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Israeli Olympians Exiled from Promised Land

The skating diaspora is mainly in Jersey

by
Marc Tracy
January 19, 2010

Where is the main Israeli skating rink? Why, in Paramus, New Jersey, of course! (There is one in Israel that is regulation-size, but it is located perilously close to the Lebanon border.) A bunch of Israeli hopefuls are training in and around Bergen County in anticipation of next month’s Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Although for some, a solid performance at the European Figure Skating Championships, which begin today in Estonia, stands in the way of an Olympics berth.

Israel has never won a Winter Olympics medal; the closest it came was in the 2006 games, when a mixed ice-dancing team finished sixth. But Efraim Zinger, the Israeli Olympic Committee’s secretary general, is nonetheless optimistic for this year: “We are not blessed with too many outstanding athletes,” he boasted. Wait, what???

Yes, folks, the buried lede here is the astonishing—and, to editorialize a tad more, disgraceful—lack of support these athletes are getting from their own country. It is not just those undermine-y comments. So far, the Israeli Ice Skating Federation has received roughly one quarter what the IOC has promised it. “Everything is a challenge,” says the Federation’s head (who resides in Paramus, natch). “No winter in Israel is one problem. Not being a sports country is another. It’s a challenge for funding, a challenge to get people to appreciate what our skaters have accomplished.”

Only two things, it seems to us, will change this: Either one of these competitors is going to have to win a medal, or someone is going to have to make Cool Runnings 2: Shalom Skaters! We would prefer the former. In the meantime, can someone please fire the Israeli Olympic Committee head?

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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