French Olympic swimmer Fabien Gilot explains Hebrew tattoo as a family tribute

French Olympic swimmer Fabien Gilot said the Hebrew tattoo on his left arm is a tribute to his late grandmother’s husband, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz.

Gilot, who is not Jewish, said the tattoo is dedicated to his family and honors Max Goldschmidt, who has been a large influence in the Olympic champion’s life, Ynet reported. The tattoo says “I’m nothing without them.”

He revealed the tattoo, which is on the inside of his left arm, after exiting the pool following his team’s gold medal-winning performance this week in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay in London. It created a stir in Israel and around the world.

The swimmer has previously discussed his tattoos in the French media, claiming “they all have a meaning for me.” He noted that “I have the Olympic rings, a sentence in Hebrew that means ‘I am nothing without them’ for my family and three stars—one for each of my brothers.”

Jason Lezak likely closes Olympics career with a silver medal

Four-time gold medalist Jason Lezak, competing in what is likely his final Olympics, helped the American swim team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay finals.

Lezak swam in the morning preliminaries on July 29 but did not compete that evening in the finals, when the United States took silver.

It was Lezak’s eighth medal overall in four Olympics. His gold medals have come as a member of relay teams; he won an individual bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008.

The Americans led all the way in the July 29 final until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).

[For more Olympics coverage, visit]

The race was similar to four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind on the last lap. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history, by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the United States and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, helped Lochte and Phelps qualify for the relay’s finals.

“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told late on July 29 via e-mail.

Lezak, 36, has not specifically said this is his last Olympics, but he is the oldest swimmer on the U.S. men’s squad.

Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and has taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California.

Lezak has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach.

“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he said. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”

Aly Raisman, Jason Lezak shine for Team USA

While both took to the podiums in London this week to receive a medal, 18-year-old Aly Raisman’s Olympic star was rising as 36-year-old swimmer Jason Lezak’s appeared to be setting.

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.

Also, Raisman is favored to win the all-around individual competition on Thursday, as well as the floor exercise on Aug. 7, when she will be competing in the balance beam final. She and Gabby Douglas are representing the U.S. in the individual finals.

Lezak, a four-time gold medalist likely competing in his last Olympics, helped the American men’s swimming team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle swimming finals. The team went on to finish second, receiving a silver medal—Lezak’s eighth medal overall in four Olympics. Lezak did not compete in the finals.

[Related: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]
[Related: Video of Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral]

Meanwhile, the Israeli delegation was experiencing its ups and downs early in the Games.

On Tuesday, two Israeli medal hopefuls were faring well in windsurfing. Lee Korzits was in second place in the women’s eight-day long RS:X event while Shahar Tzuberi was in 10th in the men’s competition.

The Israeli judo team was expected to do well after winning four medals in recent European matches, but judoka Alice Schlesinger was eliminated from competition early this week.

Political differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors came to London when the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to the Israeli team. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, even before the start of the Games, Iranian judo athlete Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the competition last week, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. That led to widespread speculation that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

At the Games, the American swimmers led all the way in the men’s 4×100-meter relay until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).

The French turned the tide on the Americans from four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind him in the stretch. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the U.S. and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

Lezak, though he did not swim in the relay on Sunday night, had helped his teammates Lochte and Phelps qualify in the morning preliminaries.

“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told late Sunday via email. “Of course, I would have liked to be a part of the final. If you asked any of us who swam prelims they would have answered it the same.”

While he has not specifically said he would return for another Summer Games, Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, is the oldest member of the U.S. men’s swim team.

“As the body gets older, sometimes the mind wants to go hard for a lot longer. But I’ve learned over the course of the last several years how many laps is enough, how many is too much,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California. He has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, Calif.

“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he said in 2009. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”

Raisman scored 15.300 in the floor exercise to win the event, performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila” as she did on Sunday. Raisman also had performed to “Hava Nagila” when she gained a berth on the U.S. team last year.

She is trained by Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan, the Romanian couple who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s. The coaches and her mother selected “Hava Nagila” after several exhaustive late-night online searches, they told JTA last year.

She is proud to be using the Jewish song “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there,” Raisman told JTA last year. And, she added, “I like how the crowd can clap to it.”

Raisman is a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York.

Other notable performances of Jewish athletes included U.S. fencer Timothy Morhouse, who lost to Italy’s Diego Occhiuzzi in the quarterfinals.

In tennis, Israel’s Shahar Peer was eliminated by Russia’s Maria Sharapova, one of the top-ranked players in the world. Peer is winless against Sharapova in seven matches.

In men’s gymnastics, Israel’s Alex Shatilov qualified for the finals of the floor exercise after finishing fourth overall. He also qualified for Wednesday’s all-around individual final after finishing 12th overall.

In men’s rowing, David Banks of the U.S. team finished first in the preliminaries and qualified for the finals.

For more Olympics coverage, visit

Israeli swimmers under heavy security at Dubai meet

Israel’s national swim team is competing under heavy security in a world competition in Dubai.

The team arrived in Dubai just in time for the Tuesday opening ceremony of the FINA World Swimming Championships after the United Arab Emirates agreed at the last minute to issue visas for the team. The team was subject to a thorough security check and their passports were not stamped, Haaretz reported.

The team was surprised during the opening ceremony when it was introduced as ISR, instead of announced by its name like the other 147 countries marching into the arena. More than 800 athletes are participating at the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex, a state-of-the-art facility built especially for the event, The Associated Press reported.

In February 2009, the UAE denied a visa to Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe’er to compete in the annual Dubai Tennis Championships. The tournament paid a record $300,000 fine to the World Tennis Association for the affront and lost corporate sponsors as a result. Pe’er was granted a visa to the 2010 event.

Maccabiah Results: Team USA Wins 82 Medals in the First Full Week of Competition

Tel Aviv, Israel, July, 21 – Team USA has won 25 Gold, 26 Silver and 31 Bronze Medals in the first full week of competition at the 18th Maccabiah Games.  Competition began on Sunday, July 12 and in addition to the medal count, both Jason Lezak and Andrea Murez broke Maccabiah Records in their first day of competition on July 19.  Lezak won the Gold in the 100m Freestyle with a time of 47:8 and Murez won the Gold in the 100m Freestyle with a time of 56:4, both athletes breaking all previous Maccabiah records. – Maccabiah USA Press Release 



Michael Hauss (Huntington Beach) 100m Freestyle,  Swimming (junior)
” title=”Andrea Murez” target=”_blank”>Andrea Murez (Venice) 100m Freestyle, Swimming (open)


Andrey Baranchik (Los Angeles) Discus Throw – Male, Track and Field (junior)
Michael Hauss (Huntington Beach)  200m Butterfly, Swimming (junior)
Naomi Javanifard (Goleta) 100m Freestyle, Swimming (open)
Daniel Silver (Pasadena) 1500m – Male, Track and Field (junior)
Brianna Weinstein (Irvine, CA) 200m Breastroke, Swimming (junior)

Complete list of U.S. winners.

Adleberg, Samantha T&F – Open 800m – Femaile Washington, DC
Cohen, Alexander Swimming – Juniors 200m Butterfly Woodstock, GA
Emrani, Dustin T&F – Open 800m Male Kings Point, NY
Frankl, David Gymnastics – Junior All-around Franklin Lakes, NJ
Goldman, Jason Wrestling – Open Free Binghampton, NY
Hauss, Michael Swimming – Juniors 100m Freestyle Huntington Beach, CA
Karosas, Tasija Swimming – Juniors 200m Backstroke Stowe, VT
Levere, Jacqueline Swimming – Juniors 200m Breastroke Los Altos, CA
Lewinson, Rebecca Swimming – Open 200m Breastroke West Windsor, NJ
Lezak, Jason Swimming – Open 100m Freestyle Irvine, CA
Meltzer, Max Wrestling – Open Greco Bethesda, MD
Mitchell, Haley Swimming – Open 200m Backstroke Walled Lake, MI
Murez, Andrea Swimming – Open 100m Freestyle Venice, CA
Ratner, Noah Juniors Golf Overall Asheville, NC
Schwartz, Jillian T&F – Open Pole Vault Female New York, NY
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Rings Arlington Hts, IL
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Vaulting Arlington Hts, IL
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Horizontal Bar Arlington Hts, IL
Silver, Evan Wrestling – Open Free Chevy Chase, MD
Silver, Evan Wrestling – Open Greco Chevy Chase, MD
Steinberg, Galina Triathlon – Masters Age 40 -44 San Diego, CA
Stuckelman, Mark Triathlon – Masters Age 45 -49 Del Mar, CA
Tanenbaum, Jacob Wrestling – Open Free San Luis Obispo, CA
Tanenbaum, Jacob Wrestling – Open Greco San Luis Obispo, CA
USA Team T&F – Open 4x400relay – Female
USA Team T&F – Open 4×400 – male
USA Team Juniors Golf Overall

Adleberg, Samantha T&F – Open 400m – Female Washington, DC
Baranchik, Andrey Junior T&F Discus Throw Male Los Angeles, CA
Bernstein, Eden Wrestling – Open Free Allen, TX
Cohen, Alexander Swimming – Juniors 100m Freestyle Woodstock, GA
Cohen, Alexander Swimming – Juniors 200m Backstroke Woodstock, GA
Ehrlich, Marjee Swimming – Juniors 200m Backstroke Cherry Hill, NJ
Emrani, Dustin T&F – Open 400m – Male Kings Point, NY
Freidman, Simone Gymnastics – Junior Uneven Bars Annadale, VA
Freidman, Simone Gymnastics – Junior Floor Annadale, VA
Gordon, Ilana Gymnastics – Junior Vaulting San Carlos, CA
Hauss, Michael Swimming – Juniors 200m Butterfly Huntington Beach, CA
Javanifard, Naomi Swimming – Open 100m Freestyle Goleta, CA
Kessler, Rachel Swimming – Open 200m Butterfly New Rochelle, NY
Lipp, Jordan Wrestling – Open Free Beachwood, OH
Pierce, Katherine T&F – Open 5000m Female Alfred, ME
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Singles Arlington Hts, IL
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Pummel Horse Arlington Hts, IL
Sharkey, Bryan T&F – Open 1500m – Male Miami, FL
Silver, Daniel Junior T&F 1500m – Male Pasadena, CA
Solomon, Eva Triathlon – Masters Age 40 -44 Ann Arbor, MI
Sugarman, Robert Triathlon – Masters Age 70 – 79 New York, NY
USA Team Junior T&F 4x400relay – Male
USA Team Junior T&F 4x400relay – Female
USA Team T&F – Open 4×100 – Female
USA Team T&F – Open 4×100 – male
Weinstein, Brianna Swimming – Juniors 200m Breastroke Irvine, CA

Davidson, Jacob Swimming – Juniors 200m Butterfly Rochester, MN
Evans, Matthew T&F – Open Long Jump Weston, FL
Feingold, Julie Swimming – Open 200m Breastroke Munster,IN
Fellman, Robert T&F – Open High Jump – Male Boca Raton, FL
Fellman, Robert T&F – Open Discus Throw Boca Raton, FL
Fellman, Robert T&F – Open Javelin – Male Boca Raton, FL
Foreman, Jessica T&F – Open 100m – Female Wayland, MA
Foreman, Jessica T&F – Open 200m Female Wayland, MA
Frankl, David Gymnastics – Open Pummel Horse Franklin Lakes, NJ
Frankl, David Gymnastics – Open Parallel Bars Franklin Lakes, NJ
Goldfarb, Aly T&F – Open Pole Vault Female Birmingham, AL
Goldfarb, Aly T&F – Open 400m – Female Birmingham, AL
Gordon, Seri T&F – Open 800m – Femaile Niskyuna, NY
Grossman, Jared Wrestling – Open Free Oyster Bay, NY
Hammond, Zach Wrestling – Open Free Mays Landing, NJ
Hammond, Zach Wrestling – Open Greco Mays Landing, NJ
Kraus, David Wrestling – Open Free Baltimore, MD
Langefeld, Andrew Swimming – Open 200m Butterfly West Lafayette, IN
Lauder, Laura Cycling – Female Tt- 30-49 Atherton, CA
Levine, David Triathlon – Open Age – 18 – 19 Sprint Charlotte, NC
Lipp, Jordan Wrestling – Open Greco Beachwood, OH
Lipp, Kevin Wrestling – Open Free Beachwood, OH
Merrill, Jeff T&F – Open 800m – Male Ann Arbor, MI
Merrill, Jeffrey T&F – Open 800m Male Ann Arbor, MI
Popper, Hannah Gymnastics – Junior Floor Forest Hills, NY
Silver, Kevin T&F – Open 5000m – Male Beachwood, OH
Steves, Joshua Gymnastics – Junior All-around Houston, TX
Steves, Joshua Gymnastics – Open Vaulting Houston, TX
Ungar, Joshua Gymnastics – Open Horizontal Bar Longmeadow, MA
USA Team T&F – Open 4×400 – male
Weinstein, Jeffrey T&F – Open 10000 – Male Philadelelphia PA

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #5–Jew vs. Wild

VideoJew Jay Firestone goes native in this episode of VideoJew’s VideoGuide to Los Angeles

Report from Beijing: Israeli Olympians visit Beijing school

BEIGING (JTA)—Four Israeli Olympic swimmers (Itai Chammah, Guy Barnea, Tom Beera and Gal Nevo), the Israeli Ambassador to China, the President of Israel’s National Swimming Association and a slew of Chinese and Israeli reporters visited the Shi Jia Primary School on Monday, Aug. 18. This school was assigned Israel as part of a Beijing-wide program of partnerships between schools and Olympic countries. The Shi Jia school put on events over the last two years to teach the students about Israel, how to say “Shalom,” even had its students Skype with a school in Jerusalem. Of course, the school was following the progress of Israeli athletes along with China’s.

Hidden inside a neighborhood maze of alleyways, this 2000-student school is anything but small. The school was founded in 1939, but this site (which used to be a single-story temple style house) was newly constructed in 2004 and only serves the third through sixth grade.

And what service indeed. There was a room filled with rows of electric pianos, next to the hallway of individual music practice rooms that were nicer than the ones at my university. Of course, these were all on the bottom floor right next to the underground parking lot entrance, which reminded me of a United States mall. We also saw a beautiful theater with a superior tech booth, a whole science area that looked more like a kid’s playtime museum exhibit, plus a row of small table-saws that looked rusty and dangerous in comparison, for over 20 students at a time to make wood carvings.

The highlight of the tour for the Israeli Olympians was clearly the visit to the school’s unbelievable sports facilities. An outdoor track was surrounded by green landscaping, windmills and a dormitory with solar panels on the roof. Descending into the gymnasium, which had more equipment than a Bally’s Fitness Club, the fencing lesson seemed to be teaching the well-outfitted youngsters as much about shouting as technique.

Finally, the Israeli men were in their element at the pool, which was pumping various Beijing Olympic theme songs over the loudspeaker. An assorted crowd of boys and girls shivered outside the pool for the athletes’ millionth photo-op of the day, underneath towering photos with the Speedo logo printed on them of swimmers like Michael Phelps.

The kids looked a little lackluster as they posed in their swimsuits, but two of them perked up when someone told them the Chinese names of the Israeli athletes that were standing by their side. The kids’ faces lit up- “We heard of them!” they cried.

Sunday wrapup from Beijing: U.S. swimmer Torres wins two silvers; Israelis lag

BEIJING (JTA)—United States’ swimmer Dara Torres won two more silver medals in Beijing.

Torres won the medals Sunday in the Women’s 50m Freestyle and the Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay.

Jewish-American swimmers Jason Lezak and Garret Weber-Gale both added another gold medal to their collection, joining Michael Phelps and teammates to win the Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay.

Israeli athletes did not fare as well Sunday. Alex Shatilov finished last in the Men’s Floor Exercise final, the only apparatus final the Israeli gymnast qualified for in the Beijing Games.

Shatilov fell on his final landing, and received a score of 14.125 after a .400 penalty. The gold medalist in the event was Zou Kai of China, with a total score of 16.050.

Shooter Doron Egozi finished 36th, while Gil Simkovitch finished 38th, in the Men’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions event. Shooters Guy Starik and Simkovich also competed Friday in the Men’s 50m Rifle Prone qualification round, but neither advanced to the final. Starik came in 12th with a score of 594, while Simkovich came in 22nd with 592 points. This finish was an improvement on Starik’s Athens finish of 16th. He joins sailor Yoel Selais as the only Israelis to compete in four Olympics.

Israeli windsurfer Shahar Zubari, who was leading in first place after five races, slipped to third place after his seventh race in the Men’s RS:X competition. Zubari finished 17th in race 5, sixth in race 6, and 19th in race 7. He was able to maintain a first place position after race 5 because he is allowed to drop his worst performance, but after continuing to perform outside of first place, he no longer retains his top rank.

Israeli windsurfer Maayan Davidovitch is 14th in the Women’s RS:X competition after seven races.

Israeli sailing duo Nike Kornecky and Vered Bouskila finished their eighth race in first place, and moved up to number three in the ranking of the Women’s 470 two-person dinghy event. With two more races until the top ten boats in the fleet qualify for the medal race on Monday, the Israeli pair looks solid for advancement.

Jason Lezak earns first individual medal

BEIJING (JTA)—Jewish Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak followed up his relay heroics with a bronze medal in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.

Lezak, whose late dash in the 4 x 100-meter men’s freestyle relay propelled the U.S. team to the gold medal and a world record, finished in a time of 47.67 seconds Wednesday at the Water Cube in Beijing. He trailed Alain Bernard of France at 47.21 seconds and Australian Eamon Sullivan at 47.32.

For Lezak, at 32 the oldest male swimmer to ever qualify for an Olympic team, it was his first individual medal in his third Olympic Games. He had won five relay medals, including three gold.

“That’s what’s been driving me the last four years since Athens,” Lezak said when asked how it feels to earn his first individual medal.  “It definitely feels good.”

Lezak, of Irvine, Calif., had overtaken Bernard in Monday’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Bernard and Sullivan had exchanged the world record in the semifinals.

Report from Beijing: Swapping old Jewish swim records for new ones

BEIJING (JTA)—Jewish-American swimmers Garret Weber-Gale and Jason Lezak, along with Cullen Jones and the unstoppable Olympic champion Michael Phelps, made history in the pool on Monday, August 11.

The US relay team won the Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay and smashed the world record by nearly four seconds on their way to the gold.

In a strange Jewish sports irony, the gold for this half-Jewish team may come at a price to the legacy of an iconic Jewish sports figure.

Phelps needed this gold medal to help him on his quest to break legendary Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz’s 36- year-old ” alt=”ALTTEXT” width=”432″ height=”441″ />

Mark Spitz, sports icon

Israeli swimmer’s Olympic dreams marred by father’s death

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli swimmer Alon Mendel realized his father’s dream when he qualified for the Olympic team.

Sadly, his father won’t be there to see his son compete after an accident at the family’s Netanya home claimed Costa Mendel’s life.

In a tragic irony, Alon, 20, was in Beijing preparing to vie for a medal when he learned that his father suffered fatal head injuries after falling off a ladder outside the family home Wednesday night while trying to hang up a banner honoring his son’s Olympic bid. Costa was also Alon’s longtime coach.

“How do you say ‘semifinals’ in Chinese?” read the hand-painted banner, a testament to Costa’s optimism about the prospects of Alon, who joined the Israeli delegation after another swimmer was disqualified.

For the Mendel family, the loss was made more acute by the dilemma of whether to recall Alon from the Games. He is scheduled to compete Monday in the 200-meter butterfly race.

Alon’s mother, Rina, decided that the best way to honor Costa’s memory would be for her son to compete. His sister Maya joined him in Beijing, while another sister remained in Netanya to help arrange the funeral.

“You have to stay there and be strong,” Rina told Alon by phone Thursday in a conversation recorded by Israel’s Channel 10 television.

“You know your father waited for this moment. Your parents waited for this. We will be among 42 sets of parents watching,” she said, in reference to the size of Israel’s biggest-ever Olympic delegation.

Judaism places great importance on honoring the dead by attending the burial and, in the case of next of kin, giving up all activities to sit for the seven-day shiva.

Not everyone agreed with the Mendels’ thinking. Reams of comments on Web sites disapproved of Alon’s staying in Beijing.

Channel 10 quoted Alon as saying that when he swims Monday, he will imagine his father sitting in the audience, cheering him on along with the rest of his family and the State of Israel.

“I intend to muster all my strength and compete,” he said.

According to Ha’aretz, Alon will fly back to Israel after competing to take part in what remains of the shiva week.

Olympics 2008: Swimmers lead U.S. Jewish contingent

NEW YORK (JTA)—For Jason Lezak, Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Garrett Weber-Gale, the marketing possibilities are endless—perhaps “The Three Chaverim” or “Jews in the Pool.”

All three Jewish sprinters are hoping to make a splash as part of the U.S. men’s swimming team heading to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Not only will they be competing as individuals, but they are expected to make up three-fourths of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team.

“We joke about going to the Maccabiah Games and setting a world record,” Lezak tells JTA, referring to what is known as “the Jewish Olympics.”

Toss in 41-year-old Dara Torres, another Jewish swimmer and sprinter who will be competing in her fifth Games, and the possibilities rise even higher.

The swimmers are among the seven Jewish athletes believed to comprise the American Jewish contingent headed to China. They are a mix of veterans and newcomers, all with a realistic chance of acquiring medals at the Games, which begin with the opening ceremony Aug. 8.

Already, Wildman-Tobriner and Weber-Gale have their nickname: the “hyphenated Jew crew.” That makes for some good-natured fun around the pool, Wildman-Tobriner says, adding that he is proud to represent his heritage—along with the United States—in China.

Another Jewish athlete eyeing water-related success for the Americans is kayaker Rami Zur, who is in his second Olympics for the United States after representing Israel in the 2000 Games.

Some Jewish land lubbers also will wear the red, white and blue in Beijing: fencer Sara Jacobson and marathoner Deena Kastor. Both won bronze medals in ’04 in Athens.

Lezak is competing in his third Olympics and has garnered four medals on relay teams, including a gold in the 4×100 medley in ’04. At 32, he is the oldest male to qualify for an Olympic swim team.

“That’s an accomplishment in itself,” says Lezak, of Irvine, Calif.

At the recent U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder broke the American record in the 100-meter freestyle with a semifinal time of 47.58, setting himself up as the probable anchor on that relay team.

“Winning medals in the relays is such an amazing feeling, being a part of a team,” Lezak says, speaking to JTA by telephone.

In part, it was his disappointment as an individual competitor in Athens that spurred Lezak to keep his Olympic dreams. He failed to qualify for the finals in the 100-meter freestyle, though Lezak says he had a “great opportunity” to win an individual medal.

“I took the preliminaries too lightly,” he admits. “I was thinking about how many races I had to swim and I saved too much energy.

“I learned a horrible lesson, but it kind of got me going another four years. I kind of felt like I had unfinished business.”

Now Lezak, who will be competing in relays and in the 100-meter race, wants to mount the podium by himself.

“I’m a team-type player,” he says, “but to do something on your own feels pretty good. I have a lot to prove to myself. I know I’m capable, I just haven’t done it yet.”

He’ll have plenty of competition from Weber-Gale, of Milwaukee, and Wildman-Tobriner, a fellow Californian. Weber-Gale, 22, edged Lezak in the 100-meter finals in the trials.

Weber-Gale, who won the World Championships in 2005 and 2007, will be making his Olympics debut after narrowly missing a spot four years ago. He expects to compete in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and on the 4×100 freestyle and medley teams.

The University of Texas All-American predicts an outstanding Olympics for the U.S. squad.

“I think this is the best Olympic swim team ever assembled,” Weber-Gale told the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. “There are several events where we could get multiple medals, and we could win all three relays.”

Wildman-Tobriner, 23, also is making his Olympic debut. The Stanford University All-American will compete in the 50-meter freestyle and the relay.

“To finally be able to participate is going to be really exciting,” he told the j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. “It still hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

Lezak, who has been coaching himself the last two years, says he met his younger Jewish colleagues at the ’05 World Championships.

“They were in a different stage of their lives,” he says. “They were in college, and the international scene was more important to me.”

Lezak says they mostly talk to each other about their common Jewish identity.

“You don’t see that too often,” he says of three Jewish Olympians in the same events. “They’re both nice guys and we all get along.”

The younger duo hasn’t yet picked the brain of their more seasoned colleague, Lezak says.

“Once you start getting to the Games, to the Olympic village, people are more curious of the type of things to expect, more questions come up,” he says.

They can all learn from Torres (photo), a member of the Jewish International Sports Hall of Fame.Dara Torres

Despite having a 2-year-old daughter, the Los Angeles native who now works out in southern Florida qualified in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, though she will compete in only the former in Beijing.

Torres, who graces the cover of Time Magazine’s Olympics preview, which touts “Dana Torres & 99 More Athletes To Watch,” is a nine-time Olympic medalist, including four golds. She established an American record at the trials finals in the 50-meter freestyle with a time of 24.25; Torres broke her own mark set in the semis.

“That she’s doing her best times is phenomenal,” Lezak says. “She’s pretty inspiring to all the athletes out there.”

Her success at an advanced age for athletes has brought suspicions of doping, but Torres has passed every drug test.

“I’ve gone beyond the call of duty to prove I’m clean, but you are guilty until proven innocent in this day and age, so what else can I do?” she told Time. “It’s a real bummer.”

Zur, the kayaker, is seeking his first medal in his third Olympics. He has failed to reach the finals as an individual in the 500-meter event or in the two-man 500- and 1,000-meter events.

The 5-foot-9, 160-pounder is considered a contender as he vies solo in the 500, despite a severe spinal injury that jeopardized his career.

“I want to go there and come back with some hardware,” Zur, 31, told the j.

The native of Berkeley, Calif., was adopted as an infant by a kibbutz couple near the Sea of Galilee. His proximity to the sea helped develop his love of water sports.

“Kayaking was the first sport where I could go wherever I wanted to,” he says.

The Israeli Olympic Committee cut back on funding for his training following the Sydney Games and he left the Jewish state for the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., where he lived for free.

Zur says the Israelis were understanding of his choice to wear U.S. colors.

Kastor, 35, is another Jewish Californian bound for Beijing. A two-time Olympian, she holds the American records in the marathon and half-marathon. In April, Kastor won the U.S. Olympic trials in Boston with a time of 2:29:35.

Her bronze in Athens was the first medal for an American marathoner in two decades.

Jacobson, 25, of Dunwoody, Ga., brings a No. 1 world ranking in sabre to China. Her sister Emily was on the ’04 Olympics fencing team; her father, David, was a member of the ’74 national squad.

Jacobson, who attends Yale University, is a two-time winner of the U.S. women’s sabre championship.


Garrett Weber-Gale

Soboroff heads effort for ‘Chai’ Maccabiah

While global sports fans are gradually shifting their attention to the Aug. 8 start of the Olympic Games in Beijing, Eyal Tiberger and Steve Soboroff are focused on the July 13, 2009 opening ceremony in Israel of the 18th Maccabiah.

Tiberger is the executive director of next year’s Maccabiah and of the Maccabi World Union, so his preoccupation is understandable.

Soboroff is an influential and politically well-connected Los Angeles real estate developer, who envisions the next Maccabiah as not only a celebration of Jewish sportsmanship and solidarity, but also as a profit-making enterprise.

He was actively involved with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in 1984 and watched closely as top organizer Peter Ueberroth transformed the games’ accounting ledger from a predicted sea of red ink into an unbelievable surplus of $225 million.

The Maccabiah is sometimes dubbed the “Jewish Olympics,” and the comparison is not completely out of line. It ranks as the world’s third- or fourth-largest sport event, following the Olympics and Asian Games, and tied with the World University Games.

Tiberger expects some 10,000 athletes, divided into junior, open, master and paralympic categories, at the opening ceremonies at the Ramat Gan stadium, hailing from 60 countries and competing in 35 different sports at some 75 venues.

The quadrennial Maccabiah represents a major boost for the tourist industry, Israel-Diaspora relations and Jewish unity, but it costs a lot of money — $27 million for the host country alone.

Finance is a subject with which Soboroff is thoroughly familiar as chairman and CEO of the extensive Playa Vista multiuse real estate project, a one-time Los Angeles mayoral candidate and former president of the L.A. City Recreation and Parks Commission.

He was also the driving force behind the creation of the Staples Center sports and entertainment stadium in downtown Los Angeles, for which the office supplies chain store paid $120 million to have its name on the venue’s portals.

So when Soboroff learned that the 2005 Maccabiah made only $2.5 million from combined naming, television, sponsorship and merchandise rights, his entrepreneurial instincts were aroused.

“There is no reason why we can’t get greatly expanded TV and radio coverage, get primary sponsors for each separate sport, and others for uniforms and running shoes, just for starters,” he said.

To put concept into action, Soboroff recently formed The Committee of 18 (for the 18th — “Chai” — Maccabiah), with members selected from the vast pool of entertainment, media, marketing, advertising, business and philanthropy talent in Los Angeles.

The know-how and contacts of these experts is priceless, but in addition the 18 members will pay for the privilege of dispensing their free advice and efforts.

The plan calls for each committee member to give or raise $50,000, which would bring in $900,000. The money will provide scholarships for 200 teenage junior athletes from poorer communities in the former Soviet Union, India and Latin America, who otherwise could not afford the trip.

Earlier this month, Tiberger joined Soboroff in Los Angeles for a 10-day visit to pitch the idea to 20 carefully selected prospects.

“No one turned us down, and we have nine definitely signed up,” Soboroff said. “We won’t give out the names until we have all 18 aboard.”

His project is not the first attempt to broaden the public outreach and financial underpinning of the Maccabiah, said Joseph Siegman, the Los Angeles-based founder of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and author of four books on Jewish athletes, from biblical times to the present.

“Back in 1985, ESPN had agreed to do two one-hour shows on the Maccabiah, with Budweiser beer as the underwriter, but we couldn’t quite put it together,” Siegman recalled.

The 1984 Olympic Games, for all their financial success, met with some criticism that excessive commercialization and corporate sponsorships had detracted from the higher ideals of the international sports competition.

Might the Maccabiah be similarly put down if the Committee of 18’s ambitious plans succeed, a reporter asked.

On the contrary, Siegman responded, since most of the foreign athletes must now pay their own way to compete in the Maccabiah, a steady source of outside money would give athletes of limited means a better chance to attend.

Soboroff agreed that, in a perfect world, athletes from wealthy and poor families would have an equal chance to participate. Until that time, though, some commercialization is necessary and would pose no threat if handled “with respect and taste.”

For his part, Tiberger gave assurances that the organizers will strike a balance so that commercial promotions will not overshadow the sport events.

Organizers of the 18th Maccabiah, headed by Israel Carmi and Jeanne Futeran, chairman and president, respectively, of both the Maccabi World Union and the International Maccabiah Committee, expect a series of tangible and intangible benefits from their efforts.

Israel counts on some 25,000 foreign spectators, who, together with the 10,000 athletes, will pump around $80 million into the national economy.

The athletes range from 15-year-old juniors to master tennis players 75 and older who are expected to consume 450,000 kosher meals, 200,000 meals-to-go, and 1.5 million quarts of mineral water. Some 400 buses will shuttle competitors from and to events and an additional 400 buses will be available for guided tours to all parts of Israel.

About 3,000 police, soldiers and private guards will provide security around the clock.

As is customary, Israel will field the largest team of 2,500 athletes and officials, strengthened by Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. The United States will be second largest with 982 members, followed by Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Brazil and Mexico. Germany will send a 200-member team.

Some 35 percent to 40 percent of participants will be women, and soccer, as always, will have the most participants, with 70 competing teams — men, women, junior, open and master.

Besides the customary Olympic events, there will be Maccabiah competitions in lawn bowling, cricket, 10-pin bowling and futsal (indoor soccer), as well as bridge and chess.

L.A. teams are golden at Maccabi Games

More than 60 athletes from Westside JCC’s Team Westside and The New JCC at Milken’s Team L.A. represented the greater Los Angeles area this month during the 25th annual Maccabi Games, scoring numerous gold, silver and bronze wins in such sports as baseball, basketball, swimming, soccer and table tennis.

The teens, ages 12 to 16, joined some 4,000 athletes from across the country and around the globe competing in 14 sports categories during this summer’s Olympic-style tournament, which included contests in Baltimore (Aug. 5-9), Houston (Aug. 5-10) and Orange County (Aug. 12-17).

“I play against tougher teams during the year, but I wanted to take part in Jewish culture. Knowing you’re playing against other Jews is just a really great experience,” said Charlie Bogart, who plays baseball for Beverly Hills High School and the gold medal-winning Team Westside. “How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to play against other Jews in a national or international tournament?”

The games take place every year in the United States (unlike the Maccabiah Games in Israel, which occur every four years), and serve as a springboard for promising young Jewish athletes, providing them with a venue to showcase and improve their skills.

For some Maccabi participants, the games represented a unique opportunity to meet other Jewish teens and learn about Jewish values, from practical hands-on learning through volunteer efforts to observing rules rooted in Jewish learning, including abstaining from gossip and demonstrating mercy and compassion to weaker teams.

Team Westside and Team Los Angeles both had successful games, medaling in numerous team and individual events in Baltimore and Orange County. The Westside JCC’s boys basketball team took gold and its girls basketball team took silver at the Baltimore games. Westside also scored nine gold medals, five silver and nine bronze in Orange County for swimming, placing second overall behind Team OC. Milken JCC’s 16-and-under girls soccer team and its 16-and-under boys baseball team both took gold in Orange County, and Team L.A. scored five gold medals in table tennis. In a Maccabi first, Harvard-Westlake runner Bridget Golob split the gold medal in a four-way tie for the steeplechase with athletes from Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia.

Other results for Team L.A. were unavailable.

Events this year included baseball, basketball, in-line hockey, volleyball, dance, golf, bowling, softball, flag football, tennis, table tennis, soccer, swimming, and track and field.

“It felt like you were really important. You had people giving you water, seeing if you’re OK. You had your own trainer if you got hurt, so it felt like the real thing,” said Joanie Moskowitz, 14, who played on Team Westside’s girls basketball team.

The games feel like the real thing because they are. SoCal Maccabi team members have gone on to compete on the professional and world stage. Today’s young athletes hope to emulate the success of Los Angeles Maccabi alumns like Olympic bronze-medal marathoner Deena Drossin Kastor and Olympic gold-medal swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg.

“Lenny came by to say ‘hi’ and wish us good luck,” said Aaron Katrikh, 14, who swims with Krayzelberg’s Royal Swim Club during the year and won bronze in the Maccabi 400 freestyle relay in Orange County. “It’s really inspiring to know he swam in the games, because someday I want to swim in the Olympics,” added Katrikh, who’ll be a freshman at YULA this fall.

A global community-builder, athletes leave the games with new Jewish friends from around the world. They bond with other Jewish youth who are dedicated to the same sport and have shared similar experiences of wins, losses, challenges and comebacks.

“It’s so great playing in a smaller community of table tennis players, who were all Jewish,” said Jacqueline Zalener, a New Community Jewish High School freshman who brought home five gold medals for Team Los Angeles. “I can’t wait to go back next year.”

Bonding occurred on teams, in host houses, at social events and during hangtime – designated moments when participants enjoy Jewish cultural experiences in a relaxed environment. Athletes befriended each other standing in line at water parks and grabbing dinner at the cafeteria. The close-knit nature of the games had athletes making lifelong Jewish friends.

“My teammates and I, we all still hang out like we’re one big family. We all go to the beach, go bowling together, or hang out at someone’s house,” Bogart said.

The games also introduce the teens to the Jewish idea of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Every Maccabi athlete is required to participate in A Day of Caring and Sharing, taking time out from competition to take part in a charitable community project. Some athletes made water catchers, as a means of learning about Israel’s water conservation efforts and global warming. Others created cards and paper flowers for hospitalized AIDS patients, learning that a small gesture can make a big difference in someone’s day.

Katrikh and his fellow swimmers spent an afternoon in the pool with disabled children. “We swam with them and did relays with them – it was really fun. But I also learned that life isn’t just about having fun, it’s about living right,” Katrikh said.

Krayzelburg Keeps Swim Program From Taking a Dive

Just a year ago, the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim School, headed by the four-time Olympic gold medalist, opened with fanfare and big ambitions at the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC), a once lively place that in recent years has been seeking to reinvent itself. Living up to the center’s dreams, as of late July, Krayzelburg now has 896 students on his roster.

One is a 7-week old baby boy, Bijoux Kocs, who just had his first private lesson, in line with the school’s philosophy that infants are ideal candidates for swim instruction.

“As soon as the umbilical cord is healed, they’re ready to go,” explains head instructor Molly Martin.

Whatever the age of the student, Krayzelburg’s staff aims to teach water safety and athletic skills in friendly, supportive surroundings.

Krayzelburg earned a business degree from USC in 1998, two years before backstroking to stardom at the Sydney Olympics. He founded his Westside JCC swim school — along with a smaller school at the New JCC at Milken in West Hills — partly as a business venture. But Krayzelburg also has emotional reasons for making the Westside JCC his headquarters. In 1989, when he and his parents arrived in Los Angeles from Ukraine hoping to put Soviet-style anti-Semitism behind them, the Westside JCC’s big 75-foot pool became his home away from home.

By 2001, though, a protracted crisis within the JCCs left the Westside JCC nearly shuttered and its two pools emptied. It was Krayzelburg who came to the rescue, investing $115,000 in a brand-new filtration system and getting the once-dilapidated aquatic center up and running. Now he’s a hands-on boss, overseeing the details of his program while still making time for tiny tots in wet swimsuits.

“I really like interacting with kids,” Krayzelburg says. “It’s great to see kids conquer their fears.”

When 6-year-old Noy Shalon became terrified about advancing from the small pool to the bigger one, Krayzelburg was there to talk her through her panic. So was her instructor, who was willing to hug her for 15 minutes at a time while continuing to supervise three more confident classmates. Noy’s mother, Sharon Shalon of the Miracle Mile, was so impressed that she’s persuaded a friend to drive from Studio City to enroll her own children. Shalon, who also has two other youngsters in the school, stresses that staff members “are very attentive to every child, and they know that child’s specific needs.”

Some parents are attracted to the Westside JCC program by Krayzelburg’s gold-medal reputation. But most stay because they see their children mastering basic skills, one step at a time. Krayzelburg’s teachers are trained in the Smart Fish Method, developed by Orange County swim coach Ginny Flahive. Krayzelburg likes this system of colorful cards that are used to reward students for each small advance, because “it’s gentle, and it really produces good results.”

When Calder Southerland, a 5-year-old from Pico Robertson, first came to the Westside JCC, he had tried two previous swim schools but still wouldn’t put his face in the water. A friendly but firm instructor and the incentive of the Smart Fish cards have made all the difference. Mother Deborah, watching her son glide happily through the water, notes that “he gets really excited about achieving the next level.”

Other poolside parents are equally enthusiastic. Tanya Heldman drives from West Los Angeles five times a week so her son Raphi, 11, can take part in the school’s swim team.

It’s a lot of shlepping, admits Heldman, but “it’s done such wonders for my son. He lost twelve pounds. His confidence has improved dramatically. I do this out of love.”

Enrollment begins Aug. 21 for the Aug. 28 session. For further information, call 323-525-0323 or see

Dive Into Home Swim Lessons

One of the biggest dangers for children during summer is drowning. Some people think enclosing a pool with a fence or covering it with a pool cover will render the area safe, but fences are accidentally left open and covers can be left off.

The only real solution is to teach children water safety and swimming, and the time before summer hits is the best to teach kids to swim. But you don’t necessarily need a school or private teacher.

4 months to 24 months

The age we recommend introducing children to swimming is 4 months old. At this age, babies are not really swimming, but they can move underwater and learn not to be afraid of the water.

Until the age of 2, it’s hard for a child to pick up his/her head and breath while swimming. What you should teach an infant to do is — after falling in the water — how to turn around and swim to the side of the pool. Even though, it is hard for them to climb up at this age, they can get to the side of the pool and cry for help.

The way we work with babies is by counting one, two, three, blowing air on their face — so they will close their eyes and mouth by reflex action — and then we take them underwater. After the baby is comfortable in the water and under the water, we start working on kicking. Hold their legs and move them up and down to get the baby used to the motion.

Next we let a baby sit on the side of the pool, hold them, count to three and put the child under the water for two seconds. By that point the baby should be kicking. If not, repeat the above steps over again. It is important to stay very calm with your baby and do everything slowly so the baby will feel comfortable and secure.

Ages 2 and Up

Older than 2, there are a few different ways to teach swimming.

1) Throw the kid into the water.

While this is the old way and could be very traumatic, it actually works 70 percent of the time. The other 30 percent, the child becomes very traumatized, and typically it is then very hard to acclimate them to the water after that experience. I don’t recommend this method. Even though it is fast, the dangers are greater than the rewards.

2) Learning with floaties.

This is an easy technique to teach, but could be very dangerous. Since the child learns to rely on the floaties, if your child ends up in the water alone he/she won’t be able to swim. This method is fast, but the transition to swimming without them could take very long. The way to do it with Floaties is to teach the kids to kick with straight legs over the water and to make long strokes with outstretched arms while their face is in the water.

3) Teach kids to swim without floaties from the beginning.

(Please note: children need to be held and supervised closely at all times in the water until they know how to swim. It is OK to use floaties when the kids are just playing in the water.)

First stage: Teach the child to put his/her face in the water. Then teach the child to kick while holding the edge of the pool or steps. From there, teach your child how to do long strokes with hands while sitting on the steps. After mastering these skills, move to the second stage.

Second stage: Stand two feet away from the steps and tell your child to put his/her face in the water, push and swim to you. Slowly, take another (and another) step back so your child can swim to you. Be aware that this takes time. You have to go through the basic steps over and over again before you let your child try on his/her own. In practice, we hold the child by the hips, letting him or her practice arm strokes and kicking.

Usually, if the child is not afraid to put their face in the water, we can teach him or her to swim in six to 12 lessons of 30 minutes each. It could take you a little longer.

Gal and Galia Yardeni are sports teachers with bachelor’s degrees in sports education from Wingate University in Israel. They own and operate a swim school in Los Angeles and specialize in early childhood development. Galia Yardeni was an Israeli swim champion. She teaches kids through fun and games. For more information, call (310) 739-7257.


High Marks for Jewish Swimmers


“Watermarks” is a life-affirming documentary that celebrates the constancy of courage and grace, from youth to old age.

Its setting is the waltz-loving Austria of the 1920s and ’30s, where the lithe young swimmers of the fabled Hakoah (“the strength”) Vienna sports club are beating their “Aryan” rival clubs year after year.

Freestyler Judith Deutsch alone breaks 12 national records in 1935 and is the toast of the town, until she refuses to compete for Austria at Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games. As punishment, she is barred from competition for life and all her marks are erased from the official record books.

After the Reich’s takeover of Austria in 1938, the swimmers scatter to Palestine, the United States and England, marry and establish professional careers.

Some 65 years later, Israeli director Yaron Zilberman decided to track down eight of the swimmers, now in their 80s, in their adopted countries.

He persuaded them to return to Vienna for a reunion and one final lap, in custom-fitted swim suits, in the swimming pool of their glory days. One is Annie Lampl of Los Angeles, who didn’t let her blindness keep her away.

The reunion has its bittersweet remembrances, but few moviegoers are ever likely to encounter as feisty, feminine and fun-loving a bunch of octogenarians.

In 1995, the Austrian swimming federation invited Deutsch to travel from Israel to Vienna to have her medals and records restored in an official ceremony.

Deutsch declined, so the Austrian delegation traveled to Israel to do the honors.

“Watermarks” opens April 1 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869, and on April 8 at the Fallbrook 7 theaters (818) 340-8710 in West Hills.


Krayzelburg to Defend Record in Athens

Swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg will go to the Athens Olympic Games, thanks to placing second in his race during the U.S. qualifying trials, a feat greeted with greater acclaim and emotion than his three gold medals in Sydney four years ago.

The Jewish immigrant from Odessa had the media, 10,000 spectators and even his rivals cheering as he finished the finals of the 100-meter backstroke in 54.06 seconds, behind world champion Aaron Peirsol.

With only the top two in every race assured a berth on the U.S. Olympic team, Krayzelburg beat third place Peter Marshall by four-hundredth of a second.

When the results were announced, Krayzelburg’s father Oleg, who brought his family to the United States in 1989, triumphantly waved a tambourine, while the stadium in Long Beach erupted into a noisy celebration.

To qualify, Krayzelburg had to overcome a series of handicaps that would have stopped a less-determined competitor.

For one, he is close to 29, considered ancient in a sport mostly dominated by teenagers. Even worse, he wasn’t sure whether he had fully recovered from a knee surgery and two shoulder operations.

A product of the intense Soviet training system for promising young athletes, Krayzelburg had difficult realizing his potential after his parents decided to leave Odessa for Los Angeles to escape Soviet anti-Semitism and the prospect that their only son would be drafted into the army.

The 14-year-old newcomer enrolled at Fairfax High School, which had no swimming team, and even taking a job at the Westside Jewish Community Center allowed him little chance for professional practice.

Ultimately, a swimming coach at Santa Monica College rediscovered Krayzelburg’s talent, got him a scholarship at the University of Southern California, and his career took off.

Although he has had no Jewish education and attends synagogue only on Yom Kippur, Krayzelburg is conscious of his roots, telling reporters: “Being Jewish is part of me, it’s part of my culture.”

After setting Olympic records in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke, and spurring the U.S. 4×100-meter medley relay team to a world record at the 2000 Games, Krayzelburg participated the following year at the Maccabiah in Israel, proudly carrying the Stars and Stripes into the stadium.

Standing 6-foot-2, with blond hair, blue eyes and a sculpted body, Krayzelburg has been a crowd favorite as much for his modest behavior as his good looks.

Following his feat last week, he easily stole the headlines from America’s current swimming sensations, Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin.

Also on hand at the stadium was a graying but fit Mark Spitz, who won a never-equaled seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics swimming competition.

Phelps, the new American hope, is aiming to equal, or even surpass, Spitz’s record and, on Saturday, the 54-year-old Spitz symbolically passed the torch after the 19-year-old Phelps won his third gold of the trials in the 200-meter butterfly.

Spitz put the medal around Phelps’s neck on the victory stand, then raised the young swimmer’s arm in a victory salute, after promising to be in the stands in Athens to cheer on Phelps’s assault on his own 1972 record.

Also heading for Athens is another top Jewish swimmer, Jason Lezak of Irvine, who won the 100-meter freestyle on Sunday, after setting a new American record of 48.17 seconds a day earlier in the semifinals.

Starting Over

Millions of immigrants have flocked to the United States looking for streets paved with gold. Lenny Krayzelburg, who came to Los Angeles from Odessa, Ukraine, in 1988 is searching for gold as well – but in a pool at Sydney’s Olympic Games.

Several Jewish athletes from the former Soviet Union are competing for Israel in this year’s Games, which begin today, but the one competing for the United States – Krayzelburg – appears to be the one most likely to win.

“My parents felt my sister and I would have more opportunity in America, that leaving Russia would give us a chance to follow our dreams,” said the 6’2″, 190 lb. Krayzelburg, adding with a smile, “My dream since I was 5 or 6 was to win an Olympic gold medal.”

Krayzelburg, who will compete in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, was identified as a possible world-class athlete in his native Soviet Union before he was 10.

This identification entitled him to attend a school with 44 other swimmers who went to classes and swam together 12 hours a day.

“A lot of who I am today is what I learned back in Russia – the work ethic, the commitment. I attribute a lot of my success to what I learned” in the former Soviet Union, said Krayzelburg.

After Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev loosened economic restrictions, Krayzelburg’s father, Oleg, opened a small, private business.

But the possibility that Krayzelburg might have to serve in the army when he turned 18 – the Soviet Union was then engaged in a war against Afghanistan – and anti-Semitism in that part of the world motivated his parents to emigrate.

Settling in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, Lenny, then 13, found himself attending public school and swimming only four days a week. “In Russia I trained 4-5 hours a day since I was 8, so it was different here.”

The Krayzelburg family had little money, but were comforted by the kinship of other émigrés familiar with their journey and struggle. Lenny’s father found work as a cook, and his mother as a pharmaceutical technician. In order to make money to help out his family, Lenny worked as a lifeguard at the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic and Fairfax.

When Lenny met coach Stu Blumkin at Santa Monica College, his swimming career took off. He broke the national Junior College record in the 200 backstroke in 1995, but gives a great deal of the credit to Blumkin. “Even having swam for 14 years, I was pretty ignorant about some things,” he admitted, adding, “Pacing, racing, developing a consistent workout pattern, these were all things Stu worked with me on.” Krayzelburg earned a full scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he found himself surrounded by the best bodies and minds in swimming. “Mark Schubert was the coach, and Brad Bridgewater [The 1996 Gold Medalist in the 200 Back] was my teammate” he remembered. Again, Krayzelburg improved by leaps and bounds. “I won the NCAA 200 in 1997, then I beat Brad at the Pan-Pacific Games and set the American record,” he recalled, adding, “All of that happened after Mark told me he thought I could be the best in the world, which was just an amazing thing for me to hear, and drove me to work harder than I ever had before.”

At the 1996 Olympics, Lenny finished fifth in the 200-meter, and holds the world record in both the 100 and 200.

He also earned a degree in finance from the University of Southern California.Even though he is swimming for the United States, Krayzelburg, described by The New York Times as “movie-star handsome,” knows a lot of his friends and family in Odessa will be following his races with special interest.

Krayzelburg, who has a reputation as one of the hardest trainers on the U.S. team, tries to deal with the pressure he faces by enjoying himself in the pool.

“I’ve kind of already proven myself. I just try to go out and swim well – and that puts a smile on my face. If I swim my best and someone swims faster, I can’t control that,” he said, before adding, “The way I feel now, I don’t think anyone can beat me.”

Los Angeles writer Jason Levine contributed to this story.

Israeli-Style Fitness

Maybe it’s no Sports Club/LA in its luxury and beauty, but the Elite Sports Center at Tel Aviv University is one of the best sports clubs in Israel, with facilities and services that may make even the premier sports club in L.A. a little envious.

The Elite Sports Center runs all of the sports and recreation activities of Tel Aviv University, including the Goldreich Family Health and Fitness Center and the Goldreich Multipurpose Sports Building, where the club is housed. The buildings were donated by Los Angeles real estate tycoon Jona Goldrich – originally from Israel – and his family on the belief that a strong nation is a healthy one.

Open daily from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Elite Sports Center offers services and equipment standard to most developed clubs: classes, trainers, a health and nutrition counseling lab, Jacuzzis, saunas. But it even goes a step further. There are three swimming pools, one of which is Olympic size, an outdoor movie theater and a pool for children. There are roughly 10,000 members, of which one-fourth are Tel Aviv residents who pay a higher fee than the students.

The club is always busy, and the social and university buzz at the club make it the perfect spot to get not only the body in shape, but also one’s social life. During the summer, the club is open 24 hours on Thursdays – the Saturday night of Israel. The swimming pools, workout rooms and squash courts are packed with Israelis taking a break from studying and work, and sometimes looking for a date. The basketball court turns into a dance hall, and a movie marathon features the latest films throughout the night.

Guest passes are available for tourists and the general public for about $10.Visit the Hebrew-only Web site at href=> for more information.

Orit Arfa lives in Jerusalem.

A Conversation with Novelist Josh Henkin

Josh Henkin will read from his new book, “Swimming Across the Hudson,” Mon., May 12, 7 p.m. at Dutton’s on San Vivente.Josh Henkin’s paternal grandfather was an Orthodox rabbi who lived in the United States for 50 years without ever learning to speak English. Still, the author was able to forge a strong connection with the old man, the kind of bond that transcended language and linked Henkin to a people and a past.

In “Swimming Across the Hudson,” Henkin’s deft and restrained debut novel, he examines such notions of connectedness and group identification through Ben, his protagonist. One of two adopted sons, Ben is raised in a bookish, upper-middle-class Jewish household, where secular liberalism and religious tradition both figure prominently. He is sent reeling into the muddy waters of identity confusion when he discovers that his biological mother — whom he had always assumed was also Jewish — isn’t.

To characterize this book as a “Who is a Jew?” novel would be crudely inaccurate. It’s more universal and emotionally layered than that. Still, as Henkin himself readily acknowledged in an interview by phone from somewhere in Kalamazoo, Mich. (one stop on a 35-city book tour), the identity questions sparked by Ben’s initial discovery seem particularly relevant in times such as ours, when the ironclad rules of destiny are at odds with a daunting array of modern choices.

What makes one a Jew? What makes one a mother or father? Or, as in the case of Ben’s brother Jonathan, a homosexual? Ben’s search for himself inevitably leads to the past, which exerts an emotional pull as strong and evocative as the Yiddish cadences of a beloved grandfather.

“The facts of this book are invented in the sense that I’m not adopted and I have two brothers, neither of whom are adopted or gay,” Henkin said. “But the feeling is true…. Adoption is a metaphor for not being able to entirely escape the past, for how we are tied to where we came from. It is also about how the communities we belong to are multiple and not always entirely by choice.”

The powerful way in which Jewish identity’s genetic component so preoccupies Henkin’s main character, the author said, partly has to do with Judaism’s uneasy position as neither a race or a faith.

“The tension between a Judaism about belief or a Judaism of descent is, I think, an uncomfortable topic for many of us, even though we often sort of accept the latter without really thinking about it,” Henkin said. “Race is essentialist. For example, it would be hard to conceive of someone discovering they were black.

“But we live with an extraordinary degree of choice that didn’t exist before…. I think that Jewish-American writers today — to the extent that they are writing fiction with Jewish content — are telling a different story than, let’s say, Roth or Bellow. This younger generation is somewhat ambivalent about assimilation.”

Much like his characters, Henkin grew up in a relatively observant home — a balance of his own father’s Orthodox upbringing and his mother’s more secular childhood.

“I still believe I’m fairly traditional,” he said. “I keep kosher. I observe Shabbat to a degree. I live in Ann Arbor, Mich., and am involved in the Michigan Hillel. My feelings about belief are complicated, and I don’t ally myself with any particular movement. For me, Judaism is largely about ritual and family. It’s not the only part of my life, but it’s an important part.”

Understandably, Henkin resists ghettoizing labels such as “Jewish fiction” or “women’s fiction,” which relegate work into artificially constructed genres and reduce writers to their ethnicity or gender. It’s a preoccupation that he regards as a sign of the times.

“Since writing this book, I have gotten a few hostile questions, although not many,” he said. “Mostly along the lines of, ‘Who are you to write about gay characters if you’re not gay?’ and ‘Who are you to write about adoption if you weren’t adopted?’ That’s unfortunate political correctness. I had one interesting experience when a gay reading group called my publicist because they were interested in reading my book. They asked her if I was gay. When she said no, they declined, which is this silliness taken to its extreme…. It negates the very idea of what literary fiction can do. You know, I still remember a line from this character in the film “Shadowlands” who said, “I read so that I’m not alone.” For me, that really sums it up.”

Henkin will sign and read from “Swimming Across the Hudson” at Dutton’s Books in Brentwood on May 12, at 7 p.m.