Rabbis Ari Edelkopf, with black beard, and Berel Lazar, right, listen to a speech at a reception of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 9. Photo courtesy of Federation of Jewish Communities

Rabbi’s expulsion rattles Russian Jews fearful of Kremlin crackdown


Three years ago, Rabbi Ari Edelkopf and his wife, Chana, worked around the clock for weeks to show off their community and city to the many foreigners in town for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Chabad emissaries from the United States came to the city on Russia’s Black Sea coast in 2002. By the time the Olympics opened, they could offer three synagogues, five information centers and 24/7 kosher catering to thousands of people in the city, which has only 3,000 Jews.

The Edelkopfs were celebrated in the local media for these considerable efforts, which the Kremlin marketed as proof that Russia welcomes minorities — including by inviting a Russian chief rabbi to speak at the opening.

This month, the couple is in the news again but for a different reason: They and their seven children have been ordered to leave Russia after authorities flagged Ari Edelkopf as a threat to national security — a precedent in post-communist Russia that community leaders call false and worrisome, but are unable to prevent.

Occurring amid a broader crackdown on foreign and human rights groups under President Vladimir Putin, the de facto deportation order against the Edelkopfs is to many Russian Jews a sign that despite the Kremlin’s generally favorable attitude to their community, they are not immune to the effects of living in an increasingly authoritarian state. And it is doubly alarming in a country where many Jews have bitter memories of how the communists repressed religious and community life.

The Edelkopfs’ deportation order drew an unusually harsh reaction from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, a Chabad-affiliated group that has maintained friendly and mutually beneficial ties with Putin.

The order, which included no explanation or concrete accusation, “raises serious concerns for the future of the Jewish communities in the country,” Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a federation spokesman, told the L’chaim Jewish weekly last week. Gorin is a senior aide to Beral Lazar, the chief rabbi who spoke at the Sochi opening ceremony.

Gorin also called the order “an attempt to establish control” on religious communities in Russia, including the Jewish one, which he said is serviced by some 70 Chabad rabbis, half of whom are foreign.

Many Sochi Jews consider Edelkopf, a Los Angeles native, a popular and beloved spiritual leader with an impeccable record and a close relationship with Lazar. They reacted with dismay and outrage to the deportation order.

“This is absurd,” Rosa Khalilov wrote in one of the hundreds of Facebook messages posted to Edelkopf’s profile, in which he offered updates from his failed legal fight to stay in Russia. “Deportation without proof and thus without proper defense for the accused. I am utterly disappointed.”

Typical of such discussions, comments by Russian speakers abroad tended to be more outspoken than the ones authored domestically.

“Somewhere along the way our country changed without our noticing,” wrote Petr Shersher, a 69-year-old Jewish man from Khabarovsk who lives in the United States. “We’re suddenly not among friends and compatriots but in another brutal and indifferent atmosphere.”

Since the fall of communism in 1991, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia — essentially Chabad’s Russia branch, and by far the country’s largest Jewish group — only on a very rare occasion had publicly questioned the viability of Jewish life in the country or the authorities’ tolerance of religious freedoms.

The strong reactions to the Edelkopf edict seem to be less connected to the actual expulsion – at least seven rabbis have been sent packing over the past decade over visa and residence issues — than to the assertion that Edelkopf endangers Russia, a claim the rabbi denies.

“This serious allegation is a negative precedent that we had never seen directed at a rabbi before in Russia, and it is a very, very big problem for us,” Gorin told JTA. “What are they saying? Is he a spy? We can remember very well the times when Jews were last accused of endangering state security,” he added in reference to anti-Semitic persecution under communism.

Behind the expulsion of Edelkopf and the other rabbis, Gorin added, is an attempt by the state to limit the number of foreign clerics living in Russia – an effort that has led to expulsions not only of rabbis but also of imams and Protestant priests.

“It’s not targeting the Jews,” he said.

Alexander Boroda, the president of Gorin’s federation, told Interfax that he was “dismayed” by the expulsion and suggested it was the work of an overzealous official eager “to check off the box” after being ordered to curb immigration.

Boroda also told Interfax that the deportation was not anti-Semitic. He recalled how Putin’s government has facilitated a Jewish revival in Russia — including by returning dozens of buildings; educating to tolerance; adding Jewish holidays to the national calendar, and offering subsidies to Jewish groups. Lazar, who was born in Italy, often contrasts the scarcity of anti-Semitic violence in Russia with its prevalence in France and Great Britain.

The government has also tolerated criticism by the Chabad-led community. Under Lazar and Boroda, the Federation has largely ignored xenophobia against non-Jews but consistently condemned any expression of anti-Semitism — including from within Putin’s party and government.

The federation even spoke out against Russia’s vote in favor of a UNESCO resolution last year that ignores Judaism’s attachment to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Still, the Edelkopf deportation is part of a string of recent incidents in which Jews have suffered the effects of growing authoritarianism in Russia – a country where opposition figures are routinely prosecuted and convicted. Since 2012 the country has slipped in international rankings of free speech and human rights; Freedom House’s “Freedom on the Internet” index slipped recently from “partly free” to “not free.”

Under legislation from 2012, a Jewish charitable group from Ryazan near Moscow was flagged in 2015 by the justice ministry as a “foreign agent” over its funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and its reproduction in a newsletter of political op-eds that appeared in the L’chaim Jewish weekly.

Ari Edelkopf and wife Chana in 2009 in Sochi, Russia. Photo courtesy of Federation of Jewish Communities

Last year, a court in Sverdlovsk convicted a teacher, Semen Tykman, of inciting hatred among pupils at his Chabad school against Germans and propagating the idea of Jewish superiority. Authorities raided his school and another one in 2015, confiscating textbooks, which some Russian Jews suggested was to create a semblance of equivalence with Russia’s crackdown on radical Islam.

Before that affair, a Russian court in 2013 convicted Ilya Farber, a Jewish village teacher, of corruption in a trial that some Jewish groups dismissed as flawed, in part because the prosecution displayed some anti-Semitic undertones in arguing it.

While the incidents differ in their local contexts in the multiethnic behemoth that is Russia, seen together they demonstrate that the Jewish minority not only thrived under Putin but is feeling the “collateral damage as the government drastically tightens its grip on all areas of life,” according to Roman Bronfman, a former Israeli lawmaker from Ukraine and a staunch critic of Putin.

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, recently named the anti-democratic measures of Putin’s government — along with the halving of the Russian ruble against the dollar amid sanctions and dropping oil prices — as a major catalyst for an increase in immigration to Israel by Russian Jews.

Last year, Russia was Israel’s largest provider of immigrants with some 7,000 newcomers to the Jewish state, or olim – a 10-year high that saw Russia’s Jewish population of roughly 250,000 people lose  2 1/2 percent of its members to Israel.

But to Lazar, Russia’s Chabad-affiliated chief rabbi, the numbers tell a different story, he told JTA last week at the Limmud FSU Jewish learning conference in London.

“I don’t know if Jews are leaving because of these steps,” he said, referring to limitations on freedom of speech and other liberties in Russia. “But I think it’s a testament to the revival of the community, which has instilled Jewish identity to provide many olim, whereas 15 years ago this phenomenon just didn’t exist.”

Israeli skaters perform better than expected


Israeli Olympic figure skaters won’t be bringing home any medals from Sochi this winter, but Israelis are still shepping naches from their performances.

Israeli skaters Evgeni Krasnopolski and Andrea Davidovich finished Wednesday’s pairs competition in 15th place. They were not expected to medal or even place in the top 10, with the Israel Olympic Committee holding out for them to make it to the free program round, which they did.

Krasnopolski, 25, and Davidovich, 16, only began skating together last year, and train in New Jersey.

American Jewish skater Simon Shnapir and his partner Marissa Castelli finished ninth in the pairs competition, but will take home a bronze medal in the team competition,

On Thursday, Israeli figure skater Alexei Bychenko qualified to advance to the men’s free skate with a 16th-place finish in the men’s short program. Israelis also had something to cheer about when fellow MOT, American  Jason Brown, 19, finished in fifth place with a personal best score of 86.

One Israeli skater who is having trouble at this year’s Olympics is short-track speed skater Vladislav Bykanov, who on Tuesday failed to qualify for the 1,500-meter semifinals by less than a second. On Thursday he failed to qualify for the 1,000-meter semifinals. He will also participate in the 500-meter competition next Tuesday.

Jewish figure skater Jason Brown to compete in the Olympics


Ashley Wagner was gifted a spot on the U.S. Olympic figure skating squad for the Sochi Winter Games on Sunday after finishing fourth at the national championships.

Wagner, a two-time national champion, bungled her free skate at the U.S. championships on Saturday, dropping into fourth with only three Olympic berths on offer.

But a nine-member panel still selected her for Sochi, based on past performances.

Gracie Gold earned her Olympic ticket after capturing her first national title while 15-year-old sensation Polina Edmunds took second, locking up two of the three spots.

Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, placed third and had looked set to grab the final position only to see it awarded to Wagner.

“I'm disappointed in the decision,” said Nagasu in a statement. “Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made.

“And I'm grateful to everyone who has supported me and look forward to what comes next in my skating career.”

While the U.S. Olympic squad is selected largely on the results of the national championships, a nine-member selection panel has the final say and has the power to consider past results and other factors in making a decision.

The nominations still must be approved by the United States Olympic Committee before becoming official.

“I'm at a loss for words right now,” said Wagner on Sunday after learning she had made the team. “It's been a really rough four years and I've been working really hard.

“It wasn't my night last night but I'm so extremely pleased.

“I'm happy that my federation was able to see beyond one bad skate, and I can't believe that I'm going to be able to represent the United States in Sochi.”

The other nominations were more straight-forward.

Ice dance world champions and Vancouver Olympic silver medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White claimed their sixth U.S. title and head to Russia as the United States' best chance for a figure skating gold.

They will be joined in Sochi by two-time reigning U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the brother/sister partnership of Maia and Alex Shibutani.

“This is a dream come true for us,” said White. “Obviously we're going into these Games with very high expectations.

“We've had a lot of great momentum over the last four years since the 2010 Olympics and we think we've put ourselves in a great position to bring home a gold medal.”

The pairs competition will be represented by two-time reigning U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, and Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay.

With defending Olympic champion Evan Lysacek unable to defend his men's title, American gold medal hopes will rest with Jeremy Abbott, who won his fourth U.S. title on Sunday, and runner-up Jason Brown (who is Jewish).

Turkish forces seize suspected hijacker on plane in Istanbul, media


Turkish special forces seized a passenger who is suspected of making a bomb threat and trying to hijack a plane, demanding to go to the Winter Olympics venue of Sochi, CNN Turk and other Turkish media said on Friday.

Turkey scrambled an F-16 fighter jet to accompany the Pegasus Airlines plane as it landed at the airport after a flight from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov.

Some media reports said the suspect had been taken away for questioning but one official at the Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul said the suspect had not yet been seized.

The passenger was believed to have drunk alcohol and was calmed down by the crew and persuaded to let the plane, a Boeing 737-800, land in Istanbul at 6:02 pm (1602 GMT), according to Dogan news agency.

An official from Turkey's transport ministry said there were 110 passengers on board and confirmed that a bomb threat had been made but said the plane had landed safely.

Security teams were continuing inspections on the plane, the ministry said in a statement.

“People are still inside but the pilot called security and gave them a signal that they can enter the plane. There is a translator – a Turkish man near the Ukrainian to calm him down,” one airport official said.

Reporting by Orhan Coskun, Daren Butler and Evrim Ergin; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Dasha Afanasieva and Sonya Hepinstall

WeHo display equates Putin to Hitler, disturbs survivors


Since Monday, Feb. 3, the storefront window at LA Jock’s on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood has displayed a mannequin wearing a striped concentration camp-style uniform adorned with an inverted pink triangle – the symbol used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals.

The display is the design of the store’s owner, Israeli-born Nir Zilberman, who set up the mannequin holding a sign equating Russian president Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay policies to Adolf Hitler’s.

Beneath drawings of Putin, Hitler, and images of gay rights rallies in Russia, the mannequin’s sign reads: “Love. No More Hate. Give Hope.”

Zilberman said by phone on Thursday that his goal is to raise awareness of the treatment of gays in Russia.

“When I look at the images of what’s happening to the Russian men, it actually reminds me of how the Holocaust started,” Zilberman said.

But not everyone interprets the display that way. Rabbi Denise Eger, whose synagogue Kol Ami is in West Hollywood and has many gay congregants, said she spoke at length with Zilberman about the mannequin, and she believes that he’s motivated in part to draw more attention and traffic to his store.

Zilberman disputes that assertion.

“There are plenty of ways for all of us, together, to draw attention to what’s happening to the LGBT community in Russia, with Putin’s new, horrific policy, without commercializing the Shoah,” Eger said in an interview.

While homosexuality remains legal in Russia, in June Putin approved a law that had passed the Russian Duma 436-0, banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors, a vague standard that includes the distribution of gay rights material.

According to Marc Bennetts, a Moscow-based British journalist writing for The Guardian, to date no one has been jailed for violating the law and “fewer than a dozen people have been fined for ‘gay propaganda.’”

But gay rights activists say the law has fueled anti-gay groups in Russia, who, in recent months, have been filmed harassing and attacking homosexuals in public.        

Zilberman, the son of Holocaust survivors, said he’s “sorry that a lot of Russian Jews got offended” by the display, but he does not regret his decision to put it up.

“I’m not ashamed of what I did. I’m proud of what I did,” Zilberman said. “I know where I’m coming from. My heart is all about love.”

Reactions from passersby on Thursday morning were mixed, with some people supporting the imagery, others opposed and some not understanding Zilberman’s message.

On first glance, Gary Gorman said he supported the message of love over hate. Once he understood what the mannequin was wearing, though, he had a change of heart.

“That’s horrible to do that,” Gorman said.

Aaron Blackburn, who was waiting for a bus, said he supports Zilberman’s provocative display. “Sometimes people do need to be clocked over the head a little bit to get their attention,” Blackburn said.

Josh Johnson, who was visiting from Palm Springs, did not initially recognize the identifying pink triangle or the connection to Russia.

“I guess it’s trying to say that man may be on the wrong path but ultimately there’s hope for mankind,” Johnson suggested. “I don’t know.”

Sochi ready for Jewish arrivals


Soft sand and turquoise beaches make Sochi a lovely holiday destination, but this coastal Russian city is less than ideal for providing religious services to thousands of Jewish tourists.

With few native Jews and only one resident rabbi, the Black Sea resort of 400,000 residents would seem ill-equipped to handle the tens of thousands of Jewish visitors expected to arrive here for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

But that has changed over the past year. On Friday, the official opening day of the 2014 games, the city will boast five Jewish information centers, three synagogues and 13 rabbis.

The Jewish infrastructure in Sochi is aimd not only at serving Jewish visitors, but at advertising what the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia calls a Jewish revival in the former Soviet Union. Boruch Gorin, a senior Chabad rabbi in Moscow, told JTA the Jewish presence in Sochi is meant to function something like an embassy.

“At Sochi, there will be international media, politicians, top athletes,” Gorin said. “It is very important that we show that we are on the map and what is happening to Russian Jewry, its revival.

Among the services available to Jewish visitors are daily prayers, Shabbat dinners, Teffilin stations and kosher food. Sochi’s Chabad rabbi, the Los Angeles-born Ari Edelkopf, says the community has prepared 7,000 meals. An English-language website, jewishsochi.com, was launched last month to provide updated information for visitors and athletes, including the 10 Israelis competing.

The Sochi Jewish community began preparing for the games last year, with a massive renovation of the city’s small permanent synagogue and the introduction of a new Torah scroll. This week, the synagogue will host the community’s own opening ceremony with a reception to welcome the Jewish athletes.

As with most things Jewish in Russia today, Jewish services in Sochi are spearheaded by Chabad, which dispatched its first emissaries to the former Soviet Union 20 years ago after the fall of communism. In December, Berel Lazar, the Chabad-affiliated chief rabbi of Russia, announced plans for new synagogues in 12 Russian locales from Kaliningrad, near the Polish border, to Birobidzhan near North Korea. Five new synagogues will open in Moscow alone.

Chabad’s emissaries helped breathe new life not only into established Jewish communities, but also into places like Sochi which, according to Chabad, never had a permanent Jewish community before the 20th century. The growth of the network has made large-scale efforts like Sochi possible.

“Ten years ago, the same sort of effort in Sochi would have been much more difficult and more expensive from a logistical point of view,” Gorin said.

As with the games themselves, which cities often woo in part for their long-term impact on development, Edelkopf, Sochi’s rabbi, hopes the global exposure for his small community will have an enduring effect.

“We hope the exposure and the heightened awareness of Jewish community life will increase long term interest in Jewish life for Sochi Jews and its visitors,” he told JTA.

For Edelkpof, 36, the arrival in Sochi 12 years ago was something of a baptism by fire. Just months after he moved, a Siberia Airlines flight crashed over the Black Sea on its way to Russia from Israel. Many of the 66 passengers aboard were Russian Israelis and Edelkopf, the only rabbi in the area, spent sleepless nights in the morgue helping to identify the victims and acting as the main contact person for families.

His performance was so impressive that Lazar mentioned it during an address at the Knesset in 2011 about the importance of the network of Chabad emissaries.

“Within hours, Rabbi Edelkopf was transformed into a combination of forensics expert and undertaker; a therapist and grief counsellor and the contact person for dozens of Israeli families and with the Israeli government,” Lazar said.

Obama says relationship with Putin not icy despite ‘tough guy’ stance


Russian President Vladimir Putin may seek to look like the tough guy in joint appearances with President Barack Obama, but Obama said in an interview that he and Putin have a pragmatic and respectful relationship.

“I wouldn't call it icy,” Obama said in an interview with NBC host Bob Costas taped on Thursday as part of coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“He does have a public style where he likes to sit back and look a little bored during the course of joint interviews. My sense is that's part of his shtick back home politically as wanting to look like the tough guy,” Obama said in the interview, set to air on Friday evening.

“U.S. politicians have a different style. We tend to smile once in a while,” Obama said in excerpts of the interview released by NBC.

Obama canceled a visit to Moscow to visit Putin last year after Russia granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the former spy contractor whose leaks about U.S. surveillance operations rocked U.S. relations with allies and hurt Obama's popularity at home.

The leaders have also disagreed over how to respond to Syria's civil war. In a joint appearance after discussing Syria at a meeting in June, Obama and Putin both looked like they would rather have been somewhere else.

On Thursday, a recording of a private conversation between U.S. diplomats discussing protests in Ukraine was posted on YouTube, embarrassing the United States.

“I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia's role,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

But Obama said the two leaders focus on issues of “mutual concern” where they can work together.

“The truth of the matter is that when we are in meetings there are a lot of exchanges, there's a surprising amount of humor, and a lot of give and take. He's always treated me with the utmost respect,” Obama said.

Obama said U.S. and Russian law enforcement, military and intelligence officials have been in “constant communications” to ensure safety at the Sochi Olympics.

“I think the Russians have an enormous stake, obviously, in preventing any kind of terrorist act or violence at these venues. They have put a lot of resources into it,” he said.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bernard Orr

For Israel’s skaters, Olympic training is a New Jersey state of mind


Evgeni Krasnapolsky and Andrea Davidovich glide around the ice, shadowing one another to the accompaniment of Nino Rota’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.”

At a rink in this New York City suburb, the figure-skating pair are refining their long program a few weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, that open Friday.

Krasnapolsky, 25, and Davidovich, 16, are practicing their choreographed hand holding, lifts and throws at the indoor Ice House complex, which has become the epicenter of Israel’s Winter Olympics team, or at least its figure-skating component.

The pair, who began working together less than a year ago, will represent Israel at the Sochi games along with fellow figure skater Alexei Bychenko, 25, who also trains here year-round. The figure skating competition will be held Feb. 11-12.

Rounding out the Israeli contingent are alpine skier Virgile Vandeput, 24, based in Belgium, and short-track speed skater Vladislav Bykanov, 19, based in the Netherlands. All are first-time Olympians.

Krasnapolsky and Davidovich are coached by Galit Chait, a three-time Israeli Olympian in ice dancing. Overseeing the New Jersey operations is Chait’s Moldova-born father, Boris Chait, the president of the Israel Ice Skating Federation despite living in the United States since 1975.

He’s not the only American playing a major role on the Israeli Winter Olympics scene. New York native Stanley Rubinstein, who immigrated to Israel in 1971 and resides in Caesarea, founded the Israel Ski Federation and serves on its board.

Chait, the owner of a computer consultancy, is cultivating a crop of skaters he predicts will represent Israel at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and beyond.

The Chaits offer some names to keep an eye on: Artem Tsoglin, Netta Schreiber, Polina Shlepen, Daniel Samohin, Kimberly Berkovich, Ronald Zilberberg, Allison Reed and Vasili Rogov.

“I hope that we continue to grow and produce athletes who … are at the top of the world in international competitions,” says Galit Chait, who is coaching seven 2014 Olympians.

A nonprofit organization founded by Boris Chait, the International Sports Program, houses and trains the 11 skaters here who are Israeli citizens, along with nine others based in California, New York, Russia and Ukraine. The athletes train abroad because of Israel’s paucity of ice rinks and high-quality coaching.

Funding for the program comes from private donations along with the Israel Ice Skating Federation, the Olympic Committee of Israel and the International Skating Union, he says.

Greater funding for training, regardless of locale, would serve Israel’s interests beyond sport because every athlete “is an ambassador” for the country, Chait says from a gallery while observing Bychenko and Tsoglin, a 15-year-old from Kiryat Shemona in northern Israel.

The New Jersey operation has provided some encouraging achievements. At the European Championships last month in Budapest, the Krasnapolsky-Davidovich duo finished seventh and Bychenko was 10th. In December, in Croatia, the pair placed first and Bychenko was fourth at the Golden Spin of Zagreb. Israel has yet to medal in a Winter Olympics.

The achievements come at a cost: The upkeep for each athlete training here runs about $100,000 annually, covering room and board, ice time, coaches, costumes, choreographers, travel to competitions — “including, including, including,” Chait adds, gesturing with a rolling hand.

The arrangement means that “athletes don’t have to worry about their next meal,” Chait says. “All they have to do is train hard on and off the ice and do their schoolwork,” if they are that age. Davidovich and Tsoglin are enrolled in an online high school.

Ten of the 11 Hackensack skaters live in a tidy, refurbished white house less than a mile from the Ice House, overseen by a den mother named Nadia. Davidovich lives with her family a 40-minute drive away.

Absent the New Jersey infrastructure, “we would not be able to get to the Olympics,” Bychenko says in one of the home’s two kitchens while gulping a mid-afternoon yogurt.

“It was a hard decision because my family is there,” adds Bychenko, who arrived from Kiev three years ago. “If I were skating in Ukraine, I would not have gotten to the level I am at now.”

Krasnapolsky, also from Kiev, was raised in Kiryat Shemona — near Metulla, home of the Canada Center ice rink — and has known Chait “since I started skating.” He calls Chait’s wife, Irene, “my second mom.”

Sitting beside Krasnapolsky, Davidovich nods. She and her partner believe they are progressing nicely, tweaking their routines along the way. Earlier in the week they added a more difficult triple-throw to their short program (to Joshua Bell’s “Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra”).

On the ice an hour earlier, Galit Chait had held up her iPad as she consulted with the pair, slowing down a video clip to point out errors she had observed with the naked eye.

“We were a little bit off in the parallel spin,” Davidovich explains.

Before their on-ice session, Davidovich and Krasnapolsky had spent 40 minutes in the Ice House workout room practicing lifts, throws and twists in their stockinged feet, each landing occurring inside a marked white box. They rehearse this way twice daily, plus do cross-training and ballet each twice weekly.

Soon after the pair settled on their long program’s music last June, Davidovich’s mother, Marina, took them to Manhattan to attend the American Ballet Theatre’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet.” The show yielded ideas to incorporate in their performance.

Soon they won’t have many more leisure opportunities. A month after Sochi, they’ll be off to Japan for the World Figure Skating Championships.

That means lots more training at Israel’s home away from home in the Garden State, where the next Olympic yield is being tended.

Israel sending team of 5 to Sochi Olympics


Israel will be sending five athletes to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, starting next month.

Evgeni Krasnopolski, 25, a Ukraine native who grew up in Israel, will skate in the pairs competition with Andrea Davidovich, 16, of Vermont. The pair, who train in Hackensack, N.J., finished seventh in the senior pairs competition at the European Skating Championships earlier this month in Budapest, Hungary.

Alexei Bychenko, 25, also a Ukraine native who grew up in Israel, will represent Israel in men’s figure skating. Bychenko finished 10th in the men’s singles at the European championships earlier this month in Germany.

Vladislav Bykanov, 24, also born in Ukraine, will represent Israel in the short-track speed skating competition. He finished in the top 10 in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters at the European championships.

Virgile Vandeput, 19, will compete in alpine skiing in the giant slalom and special slalom. Vandeput, a former member of Belgium’s national skiing team, has represented Israel in international competitions for the past four years. His mother is Israeli.

Israeli delegations have competed at the Winter Olympics since 1994. The Sochi Games begin Feb.  7.