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Israeli athletes bring hope and genuine pride to us all

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Timna Nelson Levy celebrates a win EUROPEAN JUDO UNION PHOTO
Timna Nelson Levy celebrates a win EUROPEAN JUDO UNION PHOTO

This is a special time of year here in Israel. Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut are behind us and now Lag b’Omer is here, and soon Yom Yerushalayim. A complicated mix of sadness, contemplation, jubilation and good fun.

Summer begins as we complete this season. This year those who enjoy sports have much to look forward to.

The Rio Olympics begin Aug. 5. We’re hoping to see Israeli athletes on the podium at this Olympiad and perhaps even hear Hatikvah.

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Look for our competitors in windsurfing, sailing, gymnastics, wrestling, athletics, judo and more. Talented young people sacrificing much, for years, while training tirelessly.  They bring hope and genuine pride to all Israelis.

Judo’s my favourite. Maybe it’s because Natan, my 16-year-old, has been at it since he was four. Or perhaps it’s because Israel has become a judo powerhouse.

About a month ago Natan came running excitedly into my room, asking if I knew Timna Nelson Levy. Of course, I said. Timna and my daughter had been together in primary school and her parents are members of our synagogue. Turns out she had just won a bronze medal at the European Judo Championships. When I called her dad to congratulate him, I learned Timna has an outside chance of making it to Rio, although she’s really setting her sights on 2020’s Tokyo Olympics.

Earlier in the summer, beginning June 10, Europe’s top 16 national soccer teams will compete for UEFA’s Euro 2016 championship. Held every four years, this year’s month-long tournament will take place in France.

Israel’s national team didn’t make it through to the final 16. It never has. Our soccer is simply not good enough.

Soccer is a tribal sport. You choose a team as a kid and stay with it for life. Rivalries abound. That’s true in Israel too. Fans of Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv should not be left alone in the same room.

But in Israel, the Middle East conflict also enters the playing field.

Jerusalem’s premier team, Beitar Yerushalayim, has never had an Arab player. Games between Beitar and other “Jewish” teams and Bnei Sakhnin, the country’s most successful Arab club, require the presence of hundreds of policemen. Because of violence, the Israel Football Association recently decided only home team fans could attend games between Beitar and Bnei Sakhnin. At the latest game between the two in Jerusalem that wasn’t enough. Beitar fans hurled racist obscenities and real objects at Sakhnin’s players and at referees when Sakhnin won 3-0.   

Speaking at a Holocaust memorial event on the eve of Yom Hashoah, the IDF’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, caused a brouhaha when he stated that “ if there is something that frightens me about the memory of the Holocaust, it is seeing the abhorrent processes that took place in Europe, and Germany in particular, some 70, 80 or 90 years ago, and finding manifestations of these processes here among us in 2016.

“Indeed,” he continued, “there is nothing easier than to simply hate the other, there is nothing easier than to provoke fears and strike terror; there is nothing easier than barbaric behaviour, moral corruption and hypocrisy.”

Golan was rebuked for his words. Calls were heard for his resignation.

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Even if he chose an inappropriate venue for his words and should have avoided any implicit link between yesteryear Germany and modern-day Israel – such a link is unacceptable – Golan expressed legitimate moral concerns about where Israeli society is going, when fear and hatred abound and yes – racism too.

Having lived in Jerusalem for 37 years, I’ve never attended a Beitar game and have no intention of doing so.

I am looking forward to a great summer of sports. I’m hoping to see Israeli athletes with medals round their necks.

Good luck to Timna and her colleagues. Do us proud.