Images from ‘blood on the tracks’ to ‘love on the tracks’
By David E. Kaplan
Heartbreaking as it is to read the news everyday about Ukraine, it was heartening to see a Ukrainian grace the front page this week of The Jerusalem Post but in another context altogether. Actually, she is as much Israeli today as Ukrainian and this time it was sport rather than war that dominated the front page visuals!
As soon as I saw the smiling female athlete holding aloft in Munich, Germany the Israeli flag with outreached arms, I immediately recognised this triumphant sports lady having interviewed her some years earlier as editor for Hilton Israel Magazine. Under her delightful photo it was reported that Hanna Minenko had won the bronze medal for Israel in the triple-jump at the 2022 European Athletics Championships, adding a fifth medal to what had become by far Israel’s best-ever showing at the major event. And it was to improve even more.
My mind drifted back to 2016 when Minenko – together with her husband former Israeli decathlon champion Anatoly-Minenko – entered the lobby of the Hilton Tel Aviv for the interview. All eyes followed her and for obvious reason. Striking, statuesque and slim, the then 26 year-old was wearing an attractive tight-fitting dress revealing the long legs that had been taking the long and triple jumper at great lengths to new heights.
In early 2016, Minenko had only been living in Israel for three years and already held the national record in both the triple jump and long jump. The local media hailed her as the best ever Israel female track and field athlete. In August the previous year, she had established a personal best of 14.78 meters (m) in the triple jump while winning the silver medal at the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing.
Smiling lovingly at her husband while affectionately clutching his hand, she said:
“I first fell in love with my Israeli, then I fell in love with Israel.”
It had been a case of ‘Love on the Tracks’ – literally!
Anatoly, who was originally from Kazakhstan arrived in Israel in 1997 at the age of ten with his parents. Fast forward the athletes met for the first time years later at a training camp in Yalta, where Hanna says:
“He impressed me by the way he was dancing at the disco. He is a very good dancer and thereafter, we stayed in touch through Skype and emails.”
When Anatoly later proposed to Hanna on her birthday at a restaurant in Tel Aviv “it was not easy for me to make up my mind to settle in Israel. People in the Ukraine said there were lots of problems, it’s dangerous, there’s war and conflict; no sort of normal life.”
However, like most visitors to Israel who soon discover that Israel is far removed from what they read about in newspapers or see on television, “I was so amazed when we got married and I came to live here. Life here is wonderful and exciting. I love the atmosphere, the culture, the food and most of all – the people who are warm and so much friendlier than in the Ukraine where life is economically difficult. This country is a success and it shows in the people and their lifestyles. I’m very happy with our home in north Tel Aviv, not far from my club – Maccabi Tel Aviv.”
The strange thing about observations and perceptions is that if Hanna’s family were worried for her all those years back living in Israel, it is Hanna who must be worried for her family today in Ukraine!
I asked her what were her favourite Israeli foods to which she rattled off:
“Hummus, falafel, pita, Israeli salads and fruits – all the popular dishes.”
‘Street Food’, I noted and asked, “Don’t you have to watch your diet?
“The food is mostly healthy here,” she replied.” It is much easier to keep your weight down in Israel than in the Ukraine, where it is so cold for most of the year that you eat heavier and fattening food, exercise less, and are largely housebound because of the bad weather. Here in Israel – with a predominantly warm climate – your intake of food is less because you don’t feel the need to consume so much, and what’s more, you spend more time outdoors working it off. This place is ideal. My message to Ukrainians: If you want to lose weight and enjoy eating – visit Israel.”
In the three years that Hanna had been in Israel she learnt Hebrew. With so active a schedule, I asked how she managed it?
“Well, Anatoly was little help because together we speak Russian. And when I arrived, I only spent a month at the Ulpan learning Hebrew because I had to train most of the day and was frequently abroad competing. So what did I do? I listened to Israeli pop music and picked up the language and the intonations. For this I must thank Arik Einstein and Shlomo Artzi. It’s the best way – and of course watching TV – to pick up the language and absorb the culture.”
So from popping the question to pop music, Hanna was proudly Israeli and said:
“I love the people here so much and my way of expressing my feelings is by standing proudly on the podiums at international sports events.”
She had again that opportunity this week in Munich, which for Israelis, seeing their national flag flying proudly in the Bavarian capital had special significance. After all, Munich had been the capital of the Nazi movement where Adolf Hitler and members of his inner circle, people like Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring, began their notorious political careers. It was where Hitler and his fellow fascists attempted in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, a failed coup d’état to take control of Munich and where, at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, 11 Israeli sportsman were taken hostages by Palestinian terrorist. All of them were murdered.
These are the negative images that are implanted in the minds of Israelis, so seeing the flag of the Jewish state paraded victoriously in this symbolic city sent a message as much about the athletes in blue and white as the country they represent. If in Munich in the early 1920s seeds were sown to exterminate the Jewish people, a century later in 2022, Jews representing their national homeland were winning medals.
One of the last comments of Hanna in the 2016 interview was to “be an example to the young generation” and “what would make me even happier–would be hearing ‘Hatikva’ at the podiums”.
Well, Israel’s national anthem was heard loud and clear this week in Munich when Israeli Olympian gymnast, Artem Dolgopyat, despite an injured leg, won gold, affirming Israel’s increasing ascendancy in international sport.
Interestingly, Artem, like Hanna, was also born in the Ukraine. Together, these Ukrainians are both taking Israel to new heights.
While Hanna continues jumping for glory, Israelis will be jumping for joy!
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