By Erica Lyons
Managing Editor

Israel's Shahar Zubari

The Beijing Olympics held its final grand ceremony on 24 August after seventeen days of highs and lows, simchas and sadness, but mostly a spirit of pride and peace. Just one Israeli left the games with a medal this year.

Twenty-two year old Shahar Zubari of Eilat won the bronze medal in windsurfing. Historically, sailing sports have been a good event for the Israelis, as three of their seven Olympic medals in 56 years of participation in the Olympic Games have been in sailing. Israel’s only gold medal was won by Gal Fridman in sailing in the 2004 Athens Games.

On a global scale this seems small when compared to powerhouses like China and the United States that left the games with medal counts of 100 and 110 respectively, but Israel’s total population is just over seven million people.

As for medals awarded to Jews this year, there were 10 medals in total. This is pretty remarkable, once again, considering the fact the World Jewry represents just over 12 million people. Six of these ten medals were awarded to Jewish competitors on the United States swim team.

Jason Lezak won the bronze medal for the 100 metres freestyle and Jason Lezak, Garrett Weber-Gale and Ben Wildman- Tobriner won a total of two gold medals as part of the two separate relay teams.

Dara Torres, age 41, also made headlines with the three silver medals, one for the 50 metre freestyle and two as a member of silver-medal winning relay teams. Dara Torres is the first US swimmer to compete in 5 Olympic Games. She has won a total of twelve Olympic medals: four gold, four silver and four bronze. Five of these medals were won in Sydney alone.

Other Jewish athletes success stories included Sada Jacobson, from the United States. This twenty-five year old won an individual silver and a team bronze in women’s fencing. Also, notably, Gisele Kanevsky was part of Argentina’s bronze medal winning women’s hockey team.

Success however is not measured by medal count alone. There were small and large victories won in ways that can not be measured.

Isaac Shapiro, of the United States, proudly made his way not up to the medal podium, but to the bima. There without flags or fanfare, he chanted his haftorah on 16 August in Beijing. His family celebrated with a gold medal winning lunch, following his bar mitzvah at Dini’s Kosher Restaurant. The games also brought the achievements of the modern Jewish community of Asia into the international spotlight.

Alon Mandel, of Israel, also made headlines and proved he was a true Olympian. Just after Mandel left for Beijing, he received word that his father and coach, Costa Mandel, died after suffering head injuries when he fell while trying to hang a banner saluting his son’s Olympic achievement. His family decided that continuing to strive for his Olympic dream would be the best way to honour his father’s memory. Despite some harsh criticism from outsiders, Mandel competed in his two scheduled relays and then returned to Netanya to be with his family.

Alon Mandel competed despite tremendous obstacles and honoured his commitment to his team and the memory of his father. While he did not win a medal, his efforts showed the strength of an Olympian.

Lastly, present at all Olympic Games is the memory of the 1972 Munich Games in which eleven Israeli athletes were taken hostage and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Israeli officials began this year’s games with a solemn ceremony of remembrance. These Olympians died heroes. By honouring their memories, Israel begins each Olympic Games honouring Jewish values.

With reverence for the past and eyes towards the future, Jews continue to honour traditions. World Jewry has again proven its commitment as a people to never forget the past while looking towards building a brighter future.

(Issue September 2008)