl from Ein Shemer, a kibbutz in northern Israel. The two fell in love and got married. Even though Sanford was not raised as a Jew, he got to know the religious traditions and culture of Israel through his wife’s family. Sanford eventually decided to make aliyah, obtaining an Israeli passport and citizenship. After beginning his career in the 1500-meter dash, Sanford soon switched to the 400-meter dash, in which he will compete this year.

Zohar’s story is different from Sanford’s, but similar to those of other Africans who, as he did, emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel in the late 1980s, following their Zionist dream. The marathon runner described his life as a “Cinderella story” which brought him closer than ever to fulfilling his biggest dream: “achieving something historic at the Olympics” in order to be remembered forever in Israel.

What to say? Yalla, Zohar! Yalla!

The most famous character of the Israeli Olympic team had a bit of drama: Baby Bamba, the vetoed Israeli mascot. The cartoon was initially chosen to be the mascot of the 2012 team, but in March, it was removed from the list of mascots. Its fault? Looking too similar to the logo of a popular children’s snack.

But Israelis aren’t the only ones with “Olympic” problems. July is the month of Ramadan–so it won’t be easy for all the Muslim athletes who will need to compete on an empty stomach.

Going for Gold at the Jewish Olympics

by Gabi P. Remz

Since 1932, when a 50,000-resident town called Tel Aviv hosted the first Jewish equivalent of the Olympics, the Maccabiah Games have drawn the finest Jewish athletes to participate in a wide array of events. This year’s JCC Games, which began on Sunday, include the staples of sport, such as basketball and soccer, as well as more niche competitions, such as chess, bridge and squash. The event has grown so big that it is now one of the five largest sports gatherings in the world, causing the International Olympic Committee to officially recognize it as “regional games.”

And while these games offer nearly everyone a chance to play (the games have youth, open, and senior divisions allowing for almost all ages to participate) in a variety of settings—in addition to the Maccabiah of Israel, there are the European, Pan-American and North American JCC Games— the goal of the event is more than to simply provide Jews a forum in which to exhibit their athletic prowess.

In some cases, as with the European Games that were held in Vienna just a few weeks ago, it can be to show the endurance of the Jewish spirit.

This years European games in Vienna were the first in a German-speaking country since 1945, and overcoming the Holocaust was a constant theme of the games.

The opening ceremony took place at Vienna’s City Hall, several hundred yards away from where Hitler announced Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938. The opening ceremony included footage of Hitler’s speech as well as pictures of the destruction he would go on to cause. However, the video then moved on to the Jewish recovery effort, as images of Jews rebuilding their communities in Europe and Israel flashed across the screen.

Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Reuven Rivlin focused on the spirit of endurance, saying, “We can’t forget the Vienna that was the city of Theodor Herzl, nor can we forget the Vienna of the Nazis…It’s a festival of the victory of the Jewish spirit over Nazi extermination.”

Two members of the American delegation in Vienna were, in fact, Austrian-born Jews, both of whom fled the country in 1938.

“I’m doing a symbolic swim,” one of those men, John Benfield, told the JTA. “I need to show the Nazis I’m still around.”

And Benfield, like many others, is there for something more than just athletic achievement.

Maccabi USA’s slogan is “building Jewish pride through sports.” The Maccabiah website describes the “principal mission” of the games as being not only “to facilitate a worldwide gathering of young Jewish athletes in Israel,” but also “strengthening their connection to the State of Israel and the Jewish People.”

The various versions of the Maccabi games do this by engaging host communities as well as including as many people as possible in delegations. The Maccabiah Games in Israel draw nearly 5,000 athletes, but the organization looks to include the “majority of Israeli citizens” in some capacity, whether as athletes, volunteers, or even just as spectators.

The JCC Games allow players from all over North America to connect with host families in the event’s host city, and the Games also provide social programming so that participants can develop relationships with Jewish athletes from all over. This year’s event will be held in Philadelphia and Springfield, Mass. three weeks from now.

Jonah Weisel, who represented the Greater Washington delegation in basketball from 2005 through 2008, says the connections he made at the games were strong and have been maintained over the years.

“I definitely made connections with many other kids at the Maccabi Games, to the point that I saw kids in Israel this year that I recognized from years past,” Weisel said. “I had conversations with other kids that started with, ‘Hey did you happen to play basketball in the Orange County Maccabi Games?’ I also keep in touch with my teammates and the families that hosted me.”

One issue many athletes voice about the games is the wildly expensive costs of participating. This years Pan-Am Games will cost nearly $5,000 a player, quite a price for a little more than a week of competition. Of course, many teams work hard to fundraise so that any qualified player can get a shot.

In the end, though, the mass gatherings of Jews that just occurred in Vienna, are currently happening in Israel, and will happen in a few weeks in Philadelphia and Springfield, are considered by many to exceed any price. It is a chance to show the Jews are as strong and proud as ever.

The Jewish Part in the Caucasus Conflict

Last week, as the state of war was officially declared between Russia and Georgia over the region of South Ossetia, Israel suddenly popped into the picture as a controversial participator. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the Jewish state of its support for Georgia based on the United States’s driven Cold War philosophy: seeing Russia as the enemy and Georgia as a victim. Israel, however, responded with a claim that above all other implications, it respects Georgia’s territorial rights.

To those who were barely aware of the small Caucasus nation of only 4.7 million until an eruption of the latest events, Israel’s response might seem surprising, but Israeli endorsement of Georgia is an old story. It developed atop strong personal ties dating as far back as early 2000. Since Georgia Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili received his education in Israel, Georgia’s entire military infrastructure has been built on an Israeli model. Hundreds of retired Israeli top army personnel have been designated to assist with training of the Georgian forces, and more than $500 million worth of Israeli-made military equipment was sold to Georgia over the past few years. (Even though this supply comes after that of the U.S. and France.)

Ha’aretz quoted an Israeli soldier who had recently returned from Georgia, where he partook in the training:

“There was an atmosphere of war about to break out….From my point of view, the battles of the past few days were to be expected.”

His observations proved gruesomely true. Continue reading