Swimmers lead U.S. contingent of Jewish athletes in Beijing
By Marc Brodsky
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 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.
Wildman-Tobriner and Weber-Gale already 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 making his debut as a member of the U.S. squad. He represented Israel in the 2000 and 2004 Games.
Some Jewish landlubbers 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, a member of the Jewish International Sports Hall of Fame.
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. While on the Israeli team, he failed to reach the finals as an individual in the 500-meter event or in the two-man 500- and 1,000-meter events.
In his U.S. inaugural, he 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.
Zur, a 5-foot-9, 160-pounder, trains in the United States and says he feels a part of U.S. culture and society. He says the Israelis have been understanding of his choice to wear U.S. colors this time around.
Zur was born in Berkeley, Calif., but was adopted 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 northern California, where he lived for free.
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.
Munich survivor Dan Alon carries scars of ‘72 Olympics
By Chanan Tigay
SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — The Munich Olympics were meant to be a defining moment in Dan Alon’s life — but not the way they turned out.
Alon was one of five Israeli athletes who escaped the 1972 massacre of Israel’s Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists.
Thirty-six years later, he still can’t shake what happened.
In Berlin last year to deliver a lecture, Alon noticed several Arabs on the staff of his hotel. He changed hotels immediately.
“I don’t feel secure,” says Alon, 63, a former Israeli fencing champion. “I have a paranoia that they are looking for me.”
In the first years after the attack, Alon says he was perpetually nervous, afraid to be left alone in a room. When he traveled abroad, he always went with someone.
For more than three decades, he barely mentioned Munich.
“I really didn’t talk about it, not even to my family or my friends,” says Alon, who recently retired as director general of an Israeli plastics company. “I tried to stay busy with my business, with my family.”
That changed two years ago with the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” an epic film about the attack and Israel’s subsequent effort to hunt down those responsible.
“People started to call me and ask me questions,” says Alon, who lives in Tel Aviv.
Since then he has started writing a book about his experiences, and now he lectures at universities and in Jewish communities around the world.
On Sept. 5, 1972, at 4:30 a.m., Alon and his roommate, fellow fencer Yehudah Weinstein, were awakened by gunfire and frantic shouting. Several bullets blew through the wall over Alon’s bed. They were the shots, he says, that killed weightlifter Yossi Romano, who had been staying in the adjoining room.
Alon hurried to his window below, where he spotted a man in a white hat toting a machine gun. Several feet away, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg lay dying on the ground.
Alon and four teammates — Weinstein, along with two marksmen and a speed walker — huddled in his room. The marksmen suggested shooting the gunman with their pellet guns.
“We decided not to do it,” Alon says. “We didn’t know how many terrorists there were, what kinds of weapons they had, what hostages they had.”
Eventually they agreed to sneak downstairs and outside as quietly as possible. One by one, treading lightly on a creaky, wooden staircase, the athletes descended the single flight of stairs, slipped through a glass door, and went over a first-floor balcony and through the garden to freedom. It took about 15 minutes.
One of the terrorists spotted them as they ran, Alon says, but he did not shoot.
Several hours later the Israelis’ teammates were dead.
“I blame the Palestinians, and I blame the Germans for the failure to [achieve the] release of the athletes,” Alon says. “But I don’t blame myself. I was only surprised that I survived.”
Four years before the attack, Alon took part in the Six-Day War as a technician securing bombs to fighter jets. Just a year after Munich, he did the same in the Yom Kippur War.
Since then he married — his wife, Adelle, is a nurse — and had three children: Meir, 30; Pazit, 23; and Arik, 28, who has become a champion fencer.
Arik quit to attend college, Alon says, “so I quit, too. I play golf now all the time.”
After the killings in 1972, the Munich Olympics paused for a day, then resumed. Alon says it was the proper move. Not only would it have been unwise to “surrender to terror” and unfair to deny athletes the chance to compete, he says, but the world would have blamed Israel had the Games been canceled.
“For me, the Olympics are a sacred space for sportsmen,” he says. “I believe still that the Olympics are very, very good at trying to unite people around the world. Maybe we need more than one [Summer] Olympics every four years.”
Jews in the Olympics
By JTA Staff
NEW YORK (JTA) — The following is a list of Jewish athletes competing in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing:
Sara Jacobson, sabre
Rami Zur, 500-meter individual
Jason Lezak, 100-meter freestyle, relays
Garrett Weber-Gale, 100 freestyle, relays
Ben Wildman-Tobriner, 50 freestyle, relays
Dara Torres, 50-meter freestyle, relays
Track and Field, Women
Deena Kastor, marathon
Artistic Gymnastics, Men
Alex Shatilov, all-around
Michael Koganov, K-1 500 and 1000 meters
Tomer Or, foil
Dalilah Hatuel, foil
Noam Mills, epee
Ariel Ze’evi, 100 kg
Gal Yekutiel, 60 kg
Alice Schlezinger, 63 kg
Rhythmic Gymnastics, Individual
Rhythmic Gymnastics, Team
Gidi Klinger and Udi Gal, 470
Shahar Tzuberi, windsurfing
Vered Buskila and Nika Kornitzky, 470
Nufar Eledman, laser radial
Ma’ayan Davidovich, windsurfing
Doron Egozi, 50-meter rifle 3, 10-meter air rifle
Gil Simkovich, 50-meter rifle 3, 50-meter rifle prone
Guy Starik, 50-meter rifle prone
Itay Chama, 200-meter breaststroke
Gal Nevo, 200 and 400 individual medley
Guy Barnea, 100 breaststroke
Tom Be’eri, 100 and 200 breaststroke
Allon Mandel, 100 and 200 butterfly
Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or, 200 freestyle
Anya Gostamelsky, 50 and 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly
Anastasia Gloushkov and Ina Yoffe, duet
Bat-El Getterer, 57 kg
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich, doubles
Shahar Peer, singles
Tzipora Obziler, doubles with Peer
Track and Field, Men
Alex Averbukh, pole vault
Niki Palli, long jump
Haile Satayin, marathon
Itai Magidi, 3000-meter steeplechase
David Zilberman, 96 kg
Ari Taub, 120 kg plus
How to do Jewish in Beijing
By Alison Klayman
BEIJING (JTA) — Below are some tips on how to do Beijing “Jewish style” during the 2008 Olympic Games:
Three davening and dining options on Friday night:
Chabad Beijing has two venues (www.chabadbeijing.com), both near many hotels
Main location: King’s Garden Villa, 18 Xiao Yun Rd Villa No. F1
During the Olympics, this location will have daily services three times a day. After Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, the community walks 10 minutes to the kosher restaurant for meals.
Additional location: Jian Guo Men Diplomatic Building, Building 3, 2F, Room 23
This is a sub-branch that serves the Russian community and others staying in the Central Business District.
Contact: Rabbi Mendy Raskin: e-mail, email@example.com; phone, 86-13366701744
Kehillat Beijing (Egalitarian, lay-led, Reconstructionist)
Location: Third floor, Capital Club Athletic Center in the Capital Mansion
Go to the Web site (www.sinogogue.org) for a thorough explanation of the location and a pronunciation guide for getting your taxi there. This building is well known by most cabbies and hotels, and is centrally located.
Note: On Saturday morning, Chabad is your only choice. Also, Kehillat will not have services on Friday night, Aug. 8, the night of the opening ceremony of the Games.
Dini’s Kosher Restaurant is a glatt kosher, non-dairy restaurant serving Chinese, Israeli and Jewish foods. (www.kosherbeijing.com has the menu). Dini’s will be open 24 hours a day during the Games and can deliver to hotels across the city. It can also vacuum-pack your food to bring to other cities on a China tour.
Several completely vegetarian restaurants in Beijing are Buddhist or Buddhist-themed with serene decor. The Pure Lotus chain has lavish interiors, food served in conch shells or platters brimming with dry ice, and oversized glossy menus that dedicate half the pages to poetry and photos of blades of grass as opposed to food.
A favorite is Baihe-Lily, a simple courtyard restaurant down a poorly marked alley. Baihe-Lily also has a location near the tourist site the Summer Palace.
To find vegetarian restaurants and shops in Beijing, go to www.happycow.net/asia/china/beijing. The site provides a quick table of vegetarian traveler phrases.
Many supermarkets sell imported food that includes kosher-labeled items. Look for the chains April Gourmet, Jenny Lou’s and Lo Hao Organic, which are almost entirely stocked with imported foods.
Dates in Chinese Jewish history
By Alison Klayman
BEIJING (JTA) — The following are key dates in Chinese Jewish history:
1920: Ohel Rachel Synagogue is established in Shanghai (still standing).
1928–49: The first Lubavitch rabbi in China, Meir Ashkenazi, leads Shanghai’s Congregation Ohel Moshe. Built in 1927, Ohel Moshe is now the site of the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum.
1938–45: 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria escape to Shanghai.
1939–40: Approximately 1,000 Polish Jews escape to Shanghai, including about 400 teachers and students of the Mir Yeshiva.
1941–45: Japanese occupying powers intern recent Jewish immigrants from Allied countries in Hongkou ghetto for “stateless refugees.”
1949: Communists win civil war; by now most of 24,000 Shanghai Jews and other Jewish populations across the country leave China.
1978: Deng Xiaoping announces China’s “open door policy” with the West.
1980: First community seder in Beijing is led by founders of the liberal Kehillat Beijing minyan.
1992: Israel and China establish diplomatic relations.
1995: Kehillat Beijing begins regular Friday night services in permanent home, Beijing’s Capital Club.
Oct. 25, 1996: The first community bar mitzvah is held in Beijing for Ari Lee, the son of community founders Elyse Silverberg and Michael Lee.
1998: The “Jewish Shanghai” guided tour begins; it is currently being run by Israeli journalist Dvir Bar-Gal (www.shanghai-jews.com).
September 1999 In Shanghai, a Jewish New Year service is held at the Ohel Rachel Synagogue for the first time since 1952, when the synagogue was closed.
2001: Chabad opens its first center in Beijing.
2006: Beijing mikvah Mei Tovah opens.
2007: Beijing opens its first kosher restaurant, Dini’s (www.kosherbeijing.com).
May 2008: Israel donates 90 tons of medical supplies, more than $1 million, for Sichuan earthquake relief.