Milla’s Story

“Disability is not contagious; ignorance is – In a brave new world, brave young girls

By David E. Kaplan

When USA Baltimore native Becca Meyers, a three-time Paralympic gold medallist swimmer – eight Paralympic medallists in total – withdrew from the Tokyo games after being told she couldn’t bring to the competition her Personal Care Assistant  (PCA)  – “my own mother” – she was angry and understandably disappointed.

She took a stand – to withdraw!

Troubled Waters. The withdraw on principle from the Tokyo Paralympics of three-time gold Paralympic swimmer medalist Becca Meyers of the US (above) inspired teenager Milla Wolman to write and recite a poem that is proving inspirational on YouTube.

With only one PCA unreasonably tasked with serving all 34 Paralympic swimmers, nine who were visually impaired, Becca, who has been deaf since birth due to Usher syndrome and has been gradually losing her vision, said her “gut-wrenching decision” to withdraw was necessary to advocate “for future generations of Paralympic athletes.”

Although approved in having “my trusted PCA – my mom – at all international meets since 2017,” at the Tokyo Paralympics, due to Covid, new safety measures were introduced limiting “non-essential staff”.

For Becca however, her trusted PCA mother was definitely not  “non-essential staff”.

Her defiance found traction.

Bold, Strong, Beautiful. Deaf-blind Becca Meyers (second left) poses in 2020 for ‘Happy Women’s International Day’. (photo cred: Richard Phibbs)

Individuals who experience disabilities should not be forced to navigate the Tokyo Paralympics without the support that they need,” expressed Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, who called Becca’s position a “preventable situation.”

The U.S. lawmaker was not a lone voice.

At the other end of the world in Australia, support for the deaf-blind Becca came from a young kindred spirit, a Jewish girl with cerebral palsy born in South Africa. Her name is Milla Wolman, who was inspired by Becca to compose an ode that she aired on YouTube.

Mazeltov Milla. Milla (centre) with her parents Jonathan and Romy and her younger siblings, Lola and Judah at her Bat Mitzvah in Sydney, Australia.

Every now and again, poets emerge that capture the mood of an era and the crying issue of their time. They call out and talk back to injustices and unfair treatment and crystallize a collective conscience towards a cause. Young Milla Wolman has joined this elite cadre of revolutionary poets with her poem DIFability, reaching a global audience with her message:

We are not disabled, we are different”.

When she repeats the word “tremor” over and over between stanzas, she is shaking  an indifferent world to wake up from a selfish slumber.

So who is Milla Wolman?

Milla was born at the Linksfield Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the pediatrician had said she would neither be able to walk or talk. When Milla was nine months old, the Wolman family, Jonathan, Romy and Milla, left for Sydney and a shortly after a year, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Fast forward to the present and “You should see and hear her now!”  and “Unbelievable and unforgettable!” are some of  the comments on social media to this extraordinary girl.

Watch Milla here:

Through her powerful poetry, Milla asks:

“Why was Becca Meyers forced to withdraw?

It should be against the law,

For someone we adore to leave,

solely because of her disability.”

“An ironic sick joke

Which makes me want to choke

For a swimmer with a masterstroke

Becca Meyers is blind but we are the ones who cannot see.”

Describing the attitudes of the Paralympic authorities as:

This humungous assault to our own humanity

What a calamity to not get to see her victory!”

And then poses the further question:

It is your choice

Do you see Becca Meyers, the deaf-blind disabled person?

Or do you see Becca Meyers, the courageous and strong Paralympian?”

It is your choice.”

What is so captivating is Milla’s inspirational leadership:

Our revolution has just begun, we will not stop

Until we have won,

We have voices,

So why do you disable our voice?

We are not disabled, we are different,

It is not a disability

It is a DIFability.

And whoever said it is wrong to be different

That person is insignificant.

Disability is not contagious; ignorance is

Preferring to characterise herself as DIFabled rather than disabled, her grandfather, Allan Wolman, today a resident of Tel Aviv, and a contributor to Lay of the land, describes the day Milla was born in Johannesburg, on 26 August 2007:

 “It’s a day I will never forget. As you can imagine the anticipation of awaiting our first grandchild’s birth with much excitement and joy. 

Super Siblings. Lola, Milla (centre) and Judah with grandparents Allan and Jocelyn Wolman in Sydney, Australia.
 

That joy quickly turned into awful anxiety with doctors and nurses frantically running in and out of the delivery room and seeing little Milla being carried into the neo-natal care unit looking very blue! A heart stopping moment. After her birth, she had oxygen deprivation for eight minutes! There was no diagnosis at birth other than brain damage, and not knowing how severe at the time.

Lying in a little incubator with tubes protruding and monitors beeping was traumatic for her parents and grandparents. She lay in the unit for two weeks without uttering a cry – which was more than concerning as the specialist pediatrician had advised that she would neither walk nor talk again. After an agonizing number of days, she eventually let out a little cry, which was cause for such relief and happiness – can you imagine that a faint cry can give so much joy and hope.”

That baby cry from the past is today a megaphone as teenager Milla cries out to a global audience.

Allan recounts Milla’s ‘journey’ as seen through their own journeys as grandparents “visiting the kids” in Sydney.   

When Milla was a few months older, we remember her just starting to sit up on her own, which again was cause for much celebration, and on subsequent visits celebrated her development albeit later than most children, but began walking with the help of a ‘walker’ and also her talking was difficult to understand due to her weak muscles and drooling. But naturally her mom and dad could understand everything – words just cannot describe those two incredible people – who created an atmosphere of normality.”

Milla attended a mainstream nursery school and “on our visits to Sydney, we – my wife Jocelyn and I – derived so much pleasure in taking and fetching her from school.”

Proud Grandparents. Allan and Jocelyn Wolman with Milla at her Bat Mitzvah in Sydney, Australia.

At some stage, Allan recalls:

 “Milla began to have epileptic seizures which were terribly traumatic and started to increase in frequency over a period of time. Naturally, the doctors gave her medication which was a worry because while calming it also had a slowdown effect. After struggling with the seizures for some time, her parents put her on cannabis oil – a wonder drug – and from having multiple seizures a day, the cannabis virtually stopped the seizures, and Milla has hardly suffered a seizure these past few years.”

Milla attended a mainstream primary and is presently at a regular high school and “Three years ago, participated in a six week programme at the Feuerstein Institute in Jerusalem. It was immensely beneficial to her learning as well as her confidence.”

From Sydney to Jerusalem. The Feuerstein Institute in Jerusalem, which Milla attended on a six month programme which improved her learning and confidence.

Attesting to this confidence was “a terrific speech she made at her Bat Mitzvah,”  affirms the proud grandfather followed by last month addressing the world on YouTube in her support for Paralympian Becca Meyers.

If once little Milla had no voice, today there is no silencing her as her message resonates beyond Australia to the world.

She ends her poem:

Tremor, tremor, tremor,

Here they come again,

But this time

They won’t stop me…

I will never give up.”

We believe you Milla and we believe in you.






Meet Milla who was born with no heartbeat. She was resuscitated back to life for 10 minutes and as a result lives with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Milla’s mum Romy hopes to change the perception of ‘disability’ to ‘difability’ meaning that we all have different






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

The Best of Humanity

The Paralympics showcases the best of the human spirit, resilience, triumph and sporting excellence

By Rolene Marks

I am completely devoid of sporting ability. The only thing I have been able to run for successfully is a shoe sale; I can swim in a pool of emotions and if it requires a bat, stick, racket, hoop and a ball, count me out. It is for this and so many reasons that I love watching the Olympic Games. I marvel at the magnificent sporting prowess of the athletes, celebrating and competing at the pinnacle of their careers. The spirit of sportsmanship evident in the competition transcending politics. I have a healthy appreciation for the sheer tenacity, talent and sportsmanship.

I love the Paralympics even more.

The Paralympics are the embodiment of the triumph of the human spirit and the best of humanity, a sentiment echoed by Andrew Parsons, the President of the International Paralympic Committee when he opened the latest games in Tokyo, Japan.

Andrew Parsons, the President of the International Paralympic Committee

The Paralympics brings together the best international athletes with disabilities and takes place after both the summer and winter games.  

This year, the games are taking place against the backdrop of the omnipresent Corona virus pandemic which means that these amazing sportsmen and women have competed with virtually no spectators but this has not diminished their spirit.

Israel had the best Olympics in its history. Known more for being more of a start-up than sporting nation, we surpassed our expectations with a 4 medal haul – two gold and two bronze. Our Paralympians have even surpassed that! At the time of writing this, our medal tally stands at 4 gold 2 silver and a bronze.

Monumental Medalists. Medal-winning Paralympic swimmers back in Israel on August 20, 2018, from left (seated), Ami Dadon, Iyad Shalabi and Inbal Pezaro; (standing) Mark Malyar, Erel Halevi and Yoav Valinsky. (Photo courtesy of Israel Paralympics Committee)
 

The story behind how the Paralympics started is quite extraordinary.

The games were the brainchild (quite literally!) of Sir Ludwig Guttman CBE FRS, a German-British neurologist. Born on the 3rd of July 1899 in the town of Tost, Upper Silesia, Guttmann always had an affinity with medicine. In 1917, while volunteering at an accident hospital in Königshütte, he encountered his first paraplegic patient, a coal miner with a spinal fracture who later died of sepsis. That same year, Guttmann passed his Abitur at the humanistic grammar school in Königshütte before being called up for military service. Guttmann started studying medicine in April 1918 at the University of Breslau. He transferred to the University of Freiburg in 1919 and received his Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1924 and by 1933, Guttmann was working in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) as a neurosurgeon and lecturing at the university.

Founding Father. Portrait of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann the father of the Paralympic movement.

The world would soon dramatically change with the Nazi rise to power and so to for the Guttmann family.

The Nazis assumed power in 1933 and immediately began to target Germany’s Jews. The antisemitic Nuremberg Laws were introduced and as part of these discriminatory measures, Jews were banned from practicing medicine professionally. Guttmann was assigned to work at the Breslau Jewish Hospital, where he became Medical Director in 1937. After Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938 when synagogues, Jewish property and individuals were violently attacked, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit any patients without question. The following day, he justified his decision on a case-by-case basis with the Gestapo. Out of 64 admissions, 60 patients were saved from arrest and deportation to concentration camps.

Man of Vision. Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the Jewish doctor who escaped the Nazis and founded the Paralympics.

In early 1939, Guttmann and his family left Germany, fleeing Nazi persecution of the Jews. An opportunity for escape had come when the Nazis provided him with a visa; and ordered him to travel to Portugal to treat a friend of the Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar. Guttmann was scheduled to return to Germany via London when the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) arranged for him to remain in the United Kingdom. He arrived in Oxford, England, on 14 March 1939 with his wife, Else Samuel Guttmann, and their two children: a son, Dennis, and a daughter, Eva, aged six. CARA negotiated with the British Home Office on their behalf, and gave Guttmann and his family £250 (equivalent to £16,000 in 2019) to help them settle in Oxford.

Guttmann continued his spinal injury research at the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in the Radcliffe Infirmary. The family became members of the Oxford Jewish community, and Eva remembers becoming friendly with Miriam Margolyes, an actress famous for her role in Harry Potter as Professor Pomona Sprout.  The Jewish community in Oxford grew rapidly as a result of the influx of displaced academic Jews from Europe.

Actress Miriam Margolyes

Guttmann’s skill and reputation in the medical field began to grow.

In September 1943, the British government approached Guttmann with an idea to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The initiative came from the Royal Air Force to make sure that the treatment and rehabilitation of pilots with spinal injuries, “who often crashed on approach with their bombers damaged”. The centre opened on 1 February 1944, and was the United Kingdom’s first specialist unit for treating spinal injuries. Guttmann was appointed its director, a position he held until 1966. He believed that sport was an important method of therapy for the rehabilitation of injured military personnel, helping them build up physical strength and self-respect.

History of the Paralympic Games

Guttmann became a naturalised British citizen in 1945 and organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled war veterans, which was held at the hospital on 29 July 1948, the same day as the opening of the London Olympics. All participants had spinal cord injuries and competed in wheelchairs. In an effort to encourage his patients to take part in national events, Guttmann used the term Paraplegic Games. These came to be known as the “Paralympic Games“, which later became the “Parallel Games” and grew to include other disabilities.

Early Days. Javelin throw with Ludwig Guttmann watching.

Guttmann was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1950 King’s Birthday Honours, as “Neurological Surgeon in charge of the Spinal Injuries Centre at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Stoke Mandeville”. His other investiture honours include being made an Associate Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John on 28 June 1957, promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1960, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966, becoming Sir Ludwig Guttmann!

Right Royal. Her Majesty the Queen congratulating an Israeli participant at the 1969 Stoke Mandeville Games with Ludwig Guttmann looking on. (left)

In 1961, Guttmann founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia, now the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) and was the inaugural president, a position that he held until 1970. He also became the first editor of the journal, Paraplegia (now named Spinal Cord) and retired from clinical work in 1966; but continued his involvement with sport, seeing the incredible healing effect it had on participants.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann suffered a heart attack in October 1979, and died on 18 March 1980 at the age of 80.

His lasting legacy is the Paralympic Games.

The Paralympic games now include sports as diverse as fencing, basketball, swimming, table-tennis, football, cycling, equestrian events and so many, many more and have inspired other such events such as the hugely popular Invictus Games, founded by Prince Harry for disabled war veterans from different armies from around the world.

Enter Israel. Athletes from Israel enter the stadium during the opening ceremony for the 2020 Paralympics at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
 

Today’s Paralympic athletes are a reflection of their great founder, Sir Ludwig Guttmann. The athletes that compete are the embodiment of the human spirit, of tenacity, endurance, courage, perseverance and fortitude. I cannot help but think that Sir Ludwig Guttmann (MD) would be so proud of how the games have grown and the joy they inspire.

This is the human spirit at its best!

From Battling to Paddling

Injured Israeli army veterans find healing and balance at sea

By David E. Kaplan

I don’t know whether I am a landman or seaman,”  says Israeli injured vet, Eyal Abro, the inspiration and cofounder of SEASU. This happily unsettled question for Eyal is happily helping to settle lives of Israel’s war wounded!

SEASU is a therapeutic and transformative paddling programme for veterans of the Israeli army living in the wake of physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma.

All Smiles At Sea. Eyal Abro, who grew up in Cape Town South Africa and the brainshild and cofounder of SEASU  in Michmoret is never happier than being at sea.

The philosophy is embedded in the name,” explains  brand builder and a cofounder, Michael McDevitt Shai. “SEASU is inspired by the Finnish concept of ‘Sisu and is best understood as extraordinary courage, undying resilience, and resolute purpose when adversity is unthinkable and success unlikely.” 

Every Thursday morning at 6.00am, some 15 vets together with some eight volunteers meet at the SEASU club house on Michmoret beach, nine kilometers north of Netanya.  They come from all walks of life and professions, all highly motivated with the love of the challenge and with one thing in common – they were injured in the military and have sought through a unique paddling programme a way forward.

Soon decked out in their surfski outfits, they take to the sea on their special sleek kayaks imported by Eyal from South Africa, and are beyond the waves and breakers paddling through the rolling high and low swells. There is another feeling out there in the open sea that resonates among the army vets, “that unique spirit of camaraderie,” says Eyal, “of friends who there with you and for you come hell or high water – proverbially speaking.”

One of the oldest in the group is 64-year-old serial entrepreneur Shlomo Nimrodi, who has founded, built, and led a diverse range of global industries, led three IPO’s, several M&A transactions and is at the heart and spirit of the veteran paddlers.

Rearing to Go. Hi-tech entrepreneur and war veteran amputee Shlomo Nimrodi, thrives on challenges whether in business or in sports preferring to paddle without his prosthetic.

A grandfather of five, Shlomo has been with the group for four years. Injured at age 21 while fighting in a special units in the IDF,

Shlomo lost his left leg above the knee as well as suffering “a lot of collateral damage in many parts of my body.” This did not deter this man who thrives on challenges whether in business or in sports.

In the years following his leg amputation, “I skied, did triathlons, and while I lived  in the States for 15 years , I managed to do the NY City triathlon and the Westchester Triathlon, and I guess in one of those ski trips, somebody told me about surfski, and suggested I try it.” Never deterred by a new challenge Shlomo tried, and “I fell in love  at my first try.”  Trying at first to do it with his prosthetic leg,  “I felt at some point this was more of an anchor, so I just left it in the room and started to paddle with one leg.”

This writer found interesting Shlomo’s use of maritime parlance – “anchor”  – to describe that which was holding him back!

Shlomo compares the uncertainty, challenges and the risks at sea as similar to the hi-tech arena where he daily operates. “Every time you go to the ocean its different – different weather, different vision, different feeling, different risks and it’s exciting; it raises the adrenaline.”

Sea’ing is Believing. Amputee paddler Eran Peri injured in the Second Lebanon War, was skeptical at first to surfski but soon became totally passionate about the sport.

Another leg amputee paddler, is Eran Peri, who was injured 15 years ago in the Second Lebanon War. He relates how tough it was to come to terms with his disability.  “I was told there was a guy who I should meet. I was against it; least of all to meet another amputee but when that guy turned out to be Shlomo, who we soon discovered we shared the same birthday, date – it was a sign –  we became instant friends and I started sport again – skiing, cycling and long-distance running.”

The banter between Shlomo and Eran was inspiring.

Hey, Shlomo, how many times we went skiing together?” meaning a lot.

Not enough!” replied Shlomo.

And when Eran observed, “We are not getting any younger,” Shlomo replied:

Are you kidding!”

Magic Moments at Michmoret. Early morning coffee before  grabing their surfskis and taking to the watyer.

Always looking for new challenges, when surfski arrived in Israel through Eyal, Eran was at first skeptical “ But soon fell in love with it. I don’t know if  it’s the combination of  the morning sunrise and the fact that the sea is different every day; overcoming the cold water,  and then the group of people that take care of each other  – whatever it is, it’s a winner!”

Adds Shlomo:

I too at first was skeptical. The group was composed of people with multiple challenges or disabilities.  One guy with PTSD who used to be sea sick after 5 minutes, would throw up and we would have to go back and today, he is one of the best, and like all of us, he loves it.” 

The Art of the Craft

Michael describes the sport’s craft as “long, narrow and lightweight similar to a kayak with an open “sit-on-top” cockpit. Propelled by two-sided paddles and designed to cut through water with incredible efficiently, SurfSkis are built to seat one or two people and can be adapted for individuals missing limbs or using prosthetics to utilize the craft’s pedal and pulley rudder system. We have even created seating platforms for paraplegic individuals.”

Eyal adds that the beauty of the craft is that “it basically puts everyone on a par. So whether someone is amputated or has PTSD issues, on the water, everyone is equal.”
Shlomo adds, “On water it does not matter if you have one leg or half a leg,  you are pretty much the same.”

Technique Time. Decked out in their “WHERE WE BELONG” shirts, SEASU amputees and suffererors of PTSD learning how to use the paddle before going out to sea.

Regarding safety, all paddlers are required to wear a Personal Flotation Devise (PFD) and carry a mobile phone within a waterproof sleeve in case of emergencies.

Eyal laughs:

The most serious catastrophic ‘emergency’ we encounter with these guys is when for some personal reason they are unable on a Thursday to not join us!”

So what inspired Eyal to ‘paddle’ this path forward?

Born to a South African father who met his Israeli mother on kibbutz Nahshon when he volunteered during the 1967 Six Day War, Eyal grew up in Cape Town where he fell in love with the sea and water sports, excelling in water polo. Returning to Israel as age 18, he joined the IDF, where he served deep in Lebanon as a machine gunner close to combat but never experiencing it directly. However, the thoughts of “life and death” experiences he went through, did not leave him unscathed “and although I had light PTSD, even if light, it’s something you need to take care of and I did through the therapy of the sea and combining it professionally by starting my club, SurfSki Israel, in Michmoret that has 160 members and in the last four years, giving back to society through SEASU.”

Setting out to Sea. Last minute instructions outside the SEASU clubhouse in Michmoret before heading out on for an early morning sea adventure .

He adds that “PSTD never really leaves you but today I am thankful to it because it is who I am and has been the inspiration to try heal others through my love and passion for the sea.”

Psychological consultant, Roy Haziza, who brings a career of academic research and applied treatment of military-focused PTSD to serve SEASU’s leadership, volunteers, and post-trauma veterans, explains the transformative therapeutic qualities of the Surfski.

The anticipated journeys of army vets that were derailed by injury or trauma need to be restored or repaired and a new journey is required that is about letting go of the past of imagined futures to make way for a new identity to appear.” The journeyman “must overcome the feeling of often hopelessness and dissabilities to reassert the control of mind over body and develop a sense of health and ability and I believe SEASU paddling offers  just that. The paddlers set out to sea on vigorous paddling adventures, conquering difficulties, fears and aches, pushing their bodies and spirits  to new heights of health and ability. And they also discover a new group that they can identify with on this adventure.”

By paddle skiing, they “find a sense of balance, learn to control their breathing while feeling the water, the wind, the salt, like ancient mariners and all throughout, they have to stay focused, keep up with the group while always concentrating on the technique.  This is why I say that surfski paddling is a medium of  transformation and rebirth.”

Mist over the Med. Early morning mist as the vets paddle out into the Mediterranean.

Shelter from the Storm

By his own admission, SEASU cofounder  Michael McDevitt Shai says he is “the odd man out” being “a native New Yorker who came to Israel 10 years ago” and who has no “military background.”  However, “I have found a real home here in Israel” and it was by sheer chance that “I became involved.”

He says that unlike Eyal, “who was into spearfishing, I was never a sea person; I was more into cycling and marathon running. However, when my wife and I and the kids left Tel Aviv and joined the seaside community of Michmoret, I felt ready for a change – a sea change!

That change came during a storm one winter’s day.

Settled at the Sea. SEASU cofounder and brand specialist Michael McDevitt Shai, a former New Yorker now happily ensconced at Michmoret.

Taking a walk on the beach, “we got caught in a sudden severe rainstorm. Seeking shelter, we ducked under –  and as fate would have it – the awning of Eyal’s surfski club which set off the alarm. A club member came looking, probably afraid someone was trying to break in,  and after chatting, he  kindly offered us a lift home telling me the owner’s name. Shortly thereafter, having dinner with a friend,  in Tel Aviv and telling the story of being caught in the storm and when I mentioned Eyal’s name, he said,  “I served with him in Lebanon.  Great guy!” So I ended up joining the club and fell in love with it.”

Discovering that Michael was a photographer, “Eyal asked me if I could shoot some photos for him  of group of guys who were IDF veterans – amputees and those with PTSD.  I watched these guys on the beach with their surfskis like Shlomo and Eran and another paddler, who suffered both physical injury and PSTD. His story was horrendous. Called to intervene in a terrorist attack in a private home, he was injured by a knife-wielding terrorist and lost his eye by a bullet ricochet meant for the terrorist. Following numerous therapies and medications, he finally found balance in his life through Surfski.

So, armed with his camera, the soon-to-be cofounder of SEASU zoomed in on these battered, bruised but tough guys on the beach who dispensed with their day clothes as they had their disabilities as they prepared to embrace the challenges of the sea. “It was so inspiring, like something out of Greek mythology of mighty men unafraid, embarking on a maritime adventure. I wanted to be part of this adventure and share their story with the world.”

Major Mentor. Current ICF World Surfski Champion, Sean Rice from Cape Town, South Africa is the third cofounder of SEASU offering expertise and experience.  .

So, for the professional brand builder and more recently passionate paddler who through a rainstorm was destined to meet Eyal Abro, and then joined by another South African from Cape Town, Sean Rice, the ICF World Surfski Champion, SEASU was born.

Bearing the scars of the past, a group of heroes vigorously embrace the future.






*For all inquiries, whether looking to join SEASU or those looking to support SEASU to contact Michael McDevitt Shai at: mms@seasu.org

**To see additional photos, check their INSTAGRAM  as well: https://www.instagram.com/seasu_united/





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Golden Moments

Strong messages as Israel joins Tunisia in striking gold in Tokyo

By David E. Kaplan

Are you watching?” I read the WhatsApp from my brother, “Israel has taken gold.”

WOW!

I switch channels from Covid to the coveted gold by Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat, whom I had never heard of but who makes history by being Israel’s second-ever Olympic gold medalist. He beat out the tough Spanish and Chinese competition in the artistic gymnastics floor exercise competition to take the top spot on the Tokyo 2020 podium.

All of Israel erupted in joy and jubilation.

Blue and White Strikes Gold. The jubilant gold winner, Artem Dolgopyat, proudly parades his Israeli flag before the world in Tokyo.

If this was a surprise coming out of the Middle East,  another was the even more surprising gold won by – TUNISIA!

Who was expecting this, after all, these days, Tunisia spells trouble!

The recent news emanating from this north African Mediterranean country is far removed from anything to do with sport. The country’s Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi, was in mid-July – only days before the start of the Olympics – physically assaulted in the presidential palace before ‘agreeing’ to resign from his post.

Surprise in Lane 8. Tunisian teen Ahmed Hafnaoui jubilant after winning gold in the men’s 400m freestyle at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo credit: Twitter/@fina1908)

“Agreeing” ? What a misnomer. This was power grab – a coup!

Ten years after the Arab Spring – the revolution that began in Tunisia with the overthrow of its long-time dictator Zain Abidin bin Ali – the country has been plagued by large-scale protests against its political class with the people angry about escalating economic difficulties and the nearly collapsed medical system due to the coronavirus pandemic. To this day, the country has still not yet consolidated its new democratic constitution, nor has it established tangible changes for the majority of its citizens.

So, with the news coming out of Tunisia, few would have had their eyes – outside patriotic Tunisians – on lane 8 where a mostly unknown Tunisian teenager was about to dive for the start of the 400 metres freestyle at the Tokyo Games. However, he was about to also dive into history as the eyes of the world were on that Tunisian teenager,  Ahmed Hafnaoui, at the finish!

Hafnaoui was the stunning winner, beating a field of faster and older swimmers.

As Michael Holmes on CNN reported:

 “He surprised his competitors, the sporting world and even himself.”  

Afterall, 18 year-old Ahmed Hafnaoui was the youngest  and slowest qualifier for the men’s 400 metres freestyle. “He was the longest of longshots,” continued Holmes on CNN, “but he held off the favourites to take the gold. Even more stunning, he did it from the outside lane.”

Even the great Michael Phelps called the performance, “an unbelievable swim.”

On his return to Tunisia, neighbours poured out in the street to greet the new “Golden Boy” and as one man said that seeing him touch that wall first, was a win for everyone. “Interviewed in the street, he said, “When I was watching, I cannot tell you how we felt at this final moment; this is the feeling of every Tunisian.”

The gold medalist said he“shivers when I heard the national anthem,” he says. This is understandable. His fellow countrymen too felt shivers.

Tunisia’s new media star, quickly proved a welcome distraction for a country suffering from a struggling economy and an escalating political crisis. Here was the underdog going from lane 8 to the top of the podium.

If the image of Tunisia in 2010 was that of a fruit and vegetable vendor setting himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid and triggering the Arab Spring, the image today for Tunisians is of an 18 year-old Tunisian standing on the podium receiving the 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold.

The country today still remains in “the outside lane”  but as Ahmed Hafnaoui has shown, with will and determination, you can inspire and help change course and plot fresh destinies.

Good as Gold. Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat salutes the crowd after his gold medal performance at the Tokyo Olympics (Photo: AFP)

Israel’s Olympic gold medalist, too returned to a hero’s welcome. With the blast of a shofar (rams horn) and a spray of champagne, Artem Dolgopyat was welcomed at Ben Gurion Airport. Earlier at a press conference in Kokyo, Dolgopyat said he was already thinking about the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Hero’s Welcome. Displaying his gold medal, Artem Dolgopyat, poses for a photo with friends during a welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport on August 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

We’re not going to stop, we’re going to move forward with our focus on Paris and get ready for that and bring honor to the country,” he said.

It’s a tough road. At an Olympics where we saw such juggernauts such as gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Novak Djokovic experience the mental strain of competing at the highest levels, one look at the Israel’s Artem Dolgopyat’s serene face before beginning his winning routine, “was a masterclass of composure, focus and determination,” observed Ynet journalist Raz Shechni.

Hand in to Them. Team Israel celebrates winning the judo mixed team’s bronze medal B bout against Russia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, on July 31, 2021. (Franck Fife/AFP)

A Silver Lining

However for Israelis, there was another ‘golden’ moment even if the medal was not won by Israel nor was it even gold. With already two bronze medals under Israel’s belt – for taekwondo martial artist Avishag Semberg in the women’s category; and a mixed team in judo, it was the message conveyed by Saeid Mollaei, the former Iranian judoka now representing Mongolia, who created another “golden Moment”. This he achieved by dedicating his silver medal in the final of the men’s 81-kilogram division to Israel as a message of friendship and camaraderie.

Beauty and the Bronze. Avishag Semberg celebrates the bronze medal in Taekwondo  at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo: Amit Shissel, courtesy of the Israel Olympic Committee)

This  was Mollaei’s first Olympic medal, two years after he left his native Iran after revealing that his national team coaches had ordered him to lose in the semifinals of the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final. Mollaei subsequently moved to Germany and then acquired Mongolian citizenship. Since then; the former Iranian Mollaei and the Israeli Muki have become the best of friends.

Silver for Saeid. Former Iranian, Saeid Mollaei now of Mongolia, celebrates with his silver medal during the award ceremony for the men -81kg judo match at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

There may be no gold beneath the surface in the Middle East,  however above, we do find it in people like Said Mollaei who cut across boundaries and borders to point the way forward to the politicians.







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

A Tale of Two Judokas – the Israeli and the Iranian

It took bravery, grit and defiance – not against a single competitor but an entire autocratic regime!

By David E. Kaplan

He may have won Silver this February on the mat in Tel Aviv but for Iranian judoka, Saeid Mollaei, he had already – off the mat – won Gold for sportsmanship and integrity. It was in defiance of submission to State muscle and all because of one Israeli – Sagi Muki from Netanya! Mollaei, who now represents Mongolia, competed in Israel this February 2021, winning a silver medal in Tel Aviv. He took second place in the under-81kg category after losing to Uzbekistan’s Sahrofiddin Boltaboev. It was more than simply historic – it was inspirational for this Iranian to be competing in Israel.

Silver in Tel Aviv. Iranian-born Mongolian judoka Saeid Mollaei (left), wearing the silver medal, greets Uzbekistan’s gold medal winner Sharofiddin Boltaboev after the finals of the men’s under 81kg category of Tel Aviv Grand Slam 2021 in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

When Mollaei fled his home country of Iran back in 2019, it could not have been an easy decision to make. He was well aware of the sacrifices he was making – both professional and personal; but his conscience would not allow him do otherwise!

Defying orders, he would not withdraw from an international competition just because he may end up facing in the final an Israeli – Sagi Muki.

Man on a Mission. A motivational speaker, Israeli judoka Sagi Muki is proud to speak on issues from judo to values.

That ‘battleground’ – on and off the mat –  was the Tokyo 2019 World Championships that Israeli Sagi Muki went on to win the title in his weight category. The then reigning world champion, Saeid Mollaei, was ordered by the Iranian Deputy Sports Minister, Davar Zani, to withdraw from a preliminary bout in order to avoid meeting the Israeli in the final. He defiantly defied the order and went on to compete although he eventually lost in the semifinals so did not have to face Muki who won the gold.

Message from the Mat. Israeli Sagi Muki (left) and Iranian Saeid Mollaei (right)  make the case for friendship.

Muki praised Mollaei for his bravery and referred to him as  “an inspiration”.

Afraid to return to Iran, Mollaei went into exile in Germany but was then subsequently granted citizenship of Mongolia and was hoping to compete for his adopted country in the 2020 Olympic Games.

So was Muki for Israel, with whom the writer met in Tel Aviv in 2019 to interview, while preparing for the Olympics. The coronavirus pandemic had other ideas!

Sagi Muki (right) and the writer, David Kaplan during the interview in 2019 in Tel Aviv.
 

Asking Muki what impact the experience had on him , he replied:

I know what it takes to get to the top and for Saeid  to be prepared to sacrifice it all on a matter of principle was humbling and truly inspirational – a true judoka champion on and off the mat. Today, we are friends for life. We met at the Paris Grand Slam, February 10, 2020 and I posted on Instagram a photo of us embracing. He was World Champion in 2018 the year before I became champion and so with the photo, I added the caption:

2 World Champions; but before that 2 good friends

Brothers in Arms. Meeting in Paris, Sagi Muki (right) announces to the world on social media his friendship ‘for life” with Iranian  Saeid Mollaei (left).

This is the message I want to convey to the world. That first of all, we are all human beings; that it does not matter where we are from, we can still be friends.”

And as to the question what was the response in going public with  your friendship, Muki answered:

Overwhelming encouragement from all over the world and particularly from Iranians, who like Saeid are unafraid to upload messages of support on social media.”

Opening his Facebook page on his cellphone, Muki reads a few of the messages from Iran.

““Hi Sagi Muki; The Iranian people love  your people and your country.  We want peace and friendly relationship with yours.”

Muki reads his reply:

Me and all Israeli people love you back.”

And then a flurry of comments from around the world, some in Arabic.

He then read another two:

  • I am from Iran. You are like my brother” and
  • Iranians refuse to be enemies with Israel.” 

This was a far cry from what happened earlier in 2019 in Tokyo when Muki faced off an Egyptian in a semi-final bout on the way to winning the World Championships. That one fight made more international news than was warranted when one bodily movement was less about judo and more about politics!

In his toughly contested semi-finals on his way to becoming judo world champion, Muki encountered Egyptian judoka Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake his hand at the end of the match. Television viewers around the world stared in disbelief  at the Israeli offering to shake Abdelaal’s hand and Abdelaal turning his back and walking away. It was an embarrassing moment for Egyptian sport that led to its sporting body having to apologize.

Unshakable Hate. Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki (left) won against Egyptian fighter Mohamed Abdelaal (right) at the 2019 World Judo Championships who walks off refusing to shake hands with him.

Muki, who received the gold medal after defeating Belgian judoka Matthias Casse in the championship round later in the day, said afterward that he was “sorry” that Abdelaal didn’t shake his hand but that he was nevertheless pleased “that I was able to show the beautiful face of Israel.”

Asking him how did he feel by the Egyptian’s unsportsmanlike behaviour, Muki replied:

I felt so disappointed because I wanted to show the world that through judo – larger things can happen beyond our sport.  I grew up in a home to respect people – this is so important to me – it’s in my upbringing but it’s also integral in judo philosophy. He not only disrespected me but far worse, he disrespected the sport and his country. I wanted to show that Israel extends its hand in peace; that it does not matter who you are, your race, religion or country; we must respect everyone.”

An ambassador for Israel and the sport of judo, Muki – before the Covid-19 pandemic, gave motivational addresses in Israel and abroad. He talked about his recovery from serious injury, which could so easily have prevented his return to the sport.  He speaks of “Positive Transformation” stressing  that “where there is the will, there is a way” and that “Everyone has challenges in life, it is how you tackle them. This is important for young Israeli schoolkids to hear.” But he also talks about positive transformation  in attitudes  “that while the Egyptian refused to shake my hand, other Arab countries – like Abu Dhabi  – are now welcoming Israeli teams and how an Iranian is now my friend for life. These are important messages, particularly when I address university students in the USA. I do not want to be seen as a guy who competes only for medals. I recognise the power of judo; its outreach potential and that it can impact and influence millions all over the world. Therefore I want to use this platform as a bridge between people.”

Meanwhile back in Tel Aviv after the February 2021 competition, CNN reported Mollaei saying Israel had been “very good to me since I arrived,” and that the Israeli judo team “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”  Amplifying  his feelings, the Iranian ended off with “TODAH” – “thank you” in Hebrew..

Israel’s Channel 12 touchingly reported that Mollaei said to his friend and competitor Muki:

 “Maybe we’ll meet in the finals of the Olympics” referencing the XXXII Olympiad still known as Tokyo 2020.

Time and the pandemic will tell.

The message of these two friends and sportsmen is exquisitely expressed in the words the Iranian:

I am friends with Sagi Muki. He supports me and I thank him for this. It doesn’t matter who wins, what matters is friendship.”





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Tel Aviv is Alive, Well and Pedaling

By Stephen Schulman

These times are troubled and turbulent with the Covid-19 Virus taking its toll, reaping illnesses and deaths and like the rest of the planet, Israel has not been immune. There have been and still are lockdowns with businesses closed, people losing their livelihoods, being confined to homes, and much attendant suffering.

Nevertheless, in spite of restrictions on movement and being limited to a certain radius from their homes, Israeli citizens have been allowed a respite; to leave their domiciles for sporting activities and exercise provided that it is not done in groups. Throughout the length and breadth of the country many people have taken advantage of this proviso and with gusto, have filled the paths and trails from Kiryat Shmona in the north down to southerly Eilat.

North to South. The writer participating in the Israel Road Cycling Challenge that crosses the Golan, connecting over 850 miles (1400km) of single track and dirt tracks from the snowy peak of Mt. Hermon in the north to the sun-soaked Red Sea city of Eilat.

Alongside their pedestrian paths, many cities and local councils with a growing awareness and appreciation of this sport have also paved parallel cycle lanes and Tel Aviv and its metropolis is no exception to the rule. Moreover, possessing a cosmopolitan ambience with a round the clock activity, with its flat topography, large parks, seaside promenade, multitude of cycling lanes and many hire bike stations, the city has become a Mecca for cyclists. In this difficult period, there has been a two wheeled renaissance as many Israelis have discovered and rediscovered the joys of cycling. Bicycle shops are bustling, the demand is great and many disappointed customers have found that cycles are in short supply.

Two-Wheel Fun in the Sun. Ideal weather for most the year, Israelis  have taken to cycling in a huge way. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Tel Aviv boasts a great cycling path that runs alongside the sea. It starts from the Old City of Jaffa, continues along the Herbert Samuel beach promenade to the Old Port of Tel Aviv, then turning north via Reading power station stretches until the Tel Baruch beach and then goes even further, ending at the marina in Herzlia. This picturesque route is daily thronged with cyclists of all ages and all sizes riding a wide variety of bikes ranging from folding models with small 20 inch wheels and laid back balloon tired boulevard cruisers to expensive top range mountain and road bikes. It has become so popular that on Friday and Saturday mornings there is something akin to a traffic jam!

Coasting Along. Taking in the breeze off the Mediterranean, cycling on Tel Aviv beach promenade.

Tel Aviv off-road pedallers wishing to be closer to nature and get away ‘far from the madding crowd‘ do not lack for choice. The Yarkon River that runs through Tel Aviv with its effluence at the Old Port has single tracks aplenty. In many places, the path winds through bamboo growing along its banks and it is an inimitable experience speeding down tunnels created by their leaves and stems growing together over your head.

Cycling Comrades. The writer Stephen Schulman (right) with his cycling companion Adrian Wolff.

To their credit, the mayor and the city council identify with and encourage sport. In addition to the annual marathon, there is the Tel Aviv Rondo – the largest cycling event in the country. Every September, (except for lockdown 2020!) on an early Friday morning, well over 10,000 pre-registered cyclists assemble at the Exhibition Grounds to complete a well organized, closed off 20 km loop in the city. Experienced riders are permitted 3 circuits and even the young are well catered for with an 8km route. Nothing can compare to the experience of riding down the freeway with the wind at your back and before you, a colorful phalanx of thousands of joyful pedallers stretching far into the distance!

Sea Breeze. A group cycling tour of the coast seen here at Herzliya marina.

There are many other organized cycling events throughout the country ranging from off-road charity rides to pelotons for serious ‘roadies’. Even hilly Jerusalem has its devoted riders and hosts both off and on road events. Possibly the biggest and most traditional is the annual Ride around the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) where, on a November Saturday morning, with the sea on their right, thousands of cyclists, both young and old, from all over the country congregate to complete the more demanding 65 km circuit to then relax and picnic with family and friends on the large lawns beside the lake.

Peddling Pleasure. Seen here some years ago at the One-to-One Charity Ride Round the Sea of Galilee in aid of children who were victims of terror attacks, is the writer (left) together with former South Africans living in Israel.

Israel offers a great choice of well mapped and marked cycling routes, many of which have been planned and executed by the local and regional authorities together with a growing number of volunteer enthusiasts. A Trans-Israel cycling path is also under development.

 In the Holy Land, the range and variety of landscape is unparalleled. My cycling buddy and I have been on challenging descents on the Golan Heights, climbed single tracks in the verdant and wooded Galilee and bounced over rocks in the arid and dusty Negev Desert. But what gives us even greater pleasure is watching the growing number of keen cyclists. In our well over two decades of pedaling, we have been witnesses to how once limited to a relatively small number of groupies; the sport has mushroomed into a national pastime.

Tough at the Top. The writer participating in a grueling assent of the majestic Golan Heights.

Cycling has also become firmly ensconced within the national consciousness.  We now proudly possess a national cycling team – Israel Start-Up Nation – that has successfully competed in many prestigious international events including the Giro d’Italia  and the legendary and grueling Tour de France. About two years ago, the team, dressed in their blue and white jerseys – the color of the Israeli flag – rode in a peloton across Israel and was greeted by enthusiastic and cheering crowds along the way. How do I know? I was among them!

From Jerusalem to Rome. Elia Viviani of Italy wins the 2nd stage of the Giro d’Italia, in Tel Aviv on May 5, 2018. ( Roy Alima/FLASH90)

With the aid of mass vaccinations and some public cooperation, Israel is now slowly emerging from the lockdown and attempting to return to a normalcy.

Hopefully, the road to full recovery will not only lead upward but also be full of fellow cyclists!  

Hello from Israel. There has been a “cycling revolution” in Israel in recent years with Israel Start-Up Nation / Israel Cycling Academy competing in both the Giro d ’Italia and the Tour de France.
 



About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stephen-Schulman1.png

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Sights from the Saddle

A perspective on the road ahead as the wheels of Middle East progress are spinning in sync with the wheels of Israel’s top cyclists at the Tour de France

By David E. Kaplan

What a difference 7 months can make!

In February 2020, Israel’s pro-cycling team, Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN) took part in a cycling tour in the UAE that this August, signed a historic groundbreaking “normalization deal” with Israel  – a deal that not only formally ended an economic boycott but will likely lead to transforming the political landscape of the Middle East. “Normalisation” is the name of the new game and what was once “abnormal” is today peddling at high speed into “the new normal.”

If in February Israeli professionals were in Dubai cycling, in a post-Corona world Israeli tourists will be there shopping.

Israel Start-Up Nation. Confident, proud and ready to ride into the future.

More than seeing it coming was  ISN’s co-owner and the man behind Israel’s cycling revolution, Sylvan Adams, who played a sporting role in these welcome developments. A cycling enthusiast responsible for the Middle East’s first indoor velodrome  in Tel Aviv and who brought the “Grand Start” of Giro d’Italia to Israel in 2018 so  astutely observed before February’s 2020 tour in Dubai:

When our leaders decide  to make peace, we would already have prepared the GROUND for a warm peace.”

Literally on the ‘ground” as the signs were all too evident for Adams on the streets in Dubai in February:

 “Our cyclists had the national blue and white colours emblazoned on the front of their jerseys. They carry the name of our nation on their backs and fans were standing in line to receive autographs of our riders who they earlier had cheered in the streets of the United Arab Emirates.”

Up and Ready. Israel’s Start-Up Nation cycling team training ahead of the 2020 Tour de France.

And now in September, when both the UAE and – for the first time – Israel are participating in the 2020 Tour de France, we see developments of the new agreement between Israel and the UAE taking shape by facilitating easy banking, lowering financial impediments to making investments between the countries, and promoting joint investments in the capital markets. The word out is that there will soon be additional agreements in aviation, tourism, trade tech, research, energy and academia.

Adams is astute when it comes to marketing Israel through sport. In an interview with the writer with the Hilton Israel Magazine at the time of the start of the Giro d’Italia in Israel, Adams said, “It was not just the biggest sporting even in Israel but the biggest event in Israel’s history – period!”

Point taken. Where have a billion people watched an event – “any event”- in Israel?

Over a billion people worldwide,”said Adams, “watched the first three days of the race in Israel. What this TV global audience was exposed to was not an Israel as a ‘news item’ but as a normal country, basking in sunshine with exquisite scenery and wonderful warm people. They saw our biblical sites as well as modern Israel and learnt about our culture.”

History is Made. Israeli cyclists whizz through the streets of Nice in the south of France on the first day of the Tour de France. (Photo by Noa Arnon via Facebook)

Upping the Pace

And now with Israel Start-Up Nation participating in the 2020 Tour de France, the Jewish State is riding its way into the history books as the first Israeli team to participate in one of the most watched sporting events in the world.

Dynamite Duo. Cofounder of Israel Start-Up Nation, Sylvan Adams (left) and Israel’s first Israeli rider in a Tour de France, Guy Niv.

For three weeks, Israel’s cycling team “is being watched by three-and-a-half billion television spectators as we represent the whole country,” says Adams, “showing our true face, warmth,  friendship, diversity, tolerance, bringing our message of peace to people all around the world.”

The 107th Tour de France got underway on the French Riviera on Saturday, 29 August, two months later than planned and under the shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic.  That shadow, however, did not darken the spotlight on the state of Israel as it participates  in what is described as “the world’s most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race”.

For 26-year-old Guy Niv, the first Israeli to ride in the Tour, “It is a dream come true; I have goosebumps thinking about it,” he said before the race.

I am honored and privileged to represent my country and team in the biggest race in cycling. And to be the first Israeli to do so? It might sound cliché, but my dream of a lifetime has now been realised.”

On Track. With the Arc de Triomphe in the background at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, Gur Niv is fulfilling a childhood dream.
 

Niv’s journey, which hopefully will lead to crossing the finish line on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on September 20,  began at the same place in 2007 when he was thirteen years old.

“I went on a Bar Mitzvah trip to watch the Tour de France and now as the first Israeli rider in the 2020 Tour de France, I have the opportunity  to close a circle.” He had no illusions that it would be the ultimate challenge, saying, “I have concerns; it will be a mental challenge, not just a physical one, but I’m ready for this mission.”

Carrying the Colours. Members of the Israeli cycling team, Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN), training in northern Israel in May 2020. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

The Tour de France is certainly a “big deal,” not only for the riders but for Israel. To this point,  the dream of competing in the Tour de France was “almost unthinkable only five years ago when we launched the team,” says Adams. “Now it’s come true. A professional team with world-class Israeli riders alongside the finest international talents, racing with pride in one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.” Adds Israel Cycling Academy co-founder,  Ron Baron that “when we founded the team five years ago, we dreamed of this moment. But we strive for more than just the glory of racing in the Tour de France. We want every kid in Israel to say, ‘I can be Guy Niv one day. I can get to the Tour”.”

Niv is the only Israeli on the team, which also includes Ireland’s Dan Martin, André Greipel and Nils Politt from Germany, Ben Hermans and Tom Van Asbroeck from Belgium, France’s Hugo Hofstetter, Latvian cyclist Krists Neilands and from South Africa, Daryl Impey, the first ever from that country to wear the ‘Yellow Jersey’  at a Tour de France. That was back in 2013.

Now in 2020, “Around 3.5 billion viewers in hundreds of countries across the world will see the Israeli flag and hear the message of the Israel Start-Up Nation team that this is a country bringing unrivalled innovation to the world,” said Adams.

The Road Ahead. The writer interviewing Sylvan Adams in  2018 in Tel Aviv following the the Giro d’Italia in Israel, where he said, “Next up, is the Tour de France”.

Taking on the challenges of navigating success in a turbulent Middle East or grinding up the Alps and Pyrenees in the Tour de France, it’s always “a lot of uphill”.

Equipped with boundless grit and chutzpah, little wonder for the mix-up sometimes of the ‘Start-Up Nation’ thought proudly as the ‘Upstart nation’!










While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Remembering Munich

Survivors recall the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

By Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

“They’re all gone”.

They were the words that reverberated around the world. Television viewers across the globe were glued to Jim McKay, who anchored ABC’s coverage of the unfolding terrorist attack in Munich during the 1972 Olympics. The words are seared into our conscience. We can never forget that moment when we heard that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team had been murdered by Black September terrorists. Germany, once emblematic of painful memories for the Jewish people, had become a place where Jews were targeted for murder yet again.

Proud Presence. The Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony in Munich. (Credit: Agence France-Presse-Getty Images)

On the 5th of September, we will remember how these terrorists first killed two members of the Israeli delegation and held another 9 hostage, until they too, were slaughtered.  Israelis are far too familiar with terrorism, having endured attacks from terror groups since the birth of the modern state; but for it to happen like this on foreign soil, at the Olympic Games, the very essence and symbol of brotherhood and the human spirit, made the pain that much more acute.

Several weeks ago, history was made when the Israeli Airforce entered German airspace for the first time to train with the country’s Luftwaffe.  Apart from practicing complex maneuvers, the premise of the joint exercise was to strengthen ties – and pay tribute to the past. Sharing the commitment to fight antisemitism and declaring “Never Again” the two allied forces flew over the Dachau Concentration Camp in tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust as well as those who were murdered on that tragic day in September, 1972.

Yehuda Weinstain has often been called the “Flying Fencer”.  Weinstain was just 17 when he participated in the Olympics as a Fencer.  He recalls the excitement of being in the Olympic Village, sharing the camaraderie with his team, being a bit star struck at seeing the famous athletes and practicing with intense focus. It was the Olympics after all! The Olympics symbolise the best of the sporting world and the very spirit of international goodwill, devoid of the partisan politics that plague global discourse. This was shattered with the attack on the Israeli team.

“Flying Fencer”. Future Israeli pilot, Yehuda Weinstain  was just 17 when he participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a Fencer. 

Yehuda Weinstain recalls how it was a twist of fate that saved his life. Having visited the city to acclimate so that when it came to choosing his accommodation, he chose the same room that was in between that of the coaches and other team members. This decision would prove lifesaving.

The sportsmen were assigned a room in a complex with three bedrooms, with two in each room.

Touché. Israeli fencer Yehuda Weinstain (right) scores a hit in a fencing bout in the 1972 Munich Olympics before the massacre.

When the terrorists started their deadly attack, they went to the rooms on either side of Weinstain and roommate, Dan Alon; but not theirs. They heard the shots that killed wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg. They knew that something horrific had occurred. Weinstain remembers seeing a blood puddle at the place where Weinberg’s body lay as he peered through the window.

“It could’ve been me,” he says, “Because the terrorists, passed by my window twice and didn’t come in. Later on we believed that the terrorists’ omission on our door was a deliberate act by Moshe Weinberg who wanted that the people who will face the terrorists are those, he thought, could resist stronger. So it was my luck”.

Desperate Situation. Held hostage, fencing coach Andre Spitzer (right) and marksmanship coach Kehat Shorr (left) negotiating with the German police.

He recalls making the decision to run to safety. “I ran about seven metres around the corner. It felt longer. I had the feeling that someone could shoot me in the small of my back”, he says. It was Alon’s turn, then some of the others to make the run for safety and he, Weinstain and the remaining survivors were taken to safety by German police and isolated before being sent home to their worried families in Israel.

40 years later (2012) – “The 11th Day” – Munich ’72 massacre survivors.

Yehuda Weinstain, Olympic athlete for Fencing enlisted in the army as is required of Israeli citizens and became Lt Col Weinstain, a combat pilot in the IAF, flying many important missions for the Jewish state.

 His latest mission was addressing the delegation from the IAF that participated in the training exercise in Germany – a poignant and important moment.

As Young fencerAvishay Jakobovich at the Munich Olympic village
Dr Avishay Jakobovich

Dr Avishay Jakobovich was also at those fateful games – albeit in a different role. Host country Germany, wanted to show the world that it had moved forward from its Nazi past and invited all participating countries to send separate delegations  of youth under 21 that would serve as cultural and social Ambassadors. In retrospect, many would criticize the lack of police presence and security. Jakobovich, delighted to be part of the Israeli delegation, remembers the incredible happy and inclusive vibe, with dancing and singing amongst the different global representatives and enjoying the games as a spectator.

Israel’s Young Ambassadors. Avishay Jakobovich (left) as a member of the Israeli youth social ambassador’s delegation to the Munich Olympics.

This was until the massacre of the Israeli coaches and athletes. “We were quickly removed from where we were staying and isolated. I called my parents to let them know I was okay. The hardest parts were when we represented the State of Israel at the main memorial held by the Olympic committee the day after the massacre and accompanying the coffins of the victims and the flight was difficult and emotional, knowing the bodies of those murdered were underneath us, in the belly of the plane. I sat next to Ankie Spitzer, now the widow of Andre Spitzer the Fencing coach. Very hard,” he recalls.

Dr Jakobovich served as Chief Gynaecologist for the IDF and is a leader in his field today.

This and every September, we remember them – the 11 coaches and athletes, slaughtered in their prime in one of the most nefarious and infamous terror attacks in recent history. The recent IAF-Luftwaffe flyover may have been history in the making and a great tribute to remember and heal wounds but it is the message of that auspicious occasion that we take heed of – NEVER AGAIN!

Munich Olympics Opening Ceremony. Israeli Delegation enters the Olympic stadium onr the 26/08/1972 (left). The ceremony (centre). Ending the opening ceremony by freeing pigeons of peace (right).

Murdered in Munich. The 11 Israeli sportsmen killed at the Munich Olympics on the 05/09/1972

Right handed fencer. Co-writer Rolene Marks (L) with the “Flying Fencer” Yehuda Weinstain (R), Sept. 2020


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

When Sports Wins

By Rolene Marks

This week I have been thinking a lot especially about sports. It could be because I am still feeling the high many of us, including ex-pat South Africans are feeling after watching the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team) serve England’s team a thumping to win the Rugby World Cup.

It wasn’t just rugby that won that day, it was a nation. The Springboks proved that it is possible to rise above your circumstances, your race, religion and past prejudices and that, coupled with tenacity and a will to win, delivered one of the greatest moments in sports. It was more than the speeches from coach, Erasmus and team captain, Siya Kolisi – the guys in green and gold played for unity. They played for hope. And they delivered.

We know that South Africa is fraught with problems and that winning a global sports championship will not provide an instant fix, but they proved what could be accomplished when you pull together and focus on the greater good. Growing up during the Apartheid years in South Africa, where rugby was emblematic of the regime, it was inconceivable that the Springboks would be a team of players from all races, with a black captain. I don’t think there was a dry eye across South Africa (well, save for a few spoil sports – pun intended – who see unity as anathema) or for many who knew we were witnessing history. The late human rights icon, Nelson Mandela, recognized the role that sports could play in healing and reconciliation. The Springbok win took many back to the day in 1995 when Madiba weaved his magic and mistrust and old hatreds seemed forgotten.

The Springbok win got me thinking a lot about the power of sports in healing conflict in other parts of the world.

Sport plays an important role in trying to heal rifts in the Middle East as well. While sometimes respect and sportsman – like behavior is a casualty and some pay a heavy price for their efforts to be conciliatory, there is no doubt that whether it is facing off on the soccer pitch or wrestling on the mat, people are brought together for the common goal – winning.

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The power of sports to bring people together has also been recognized by entities like BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanction) who will try every trick in the book to try and scupper any attempts for normalization between Israelis – and anyone else. Their belief that boycotts, be they culture or sports, will force Israel to change policies they see as racist.

Their latest pet project of hate is trying to encourage a boycott of the sports apparel company, Puma, who sponsor the Israeli soccer/football team.

This has backfired spectacularly.  The Team is a microcosm of Israeli society, including Bedouin, Circassian, Muslim and Jewish players and nobody is interested in BDS’s divisive tactics. Needless to say, the boycott failed miserably.

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At the same time BDS were whining about boycotts, Brazil and Israel were planning a match to be played in Haifa. The Shalom game, a friendly match between Brazil and Israel was played on the 29th of October, 2019. This was billed as a celebration of “Football, Peace and Fraternity” and featured legends Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo, Batu, and other major Brazilian team players who have won the World Cup and visited the Jewish State to promote the message of peace and brotherhood. Ronaldinho took to his social media to speak about how happy he was to be in Israel and faced a barrage of hatred. It didn’t bother him at all – the message of brotherhood and peace is greater than hate.

Some have not fared as well.

This lesson was learnt the hard way by Iranian Judoka, Saeid Mollaei who was instructed not only to lose his match with Israeli counterpart, Sagi Muki, but said that even his family were threatened should he face off against his rival. Mollaei was afraid to return home after exposing and criticizing his government’s pressure on him to deliberately lose and avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.

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Moallei fled to Berlin after the championships, where he had been hoping to secure a place at the 2020 Olympic Games. He was recently granted asylum.

International Judo Federation has suspended Iran indefinitely for the regimes’ discriminatory treatment of Israel.

Sport has the unique ability to unite and inspire and improve the prospects of tolerance and brotherhood.

It doesn’t matter what kind of sport it is or what level, when unity and tolerance trumps conflict, this is the ultimate championship. Just ask Siya Kolisi.

“Welcome To The Club”

It depends….!

By David E. Kaplan

If you want to become a life member of one of the most exclusive clubs in the world – the All England Club, which organises the Wimbledon Championships – then either marry a  prince, like Kate Middleton did, or try the easier way and – WIN IT!

When Simona Halep won last Saturday the Wimbledon women’s final, what seemed to please her the most was that as a champion, she, too, now had life membership of the venerable old club started in 1868 “by six gentlemen” at the offices of The Field, the world’s oldest country and field sports magazine.

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Member Of The Club. Simona Halep holds the Venus Rosewater Dish while proudly wearing her new Wimbledon membership badge. (GETTY IMAGES)

Halep had spoken in the locker room earlier in the fortnight about what membership would mean and said:

It was one of my motivations before this tournament, so now I’m happy.”

And Halep wasted little time in taking advantage of her elevated status, being pictured the day after her win against Serena Williams smiling broadly with a purple membership badge pinned to her red dress after being awarded it by club chairman Philip Brook.

However, for some, even by winning the world’s most famous and prestigious tennis event might not get you to the coveted membership; that is if you’re  either Jewish or Black.

Ask  84-year-old Jewish Angela Buxton, who is accusing the All England Club of Antisemitism because she has yet to receive membership 63 years after her victory in 1956.

It’s too late to ask her Black American doubles partner, and twice Wimbledon singles champion Althea Gibson who passed away in 2003.

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Black And White. Angela Buxton (right), won the Wimbeldon ladies doubles in 1956 with Althea Gibson (left), who went on to become the first black player to win the ladies singles title.

In 1956, the English former tennis player Angela Buxton, together with her playing partner, Althea Gibson won the women’s doubles title at both the French Championships and Wimbledon.

Angela Buxton was the first British Jewish player to win a title at Wimbledon. Following the win with Althea Gibson – the first black American woman to compete and to win at the tournament – a British newspaper at the time ran the headline:

Minorities Win

Gibson was the only black woman to win the Wimbledon singles (1957 and 1958) until Venus Williams took the title in 2000.  When she died in 2003, she was still awaiting her membership after applying – like her Jewish partner, Angela –  in 1956.

Born in Liverpool, Angela Buxton was the daughter of second-generation immigrants from Russia. Angela and her family spent the war years in South Africa where she took up tennis at the age of eight and quickly excelled. Returning  to England following WWII, Angela pursued her tennis in London  and then in California where she was coached by Ben Tilden, an ex-Wimbledon winner with whom she began playing mixed doubles.

Angela returned to England in 1953, ready to compete in Wimbledon, but at the Bournemouth Hardcourt Championship she was soundly beaten by the reigning Wimbledon champion Doris Hart. Ready to quit, Buxton decided to play in her last tournament at the 1953  Maccabi Games in Israel. There she won two gold medals which renewed her confidence, and back in London, Angela had her most successful tennis year in 1956. It was “my Wimbledon year,” winning the women’s doubles title and reaching the singles final.

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“Minorities Win”. Angela Buxton (left) and Althea Gibson (right) accept their Wimbledon trophy from the Duchess of Kent after their 1956 doubles victory. (PA IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)

Rarely Remembered

So, while the players battle on the manicured grass courts of Wimbledon each year in July surrounded by the history of the world’s oldest tennis tournament, rarely remembered is the prejudice-defying moment in 1956 when Althea and Angela – the  African-American and the  British Jew – teamed up to win the women’s doubles championship.

Both had to overcome prejudice which stands in sharp contrast to today’s diversity in the top ranks of tennis.

When residing in South Africa during the WWII, Angela’s neighbors complained about her playing “with nonwhite girls” with one exploding at her mother, telling her, “You Jews think you own the world.”

Back in England after the war, Angela began winning regularly on the junior tennis circuit and took lessons at London’s renowned Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club in West Hampstead. Dating back over 120 years, the CLTC is steeped in history since the first balls were hit on its courts back in the 1800s.

However, much harder than the hard surfaces of the courts, was the below the surface antisemitism in post-Second World War England. Regardless of her talent, her coach at the Cumberland assured her:

You’re perfectly good, but you’re Jewish. We don’t take Jews here.”

The American Civil War might have ended slavery; WWII did not end antisemitism.

“Waiting For Godot”

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Angela and Althea. Angela Buxton (right) will be speaking about her late victorious Wimbledon doubles partner, Althea Gibson (left) at the upcoming 2019 US Open at Flushing Meadows, New York.

Like the two central characters in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot who never arrives, so the two players (one posthumously) of the 1956 final are waiting for Wimbledon that too ‘never arrives’.

While Angela was one of the first individuals to be inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame during its opening ceremony in Netanya, Israel in 1981 and next month will be recognised at a special ceremony at the 2019 US Open, where she will deliver a speech about her doubles partner Althea Gibson, Wimbledon still ignores her.

When Angela last inquired about the status of her membership, she was told that “They said I had refused it and my membership had gone to the back of the queue. This is simply not true; I never refused it and there are so many players who didn’t do anything like me and got membership.”

Noting the increase in antisemitism in the UK and its prevalence in the Labour Party – the traditional party of much of Britain’s Jewish community – Angela expressed to The Times, “It’s an unfortunate example of how the British really treat Jews in this country. This sort of thing exacerbates the feeling towards Jews. It’s perfectly ridiculous, it’s laughable. It speaks volumes.”

A Wimbledon spokeswoman responded: “While the decision-making process for membership of the All England Club is a private

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Playing Out The Clock. At 84, Wimbledon women’s single finalist and women’s doubles winner, Angela Buxton remains at the “back of the queue”

matter, we strongly refute any suggestion that race, or religion plays a factor.”

Meanwhile, Wimbledon’s Jewish champion Angela Buxton is still waiting for recognition.

Well now that the matter is out in the open and hardly a “private matter”, the question remains:

At 84, how much longer is Angela Buxton expected to still stand “in the queue”?