MUNICH METAMORPHOSIS

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.

V for Victory. Former Ukrainian flashing the victory sign for Israel in Munich.

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.”

We have a Liftoff. “While many long and the triple jumpers focus on going for height, I concentrate on the speed of my run up,” says Hanna Minenko. “I capitalise on my best asset – my long legs.”

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.

Murder in Munich. Israeli victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre(Photo: Courtesy of the Olympic Committee of Israel)

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.

Strikes Gold. Israel’s Artem Dolgopyat celebrates his gold in the men’s floor exercise final event at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Munich, Germany, on August 21, 2022. (Ina Fassbender/ AFP)

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!



“Israel’s Fastest Woman”. A month after winning bronze at the World Marathon Championships in Eugene, Oregon, Kenyan-born Israeli, Lonah Chemtai-Salpeter‘s wins another bronze in the 2022 European Championship 10,000 meters in Munich.





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).

ISRAEL UPPING ITS PACE

The Jewish state’s cycling team, ‘Israel-Premier Tech’  soars at the Tour de France

By David E. Kaplan

There is hardly a more prestigious thrill in the world of professional cycling than winning a stage at the Tour de France. However, when there are 176 riders as began the 2022 Tour de France with the Grand Depart in Copenhagen on July 1; and there are only 21 stages, the odds are challenging. The commentators common line every day for 21 days is:

 “Who will have the legs to sprint for the line.”

Talking about legs, I knew something was ‘afoot’ when I received a WhatsApp from a friend on July 6 asking:

 “Are you watching?”  

He did not have to specify what – it was a given. I turned on Eurosport just in time  to see  an Israeli team make history in the Tour de France when one of its riders won a stage of the world-famous race.

Pulsating Pedaling. The name ISRAEL is now a recognised winning brand at the Tour de France.
 

Australian Simon Clarke of Israel-Premier Tech won stage five of the tour in a photo finish after a 157 kilometer (97.5 miles) run from Lille to Arenberg featuring 20 kilometers (nearly 12.5 miles) of cobbled roads.

It was the first time ever an Israeli team had performed so well.

It was a sheer joy and pride for Israelis, to see  their country’s name branded on the riders cycling top at the podium.

Riding into History. Stage 5 winner, Israel-Premier Tech’s Simon Clarke at the podium following a photo finish after a 157km run from Lille to Arenberg.

With the Tour de France being the most prestigious cycling race in the world, reaching more than 15 million spectators and over 1 billion television viewers globally, this was a refreshing media spotlight on Israel.

Could it happen again at this Tour?  Having happened once, anything is possible!

So when I again received a WhatsApp from my friend and a co-founder of Lay of the Land, Yair Chelouche this time on the 19 July, saying again: “Are you watching?”, I replied, “You gotta be kidding.”

Turn on your TV we may have a story in the making!”

I flipped to Eurosport and screamed in joy as there was the name ISRAEL in bold leading the pack. However, it was still some 40 kilometres to the finish line and anything could happen. Could the rider keep it up with the profusely panting predators lunging from behind?

This was riveting stuff and warranted cracking open a beer. After all, this rider needed all the support and I thought cracking a Gold Star – one of Israel’s premier beers – was my thoughtful contribution.

After dropping on the Port de Lers, the Israel-Premier Tech rider Hugo Houle chased back to the front of the race with 40 kilometers to go before attacking from a reduced group at the foot of the final climb. The beauty of the French countryside – its medieval churches and chateaus were but passing flashes of distractions as all eyes were on Hugo Houle, who was like horse with blinkers bolting back to the barn as if stung by a wasp!

At the Finish Line. Pointing to the heavens, Stage 16 winner for Israel-Premier Tech, Hugo Houte, engages with his deceased brother saying to himself, “WE DID IT”

When he attacked he was  – in his words – “setting the table” for fellow Israel-Premier Teck team member Mike Woods but “ when I saw that they let me go, I just went all in, full gas. You never know how it will turn out in the breakaway. Sometimes you need luck. Nobody wanted to commit…and then it was just a time trial to the end.”

‘Luck’, ‘legs’ and ‘commitment’ saw the Israel-Premier Tech rider take the stage. A joy for Israel, it was an enormous emotional win for Houle.

With one minute and ten seconds ahead of the chasers behind him, Houle had plenty of time not only to raise his arms in celebration on the approach to the line but also to point to the sky in memory of his brother.

It sounds incredible, but I know my brother helped me,” said an emotional Houle of his younger sibling Pierrik who was killed by a hit-and-run driver a decade earlier.
He went to run in the snow and was hit and left dead by the roadside. It took me three hours to find him.”
It was my dream to win a stage of the Tour de France since he left us,” said the  Stage 16 Israeli-team winner.

From Impossible to Possible. “I never won a race, so I guess it’s the right place to win my first race,” Houle said shortly after his win of Stage 16. “I think what I achieved today can be an inspiration of what is possible.”

So while most Stage winners express absolute joy as they are received by their teams after crossing the finish line, “This one is for my brother,” Hugo Houle  could be heard saying as he was embraced by his team after the 178.5-kilometer (111-mile) leg from Carcassone to Foix,

This means a lot to me,” Houle told reporters shortly afterward, with his voice breaking as he struggled to hold back the tears.

The Tour de France is not all about racing and picturesque countryside –  it’s about human stories.

With the name of the Israel team having changed from Israel Cycling Academy to Israel Start-Up Nation and finally to Israel-Premier Tech,  there was something common in all the name-changes – the inclusion of the word ISRAEL.

I thought back to my Hilton Israel Magazine 2019 interview with the Israeli-Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist and powerhouse behind the renaissance of cycling in Israel, Sylvan Adams. Credited for  the successful campaign to have Israel host in 2018 the Big Start of the Giro d’Italia, I recalled his words:

I intentionally insisted on ISRAEL in the name of the team – our name is part of our identity, so that sports commentators cannot avoid mentioning ‘Israel’ in their coverage of races where our riders compete. It’s strategic branding. Instead of TV viewers around the world hearing of ‘Israel’ in news reports relating mostly to political issues, they will increasingly hear it in the context of sport. We are resetting the visuals.”

Rough Riders. On gravel, Israel-Premier Tech’s Simon Clarke on Stage 5 which he wins in a photo finish.

How right he was.

I also think back to early 1990’s when Avi Ganor, a former business correspondent for Israel’s daily Haaretz, gave it all up to start a local monthly magazine called OFANAYIM (Bicycle).

Meshuga (crazy)!” my friends said. “How can you make a living out of a magazine about a sport that nobody in Israel takes seriously?”

Really? Takes seriously?

Two decades later, an Israeli team is winning stages in the Tour de France.

Israel is a country that faces endless existential challenges but always has the knack of getting – literally and figuratively – ‘back on the saddle



Hugo Houle solos to emotional TDF win



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






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).

‘Ruck’ & Roll

From rugby to netball, squash to tennis, the 21st Maccabiah is “rocking”

By David E. Kaplan

When cynics scoff that the Maccabi Gamesis not real sport” or

it’s not front page, back page or any page news” or even more disparaging, “Who cares?” they are wrong.

In sport parlance – “It’s on track”.

In one 24-hour period – in full view of the international media -visiting US President Joe Biden was introduced to two polarized but defining components of the Jew of the 21st century – a journey from the depths of near oblivion to Jewish national sovereignty when in the morning he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center and in the evening the opening of the 21st Maccabiah, commonly referred to as the “Jewish Olympics”.

Let the Games Begin. Raising his USA cap as the USA delegation marches onto the field in the Opening Ceremony at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022, Joe Biden becomes the first USA president to make an appearance at the Maccabiah or ‘Jewish Olympics’. Joining him in jubilation are Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog (left), and Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP via Getty Images).

When Joe met the two American Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem, he was meeting not only  Giselle Cycowicz and Rena Quint but a stark reminder that only a few years before the State of Israel was born in 1948, Jews  were lining up to be mass murdered while much of the world stood by and yawned. At same day’s end, as the golden summer sun’s rays settled over the sublime skyline of Jerusalem, the American President waved as Jewish athletes – over 10,000 from 80 countries including the USA, the largest overseas delegation – marched  proudly onto the field at Teddy Stadium for the 2022 21st Maccabiah. These athletes were the living embodiment of “Muscular Zionism”, the concept conceived by Max Nordau who sowed the seeds for a “Jewish Olympics” when at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898, he spoke about forging a new Jew – far removed from the stereotype Ghetto image – who would be strong in appearance and resolute in spirit.

Moving Meeting. Giving both women and hug and kiss on the cheek, President Joe Biden speaks with Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (r) and Rena Quint in the Hall of Remembrance during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem on July 13, 2022. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Image.
 

While the concept of “Muscular Zionism” was born, it took a further three decades before the first Maccabiah opened in 1932 in Tel Aviv with a colourful parade through the streets of Tel Aviv led by Mayor Meir Dizengoff riding his iconic white horse.

That triumphant march in what was nicknamed the “White Horse Olympics” would culminate in 1950, the first Maccabiah held in a sovereign State of Israel. Edna Kaplan who I interviewed  some years ago was a participant in the South African delegation that year.

Rose among the Thorns. Edna Kaplan (centre) was the only woman in the South African running squad at the 1950 Maccabiah.

I was the rose amongst the thorns,” she said chuckling. “I was not the only woman in the South African athletic squad, I was the only woman in the entire delegation.” A sprinter, Edna described the conditions of the rough track, with Tel Aviv’s Reading Power Station in the background. In keeping with the family’s sporting tradition, her daughter Janine, literallyran’ in her mother’s footsteps, participating in the1973 Maccabiah also as a sprinter.  Janine was then part of the Rhodesian (later Zimbabwe) delegation. Such an impression did it make, that within six months, she immigrated to Israel.

This has frequently proved the impact of the Maccabiah.

Running for Gold. In the first post-WWII Maccabiah in 1950, South African Edna Kaplan competes in the Woman’s 100m at Reading in Tel Aviv.

A South African ‘Israel Prize’ recipient, Dr. Ian Froman – the driving force behind the Israel Tennis Centers – credits representing South Africa at the 1961 Maccabi Games in tennis – having competed in the men’s singles at Wimbledon in 1955 – leading to him to making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel) shortly thereafter. As a young graduate in dentistry “I fell in love with Israel” and then got his teeth into tennis instead of dentistry!

FAMILY AFFAIR

How important is the Maccabiah today?” was a question I put to veteran Israeli squash player Stanley Milliner originally from Cape Town. A multiple Maccabiah medal recipient over five Maccabi Games – including gold – Stanley says that “While there is a lot of feeling in Israel that the Maccabi Games has passed its time,” he disagrees. “It brings together Jews from all over the world. What’s more, it bring them together IN ISRAEL. This remains so important today as it affirms the centrality of Israel to global Jewish life in such a warm and entertaining way.  There is nothing like sport to achieve this. It creates this feeling of ‘mishpocha’ – of getting together for a ’family affair’.”

Super Siblings. Holders of multiple Maccabi Games medals, including gold, former South Africans Stanley Milliner for squash and sister Jillian Milliner for tennis will be again proudly competing for Israel

Stanley elaborates that this feeling was all-pervasive at the opening ceremony attended by Biden, “who we knew was there but we did not see.” Says Stanley:

 “You have never seen these people before  from all over the world, speaking different languages  and yet you feel you have known them all your life. This is what I mean – like long-last family coming together.”

What was interesting, continues Stanley:

 “was that for some of the Israelis in squash who had never before participated in a Maccabiah, it was a new experience for them. For the first time they realized that they were part of a huge Jewish global experince. “

Staying within ‘the family’ is Stanley’s sister, Jillian Milliner who has also participated in five Maccabiah and is a three time Israeli gold medalist in tennis. Now playing in the 65-plus age category, I caught up with Jillian following her hard-fought victory against a  Chilean in the soaring heat. She collapsed and required treatment from the para-medics, “but only after I won the match in a tie-breaker!

Striving for gold both in singles and doubles, Jillian is “so proud to be again representing Israel. For me it’s very meaningful. I was speaking with someone from the US delegation that said it was the largest US delegation in history – over 1,600 athletes and this is in the age of Covid.  They so much wanted to come, to be in Israel. This is the spirit of the Maccabiah. Despite the cynics and those who want to denigrate and pull Israel down, the Jewish world with Israel at the core is thriving.” While looking for gold on a personal level, “for the Jewish world,” says Jillian, “this is our Golden Age.”

SHOOTING STARS

Manning the kiosk at the Maccabiah Netball venue in Ra’anana was  Carol Levin, Treasurer of Netball in Israel, Carol was not exaggerating when she said:

 “This place is rocking.”

I had not yet stepped into the hall but could hear the high pitch screaming. Then entering, I was met by a kaleidoscope of colour and a cacophony of cheering supporters. I understood this is what Carol meant when she said only minutes before:

 “What a VIBE!”

This “vibe” represents netball’s popularity at the Maccabiah and in Israel which has come a long way since its founder, Jodi Careira,  arrived in Israel over 25 years earlier with her family “and a netball that I got for my Bat Mitzvah. My friend Yoni Weil called me and said let’s go play outside and here we are at the Maccabiah, with Israel competing with top teams from all over the world.  Who knew then, what would be today?”

Who would indeed!

Golden Girl. Prime mover for netball in Israel,  gold medalist Jodi Carrera at a rugby match at a previous Maccabiah.

UPROAR IN THE STANDS

It was a treat watching – or ‘experiencing’ – the rugby at Wingate.

Irrespective of who was playing or the scores, it was refreshing for Israelis who instead of arguing over divisive issues plutzing the nation, could plutz instead over the decisions of rucks, mauls, scrums and lineouts – “important stuff”. After all,  the ref couldn’t see what us experts were seeing in the stands enhanced in our observation skills by copious tall glasses of  frothing beer from the pub that was doing a roaring trade!

Having a Field Day. South Africa beats Israel in a round robin match on the 15 July 2022 at Wingate. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Sitting in the stands at the semi-finals, I noted with the banners, giant flags and national team T-shits there was always the Magen David – Star of David –  reflecting the ultimate victor – the Jewish people.

Following  the first Friday afternoon’s packed match between South Africa and Israel, everyone shook hands – nothing to do with the rugby. Spectators from across the world were wishing each other “Good Shabbos”.

Cruising while Watching the Bruising. Supporting Israel – as well as the local pub – at the rugby at Wingate are former South Africans (l-r) Leigh Freedman, Barry Kornel and Phillip Levy.
 

Beyond the sights and sounds, the message of the Maccabiah is clearly – A Jewish world divided by geography is united by history.

I only hope, Max Nordau is a “spectator” watching and smiling from above.





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).

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