Part of gold medal ‘belongs to Israel,’ Kiwi sailor Jo Aleh says


Jo Aleh, the New Zealand Jewish Olympian who won gold in the sailing regatta, said part of her medal “belongs to Israel.”

Aleh, the New Zealand-born daughter of dual Israeli and Kiwi citizens Shuki Shukrun and Daniella Aleh, clinched gold last week in the women’s 470 sailing event with her partner Olivia “Polly” Powrie. Her parents were on hand to witness the triumph.

The new Olympic champion—whose father lives in Moshav Yinon near Kiryat Malachi and whose mother served in the Israeli army—said she was amazed and slightly bemused at the media fanfare in Israel.

“It feels great to know that there is even more people behind me and, given my parents’ background, part of my medal belongs to Israel,” she said.

Aleh’s half-sister Shefa is celebrating her bat mitzvah in two weeks. Aleh, the 2007 world champion, was scheduled to go straight to Israel, but as one of five Kiwi gold medalists she is traveling back for parades in Auckland on Wednesday and the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch on Friday.

“I am still hoping to make it back to Israel in time for my sister’s bat mitzvah,” she said.

In New Zealand, it was after midnight Aug. 10 as many in the small Jewish community, which numbers around 7,000, celebrated a slice of their own history: Aleh is believed to be the first Kiwi Jew to win an Olympic medal.

“I was not aware of this,” Aleh said. “I guess it’s a good bonus.”

Shemi Tzur, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, said that “This is both an outstanding personal achievement and a great accomplishment for New Zealand. My colleagues at the embassy in Wellington and I followed the competition enthusiastically and we all share your joy and pride.”

New Zealand Jewish sailor Jo Aleh guaranteed medal


New Zealand Jewish sailor Jo Aleh is guaranteed an Olympic medal with just one race left in the women’s 470 regatta.

Aleh, 26, whose parents are dual Israel-New Zealand citizens, and partner Polly Powrie are tied for first after nine races.

The Kiwi pair will meet the British duo of Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark in the gold medal race on Friday. Aleh and Powrie let an eight-point lead slip after the eighth race.

“We had a pretty good first race today, which helped us a little bit but then we followed it up with our little stuff-up,” Aleh said after the ninth race Wednesday. “It’s left us still in a pretty good spot.”

The Brits and Kiwis are far ahead of third-place the Netherlands; it would require a disqualification to deny either the gold or silver medals.

Aleh, a former national champion and 2007 world champion, finished seventh at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She is a member of Beth Shalom, a Progressive congregation in Auckland, according to New Zealand Jewish Council President Stephen Goodman.

Her father, Shuki, flew in from Israel and her mother, Daniella, who lived in Israel for eight years, arrived from New Zealand earlier this week.

Aleh has a half-sister, Shefa, and a half-brother, Yaam, in Israel. Her parents met in Israel after they completed their military service but were married in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Australian sprinter Steven Solomon’s Olympic run has ended with the 4×400-meter relay team failing to qualify for the finals. Solomon, competing at his first Olympics, led off for the Australian team, posting a respectable 45.6-second leg. In the men’s individual 440, he ran two personal bests, including a sub-45-second run, to qualify for the finals, in which he finished eighth.

Also at the Olympics on Thursday, Israeli rhythmic gymnast Neta Rivkin is in 14th place in the qualifying round after performing her hoop and ball routines. She was ranked seventh after her hoop routine but dropped her ball. She will compete with ribbon and clubs in two routines on Friday. She must finish in the top 10 to compete in the finals.

Rivkin received Israel’s first rhythmic gymnastics medal, a bronze, in the individual hoop final at the 2011 World Championships in France. She placed 10th in the all-around competition. The Olympics do not offer medals in individual apparatus in rhythmic gymnastics.

The Israeli rhythmic gymnastics team was in eighth place following the ball routine; the finals are on Sunday. The team placed 10th at the 2011 World Championships.

Aly Raisman says she was for Munich 11 moment of silence [SLIDESHOW]


Slideshow highlighting Aly Raisman‘s Olympics at bottom

Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman expressed her support for a moment of silence at the Olympics for the Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Games.

Raisman was speaking to reporters Tuesday following her gold medal performance in the floor exercise.

“Having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” she said of her floor routine to the music of “Hava Nagila,” the New York Post reported Wednesday. “But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me. If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it.”

A memorial ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in Munich was held Monday in London, organized by the Israeli Embassy in London and the National Olympic Committee of Israel along with the London Jewish community.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge held a moment of silence for the Israelis at a small ceremony in the Olympic Village late last month, but he said a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in London would not be appropriate. He spoke at Monday’s memorial.

International politicians and public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the governments of several countries had called for an official moment of silence at the London opening.

[Aly Raisman’s results: team / all-around / balance beam / floor exercise]

Aly Raisman, after protest, wins bronze on balance beam


Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a bronze medal on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result.

Raisman had finished fourth behind Catalina Ponor of Romania, who fell off the beam in the finals on Tuesday.  Following the Americans’ protest, the rescoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tie-breaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished in seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman, 18, won the floor exercise while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila.”

[For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/olympics]

She will compete later Tuesday in the individual floor exercise event.

Also Tuesday, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

Aly Raisman takes a gold and bronze


Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a gold medal in the floor exercise as well as a bronze on the balance beam at the London Olympics.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., took the gold on Aug. 6 with a score of 15.6 to edge Catalina Ponor of Romania and Aliya Mustafina of Russia, the silver and bronze medalists.

Earlier in the day, Raisman won the bronze on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result. She had finished fourth behind Ponor, who fell off the beam in the finals. After the Americans’ protest, the re-scoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tiebreaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman had helped Team USA take the women’s team gold — the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman won the floor exercise in the team competition while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagilah.”

Also on Aug. 7, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

New Zealand Jewish sailor in medal contention


New Zealand sailor Jo Aleh is in good position to win her first Olympic medal as her event heads into its final stretch.

Aleh, whose parents Shuki and Daniella Aleh lived in Israel before moving to Auckland, and teammate Olivia Powrie are in second position after six of 10 races in the 470 event. The Kiwis were leading in the early rounds but now trail the British team by a point.

Four rounds remain—two each on Tuesday and Wednesday—followed by a medal race, scheduled for Friday.

Aleh, a former national champion and 2007 world champion, finished seventh at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Her father has flown in from Israel to watch the final rounds and her mother has arrived from New Zealand.

Aleh has two half-siblings who both live in Israel, according to a report in The Forward. After the Olympics, the family is traveling there to celebrate her half-sister’s bat mitzvah.

Aleh says she was inspired to take up sailing after watching the 1995 America’s Cup when New Zealand won sport’s oldest trophy.

Judokas Alice Schlesinger and Arik Ze’evi power Israel’s medal hopes


One is nearing the end of his career, already has an Olympic medal and is eyeing another. The other is a decade younger, an up-and-comer who has enjoyed some success, but is aiming for her first medal at the Games.

Ariel “Arik” Ze’evi, 35, and Alice Schlesinger, 24, are standouts on the Israeli Olympic judo team and two of their nation’s best medal hopes at the London Games that begin later this month.

Ze’evi won bronze eight years ago in Athens and expects to win a medal this year after faltering in Beijing in 2008.

Holding a camera while the Israeli media photographed him on July 8, Ze’evi sounded like a soon-to-be retiree going on vacation. He talked about “enjoying the experience” and “staying calm.”

Beneath the relaxed air, however, was a determined and optimistic veteran. Ze’evi won the gold medal at the European Judo Championships in April, and as the 38-person Israeli Olympic delegation’s senior member, he has emerged as one of its leaders.

“I’m very calm, but there’s still time” before the Olympics, he said. “We don’t prepare for failure. We don’t set up scenarios where we don’t succeed. It’s better to have positive thoughts.”

Ze’evi says he is “sure” that this will be his last Olympics. If he were to participate in Rio de Janeiro four years from now, at age 39, he would “compete with little kids,” he said.

Another bronze-winning Israel judoka is heading to London: Oren Smadja is one of the five-person judo team’s coaches. Smadja, 42, believes that the medal he won in 1992 paved the way for more recent Israeli successes in judo, like Ze’evi’s bronze in Athens.

“[My] medal led to people practicing,” said Smadja, who acknowledged that he prefers competing to coaching. “I don’t remember a delegation this strong. Some of [this year’s] team didn’t think they could get into the Olympics. With my dedication and desire, I think I was” one of the impetuses for the team’s strong performance.

The Israeli judo team is coming off a strong performance at the European matches, where it earned four medals. Ze’evi and Smadja are hoping that Schlesinger finds her way to the podium at the Olympics.

“She’s been [training] with me since she was 16,” Ze’evi said of Schlesinger. “I’ve seen her go from a promising athlete into one of the best in the world.” Smadja calls her “a serious candidate for a medal.” 

Schlesinger, who is “very satisfied that Arik is 35 and still competing,” voices cautious optimism about her chances in London. She did not win a medal in Beijing but has since won three bronzes — at the 2009 world championships and at the 2009 and 2012 European championships.

But unlike Ze’evi, who sets the bar high for himself, Schlesinger says only that she hopes to “go home in peace” from London.

“Like everyone else, I want a medal,” she says, “but I want to enjoy it.”

Smadja notes that “not everybody says ‘I’m going to win a medal.’ ”

Close relationships and judo have always come together for Schlesinger. Her brother introduced her to the sport as a child, and she attributes her success to her parents, who took her to competitions on weekends.

Now her boyfriend, Pavel Musin, also is her coach. Schlesinger says Musin’s dual roles “help me a lot.”

“To be in such an intense situation and be so close makes the experience different, makes it fun,” she said.

Schlesinger says her romantic relationship relieves stress from practices rather than augmenting it.

“Between every coach and athlete there are moments of tension,” she said. “But we have to solve them because we have to go home [together] at night.”

Hoop it up: Israeli rhythmic gymnast medals at worlds


Neta Rivkin with a bronze became the first Israeli to win a medal in international rhythmic gymnastics competition.

Rivkin, 20, won a historic medal for Israel in rhythmic gymnastics at the World Championships in Montepelier, France. Her bronze medal, which she won for her Spanish-style hoop routine during the apparatus finals, was the first ever won by an Israeli rhythmic gymnast at a worlds or Olympics. She also placed sixth in the ball finals.

The gymnast, who ranked just behind the current Olympic champion Evgenia Kanaeva and Daria Kondoakova, both of Russia, was obviously elated.

“There are no words to describe what I’m feeling now,” Rivkin said after the medal ceremony. “Words cannot describe my joy.”

Rivkin is attempting to gain a spot representing Israel in the 2012 Olympics in London. She already competed at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Rivkin’s is only the second medal for Israeli gymnastics, both artistic and rhythmic, in world championship competition. In 2009, Alexander Shatilov won the bronze medal on the floor exercise.

This is Rivkin’s hoop routine in the qualification round of competition.

VIDEO: Heeb Olympics 2008 — Gefilte Fish Wrestling




Four modern-day gladiators do battle for the gold (a lifetime supply of Gold’s mustard) in the Heeb Olympics. For more information, check out www.heebmagazine.com.

Pro soccer rookie Bornstein gives small goals a big kick


ChivasUSA’s Jonathan Bornstein is the top contender for the 2006 Major League Soccer (MLS) Rookie of the Year award. Not bad for the Los Alamitos native who was not invited to the MLS combine and was chosen in the fourth round (of four) of 2006 MLS SuperDraft (37th pick overall).

“Before the year started, I had small goals, such as getting some playing time on the team, maybe eventually getting a starting position,” said Bornstein, who started 30 games, leads the league in minutes played by a nongoalkeeper (2,698 — he only missed two minutes of the season) and leads MLS rookies in goals scored (six). With his undeniable success, he’s now setting his sights higher.

“To win an MLS cup would be another huge goal of mine,” said Bornstein, who was named MLS player of the month for July. “And to eventually make it to the national team level and represent our country.”

Bornstein, 21, is taking the attention and accolades in stride, determined to take it practice by practice and game by game. A self-proclaimed average guy, he comes home from practice, fixes lunch and settles in with a video game or his new guitar.

“I just went out and bought my guitar once I got my first paycheck. I’m really interested in music,” said Bornstein, who spends the rest of his free time on the golf course, at the beach or with his girlfriend.

Bornstein spent the first half of his college career at Cal Poly Pomona, where he was named California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Freshman of the Year, First Team All-CCAA and Second Team All-Far West Region. He then transferred to UCLA. During his senior year (2005-06) as a Bruin, he started all 20 games, scored five goals, made four assists, received All-Pac 10 honors and was named Met/RX Player of the Week.

Though Bornstein spent his entire amateur career playing forward, ChivasUSA head coach Bob Bradley moved him to fullback at the start of this season. He now clocks most of his time in the backfield, and, on occasion, plays forward or midfield. Bornstein shines in his new versatile role, having scored goals for ChivasUSA from all three positions.

With his transition to defense, new coaches, fresh mentors and the thrill of playing in the MLS, Bornstein has come into his own this year.

“I’ve been learning a lot from my teammates. These guys have so much experience beyond my years, so I just watch how they play and try to mimic them,” said Bornstein, who has four assists this season. “Also, I feel very comfortable here, and I think that has something to do with why I’ve been able to do so well here.”

It’s not surprising Bornstein feels at home on the Carson- based team. He is at home. He’s been playing soccer in the L.A. area since age 3.

“I really like it in Los Angeles. I was born here, I grew up here. I’ve been other places, and they don’t compare,” said Bornstein, who continues to live in Los Alamitos. “Playing in front of my family, my friends, my college buddies — it means the world to me.”

Bornstein also got the opportunity to play in front of an Israeli crowd when he led the United States to a silver medal in the 2005 Maccabiah Games.

“It was amazing. It was great. I loved it. It made me realize how fulfilling and enriched Jewish culture really is,” Bornstein said. “So in the past couple years, I’ve felt more Jewish than ever.”

His father is Jewish and his mother is a non-Jew from Mexico.

Bornstein grew up celebrating Passover and Rosh Hashanah with relatives. He did not have a bar mitzvah, and he doesn’t consider himself observant. The Maccabiah experience was a way for him to connect with Judaism.

“Outside of my UCLA teammate Benny Feilhaber, I never really thought there were other high-class Jewish soccer players out there,” he said. “With the Maccabiah Games, I definitely got the chance to experience a good thing. I realized there are a lot of really cool and really good Jewish athletes.”

Bornstein is hoping that his presence on ChivasUSA will help Los Angeles Jews feel a connection to the team and the sport of soccer.

“I’m hoping they’ll give it a chance — come out to one of the games, experience the atmosphere that comes with sitting in the Home Depot Center,” he said. “I think they would be surprised how much fun it is, how entertaining it is, how much of a real sport it is.”

ChivasUSA is headed to the MLS playoffs for the first time. The team plays Real Salt Lake at 4 p.m. on Oct. 15 at The Home Depot Center.

Chivas USA’s Jonathan Bornstein. Photo by Juan Miranda/Chivas USA


Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com

Nation & World Briefs


Jewish Man’s Murder Angers Parisians

At least 1,200 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday to show their anger at the murder of a Jewish man. Ilan Halimi, 23, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. His body was found last week at a train station outside Paris. Halimi apparently was lured into a trap by a woman of North African origin who came into a Paris store where Halimi sold mobile phones. The demonstrators at Sunday’s protest shouted slogans and carrying banners that read “Justice for Ilan” and “Avenge Ilan!”

The French government is considering Halimi’s murder to be an anti-Semitic act. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday night that the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s death be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Villepin spoke at the annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, or CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups. In addition to pledging that the government would do its utmost to find Halimi’s killers, Villepin pledged that the French government would fight anti-Semitism throughout French society. The dinner, which was attended by some 800 ministers, elected officials, ambassadors and religious officials included Muslim representives from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania, Pakistan and Tunisia.

Holocaust Denier Sentenced

An Austrian court sentenced David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust. Irving, a British historian who pleaded guilty to the charges at the opening of the trial earlier on Monday, looked stunned in the crowded courtroom after the jury and three judges returned the sentence. Holocaust denial is a crime in Austria, a country once run by the Nazis. Irving was arrested in November when he came to Austria to give a lecture. The charges against him are based on a speech and interview from 1989 in Austria, in which he denied that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. After he arrived at the court, Irving told reporters that he had changed some of his views since 1989 and now recognized that gas chambers had indeed existed and that “millions of Jews died, there is no question.”

Israel Cracks Down on Hamas

Israel decided to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority as soon as Hamas takes over its government. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet voted Sunday to stop the monthly transfer of tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, to step up scrutiny over crossing points into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and to prevent entry into Israel by members of Hamas. The measures go into effect when Hamas, which won last month’s Palestinian Authority elections, forms the new government.

“It is clear that, given Hamas’ majority in the Palestinian Parliament and the fact that Hamas will form a government, the Palestinian Authority is effectively becoming a terrorist authority,” Olmert told fellow ministers.

The measures were not as tough as had been expected, especially after the Defense Ministry recommended a halt on entry to Israel by Palestinian workers. Israel has been under Western pressure to not impose sanctions severe enough to boost Hamas’ standing and increase pan-Arab and Iranian support for the Palestinian Authority.

Jewish Skater Earns a Silver

Jewish ice skater Ben Agosto and his partner, Tanith Belbin, earned a silver medal in ice dancing at the 2006 Olympics. Agosto and Belbin finished second to Russians Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov in the ice dancing competition, which concluded Monday. Agosto’s mother is Jewish and his father is Puerto Rican.

Zionist Congress Election Faces Low Turnout

The Feb. 28 deadline to vote for U.S. representatives to the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) 35th Congress of the Jewish People is fast approaching, but the majority of American Jews seem largely disinterested. Of the estimated 5 million to 6 million Jews in the United States, less than 100,000 are expected to cast ballots by the deadline in an election that will choose 145 delegates from 12 groups that range from the Russian American Jews for Israel, to Religious Zionist Slate to the ARZA/World Union, the Reform movement’s slate.

If registration trends continue, it appears that fewer Jews will participate this year than in 2002, when nearly 89,000 voted. Five years earlier, almost 108,000 Jews cast ballots. Participation has drifted downward, despite an extensive media campaign by the American Zionist Movement (AZM), the WZO’s U.S. wing, to educate American Jews about the organization and to get the vote out. The WZO, which has an annual budget of $12.5 million, was founded in Switzerland by Theodor Herzl to support the creation of a Jewish homeland and now works to improve Disapora relations, combat anti-Semitism and to strengthen Jewish identity and education around the world, among other initiatives.

In addition, WZO members account for half the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which encourages Jews to immigrate to the Jewish homeland and helps them resettle there. The projected low turnout in the current WZO election might reflect, among other things, a diminished emotional link to Zionism among younger American Jews, said Chani Monderer, election manager of the American Zionist Movement.

The 35th Congress meets in Jerusalem June 19-22.

Individuals 18 and older who accept Zionism can register and vote through the AZM at www.congressofthejewishpeople.org. Registration is $7 for the general public and $5 for students. –Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Anti-Israel Rally in Rome

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators burned Israeli and American flags during a march Feb. 18 through Rome, sponsored by several left-wing groups. Protesters chanted anti-Israel slogans and carried banners equating Israel’s security barrier to apartheid. At one point, three protesters, two of whose faces were hidden by kaffiyehs, burned and spat on an Israeli flag.

Bank Admits Nazi Ties

Germany’s Dresdner Bank helped finance the crematoriums at Auschwitz, according to a study commissioned by the bank. During the Nazi era, Dresdner was part of a construction company that built the crematoriums at the death camp in Poland, according to the report, which was released last week after seven years of research. The company also financed Nazi weapons plants and did business with Nazi-linked authorities in Eastern Europe.

“We accept these truths, even if they are painful,” said Wulf Meier, a Dresdner board member.

New Cartoon Furor in Russia

Russian human rights activists criticized the decision of provincial authorities to close down a newspaper that published a controversial cartoon of religious leaders. The Moscow Bureau on Human Rights said the decision to shut down the Gorodskie Vesti newspaper in the southern city of Volgograd was a show of “incompetence” and epitomized the inability of local officials to deal with interfaith issues. Last Friday, city authorities in Volgograd annulled the license of Gorodskie Vesti, which published a cartoon depicting Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed in front of a television showing two groups of people about to start a fight. The caption read: “We did not teach them to do that.” The decision to shut down the paper came despite the fact that no local religious community in Volgograd said it was offended by the cartoon. The officials stated the closure of the city-owned paper was needed to avoid “incitement of ethnic hostilities.” According to the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, a group that monitors anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia, Volgograd officials never paid attention to another local newspaper, Kolokol, that over the years has consistently published anti-Semitic and xenophobic articles and published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic forgery.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Maccabiah Games Bring Golden Times


When amateur soccer player Michael Erush went to Israel in July to play for Team USA in the 17th World Maccabiah Games, he was hoping to come home with gold. But following the Israeli team’s victory, Erush was content with the American silver-medal win.

“I always want to do the best,” the 22-year-old said. “We had one of the best Maccabiah men’s soccer teams, and we lost to a very good Israel team.”

However, his Maccabiah experience didn’t end with the medal ceremony. Erush extended his stay after an Israeli soccer franchise was so impressed with his level of play, that he was offered a 10-month contract for the following season.

He is currently shopping around for other offers, but his dream of turning pro could eventually become a reality in Israel — due to the Maccabiah Games.

“I’m still looking to different career paths,” said Erush, a research assistant for an private firm. “I might go back to school and get my MBA, or I might go play soccer…. I just want to keep my options open.”

Erush was one of more than 7,000 Jewish athletes from 55 countries, stretching from Brazil to India and Australia to Finland, who gathered this past summer in Israel to compete in the Maccabiah Games. In the first games in 1932, 390 athletes from 14 nations participated. Now, the games are the third-largest sporting event in the world, outside of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. Held every four years, this summer’s Maccabiah Games, which took place July 10-21, were the largest since its founding.

Competitions took place in approximately 30 categories, including track, tennis, swimming, baseball and even chess. The most dominant countries were Team USA and Israel. The American medal count was 222, with 71 gold, while Israel won 593 medals, 227 gold.

The hope of the organizers is that the games foster a sense of Jewish unity, awareness and pride among the athletes from around the world. In that spirit, this year’s games were the first to feature delegations from China, Macedonia and Grenada.

More than 90 athletes from Southern California were represented in such sports as track and field, basketball, volleyball, soccer, rugby and water polo. Among 20 medalists from the Southland, six won gold; nine, silver; and four, bronze. Some athletes took home multiple medals.

It was “an unforgettable experience, absolutely breathtaking,” said Danielle Arad, 17, of Yorba Linda who won four silver medals in the open swimming competition. “The hospitality and open arms that we received from the common citizens and Israeli athletes competing in the games allowed me to feel at home.”

For Shirin Lisa Golshani, 17, a Beverly Hills resident, walking into the packed stadium with Team USA during the opening ceremonies in Ramat Gan and being surrounded by Jews who had come from all corners of the world “was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

Golshani, who brought home silver and bronze from the girl’s youth karate competition, said that it “made it all the more greater of an experience because I was able to share it with my second family from karate.”

For USC graduate and businessman Ari Monosson, this year marked his second trip to the Maccabiah Games. During his first games in 2001, the 27-year-old runner won both a silver and a bronze medal. And while his dreams for gold this year were did not come true, his silver-medal win with the U.S. 4×400 relay team in no way diminished the experience. Monosson said there is nothing quite like the Maccabiah Games, and he recommended that Jewish athletes try out for the next games.

“Participating in them will be a life-changing experience,” he said. “There are moments and memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

For rugby player Kevin Armstrong, 26, the long journey began with a discouraging setback. He broke his arm in the first 20 minutes of the first game. However, he still enjoyed both watching his team take a silver and being surrounded by Jews from around the world.

“On the field, it was business as usual, but off the field, it made the world seem very small, [especially] when you realize how people from across the world are very similar to you,” said the Angeleno.

Injuries and illness nearly kept Santa Monica residents Melody Khadavi and Fran Seegull from the games. The volleyball players each missed a month of practice in the United States due to different maladies, and when they landed in Israel, the combination of jet lag, hot temperatures and long days spent touring before the games caught up with them. But perseverance and antibiotics pulled the pair through the competitions to beat Canada for the bronze.

In the junior competitions, the gold-winning junior baseball team included Los Angeles resident Noah Michel. Alexander Hoffman-Ellis of Santa Monica High School helped the boys junior basketball team cruise to a gold. The girls junior soccer team brought home the gold with the help of coach Wendi Whitman of Long Beach.

For Erush, the next move is still up in the air. The soccer player said that may include the next games.

“Who knows,” Erush said. “I would love to win the gold and have silver, too.”

 

We Are Grateful to the Jewish People


The following is an excerpt from the speech President Bush gave on Sept. 14 at the national dinner celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in America at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

….I’m honored to accept this medal commemorating three and a half centuries of Jewish life in America. I consider it a high honor to have been invited to celebrate with you.

Back in 1790, the Jewish congregation of Newport, R.I., wrote to congratulate George Washington on his election as the country’s first president. Some say he was the first George W. In his reply, President Washington thanked the congregation and pledged to defend vigorously the principle of religious liberty for all.

Here’s what he said. He said, the United States “gives bigotry no sanction; to persecution, no assistance.” And he expressed his hope that the “stock of Abraham” would thrive in America.

In the centuries that followed, the stock of Abraham has thrived here like nowhere else. We’re better and stronger — and we’re a better and stronger and freer nation, because so many Jews from countries all over the world have chosen to become American citizens.

The story of the Jewish people in America is a story of America itself. The pilgrims considered this nation a new Israel, a refuge from persecution in Europe…. And when the first Jews arrived here, the children of Israel saw America as the land of promise, a golden land where they could practice their faith in freedom and live in liberty.

When the first Jewish settlers came to our shores 350 years ago, they were not immediately welcomed. Yet, from the onset, the Jews who arrived here demonstrated a deep commitment to their new land.

An immigrant named Asser Levy volunteered to serve in the New Amsterdam Citizens Guard, which, unfortunately, had a policy of refusing to admit Jews. That didn’t bother Levy. He was determined, like many others who have followed him, to break down the barriers of discrimination.

Within two years, he took his rightful spot alongside his fellow citizens in the guard. He was the first of many Jewish Americans who have proudly worn the uniform of the United States.

And one of the greatest Jewish soldiers America has ever known is Tibor Rubin. After surviving the Holocaust and the Nazi death camp, this young man came to America. He enlisted in the United States Army and fought in the Korean War. He was severely wounded and was later captured by the enemy.

For two-and-a-half years, he survived in a POW camp. He risked his life for his fellow soldiers nearly every night by smuggling extra food for those who were ill — it was a skill he had learned in the Nazi camps — and because of his daring, as many as 40 American lives were saved….

Jewish Americans have made countless contributions to our land. The prophet Jeremiah once called out this — to his nation, “… Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf.”

For 350 years, American Jews have heeded these words, and you’ve prayed and worked for peace and freedom in America. Freedom to worship is why Jews came to America three-and-a-half centuries ago; it’s why the Jews settled in Israel over five decades ago.

Our two nations have a lot in common, when you think about it. We were both founded by immigrants escaping religious persecution in other lands. We both have built vibrant democracies.

Both our countries are founded on certain basic beliefs that there is an almighty God who watches over the affairs of men and values every life. These ties have made us natural allies, and these ties will never be broken.

Earlier today, I met in New York with Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and the ambassador. I admire Prime Minister Sharon. He’s a man of courage; he’s a man of peace.

Once again, I expressed this nation’s commitment to defending the security and well-being of Israel. I also assured him that I will not waver when it comes to spreading freedom around the world.

I understand — I understand this, that freedom is not America’s gift to the world; freedom is an almighty God’s gift to each man and woman and child in this world.

Religious freedom is a foundation of fundamental human and civil rights. And when the United States promotes religious freedom, it is promoting the spread of democracy. And when we promote the spread of democracy, we are promoting the cause of peace.

Religious freedom is more than the freedom to practice one’s faith. It is also the obligation to respect the faith of others.

So to stand for religious freedom, we must expose and confront the ancient hatred of anti-Semitism wherever it is found. When we find anti-Semitism at home, we will confront it. When we find anti-Semitism abroad, we will condemn it. And we condemn the desecration of synagogues in Gaza that followed Israel’s withdrawal.

Under America’s system of religious freedom, church and state are separate. Still, we have learned that faith is not solely a private matter. Men and women throughout our history have acted on the words of Scripture, and they have made America a better, more hopeful place.

When Rabbi Abraham Heschel marched with Martin Luther King, we saw modern-day prophets calling on America to honor its promises. We must allow people of faith to act on their convictions without facing discrimination. And that’s why my administration has started a faith-based and community initiative to call on the armies of compassion to help heal broken hearts. A few years ago in New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was discouraged from even applying for federal funds, because it had the word “Jewish” in its name. We must end this kind of discrimination if we want America to be a hopeful place.

At this moment, volunteers from all walks of life across our great land are helping the good folks of Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana recover from one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history. The outpouring of compassion is phenomenal. American Jewish organizations have already raised over $10 million, plus the $50,000 tonight, for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

About half of the 10,000 Jewish Americans who call New Orleans home found refuge in Houston. Rabbi Barry Gelman of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston immediately helped organize a task force to aid the evacuees. Five major Israeli universities with study abroad programs are opening their doors to college students whose schools have been shut down by the storm.

These are the good works of good people relying on the wisdom of the Good Book, a book that tells us how God rescued life from the floodwaters. And like Noah and his family, we have faith that as the waters recede, we will see life begin again.

I want to thank you for your patriotism. I want to thank you for compassion. I want to thank you for your love for the United States of America. All of America is grateful to the Jewish people for the treasures you have given us over the past 350 years. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless our country.