When you think about the Winter Olympics, you don’t think about Israel. Israel is hot country with little snow or ice. Plus, Israel has only been sending teams to the Winter Olympics since 1994, and the country has hardly made a name for itself when it comes to winter sports. In fact, Israel has yet to win a medal. But in 2002 an ice-Israeli ice dancing pair, Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski, did finish sixth. This year, the Israeli Olymic team is hoping things will be different.
However, to even have a chance at making it to the Winter Olympics, Israeli athletes with aspirations of competing in international winter sports must leave the Jewish homeland. They have to go somewhere cold…or with more than one ice rink—and one that isn’t on the Lebanese border to boot.
For the last couple of years, Mikail Renzhin, a downhill skier who has already qualified for the 2010 Israeli team, has been training in the United States. Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky, a brother-sister ice-dancing pair, live in Garfield, N.J., and train at the Ice House, in Hackensack. It’s expected that they should also make the team—as long as everything goes well at the European Figure Skating Championships, which start Tuesday in Tallinn, Estonia. Additionally, Tamar Katz, a figure skater who lives and trains in Rockland County, N.Y., has qualified for this year’s Winter Olympics, but the Israeli Olympic Committee is reluctant to send her to Vancouver unless she finishes in the top 10 at Tallinn.
It seems that the place to skate—if you’re Israeli, that is—is in Paramus, N.J. That’s where Galit Chait’s father, Boris Chait lives. The 59-year-old former boxer emigrating from Russia to Israel and then to the U.S., and is currently the president and chairman of the Israel Ice Skating Federation. That’s also where Chait now coaches skaters, including the Zaretskys.
Roman Zaretsky, 27, learned to skate in Minsk, where he was born, and Sasha, as his sister is called, picked it up in Metulla, where the family moved in 1990. (My rabbi used to always tell stories about Minsk, but they never had anything to do with ice skaters…) They were initially coached by their mother. Although the Zaretskys were 22nd in the 2006 Olympics, they came in ninth at the 2008 world championships and first in the 2009 World University Games.
So, it seems Jews around the world will have something to look forward to when it’s time for ice dancing at the 2010 Winter Olympics. I wonder if they will skate to anything traditionally Jewish or throw in any Jewish elements. Not likely, I suppose.