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Articles > Olympic Notebook: Part 1: Shalom, Beijing

Note: The Center for Sport and Jewish Life will post items relating to Jewish participation in the Olympics to the extent that we can, and hope that readers will find them of interest. Feel free to send your comments to jewishsports@gmail.com

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, nearly half of the Israeli delegation heading to Beijing are new immigrants (olim hadashim). Fifteen of the 43 athletes and 10 of the 22 coaches, as well as the team doctor and psychologist, emigrated to Israel from elsewhere. A good number come from the former Soviet Union, some having come as adults while others came as young children.

Those who have come in the recent past are eligible for government assistance. To assist them in their athletic pursuits, which in turn reflect well on Israel, the government has increased the normal subsidies allotted to new immigrants to the sum of NIS 5,000 monthly, about $1,400, for these Olympians.

Pole vaulter Alex Averbukh, who emigrated from Russia in 1999 and is one of Israel’s best hopes for a medal, noted, “My life is much better because the Olympic team has sponsors who give money to the athletes.”

Particularly in the areas of track and field and gymnastics, the Israeli sport scene has benefited from the large-scale aliyah from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. Given their elite status, these immigrant Olympians are part of a four-part television campaign designed to strengthen and improve relations between the new immigrants and the native-born Israelis. The hope is that by focusing on the personal stories of four different athletes coming from four different sports, the series can dispel to some extent the stereotypes held of immigrants and serve to better integrate them into Israeli society.

The twenty women on the team comprise the largest share of women on an Israeli Olympics team to date. Even with the participation of marathoner Haile Satayin, one of the oldest Olympians at 53, this is also the youngest delegation in Israel's Olympic history, with about half the team under the age of 23, and many of them are expected to reach their peak in time for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Here is the Beijing lowdown according to the website Wikipedia:

Shooter Guy Starik is set to become the second Israeli in Olympic history to participate in 4 Olympic Games. Three athletes will make their third Olympic appearance: Pole vaulter Aleksandr Averbukh, who has two European championship titles, two world championship medals and two Olympic finals in his resume, judoka Ariel (Arik) Ze'evi, three-time European champion and bronze medalist in 2004 Summer Olympics, and canoer Michael Kolganov, former world champion and bronze medallist in 2000 Summer Olympics, who will be the flagbearer for Israel in the opening ceremony. 12 other athletes return from Athens 2004, while 27 athletes will make their Olympic debut at Beijing.

Israel will make its Olympic debut in Beijing in the team event in rhythmic gymnastics, women's epee in fencing, women's one-person dinghy in sailing, and women's doubles in tennis. Among the medal hopefuls are Ariel Ze'evi, and also Udi Gal and Gideon Kliger, world and European medallists in sailing 470 class, Shahar Tzuberi, European medallist in sailboard Neil Pryde RS:X class, and tennis men's double team Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, winners of the 2008 Australian Open and current world #3 doubles team.

Ram and Erlich have previously been profiled on the Center for Sport and Jewish Life website – for that article click here . Check this site for profiles of other members of the Israel Olympic team, as well as results of competition.

According to the Chinese alphabet, Israel will be listed 22nd among delegations entering the stadium for the opening ceremonies.

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