Sarah seems to have found her Jewish mojo

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What does Maccabi Germany have that Maccabi South Africa doesn’t? The obvious answer to this question is “money”, and in terms of looking at this issue, that might be the one I was looking for, although I am not so sure...
by JACK MILNER | Jul 29, 2015

The European Maccabi Games began in Berlin on Monday night with the official opening ceremony staged on Tuesday evening at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the same stadium where Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohorts staged the 1936 Olympic Games.

As would happen in any country, Maccabi Germany has focused on their Jewish athletes but I was astounded to discover that one of the faces at this event is former South African swimmer Sarah Poewe.

Sarah has a non-Jewish German father and a Jewish mother but certainly while in South Africa, she never displayed any signs of Yiddishkeit or an affinity for anything Jewish. She attended the German School in Cape Town and was brought up as a Protestant, the religion of her father.

Shortly after I became sports editor of the Jewish Report I decided to interview Sarah and called on a colleague of mine to ask if this would be possible. She politely declined, saying that she did not consider herself to be Jewish and an article in the Jewish Report would be sending the wrong message.

She was honest, and I respected that.

Later, predominantly to further her swimming career, she went to live in Germany and swam for that country. Now 32, she has had a reasonably successful swimming career, winning a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 in the women’s 4x100m medley.

Over her career she has won two gold and two bronze medals at the World Championships and Short Course World Championships; she is a three-time European record holder, nine-time German record holder and 17-time German Champion between 2002 and 2012 (long and short courses).

Throughout this period I never saw a word about her Jewish background - until now.

In an article that appeared in a German-language newspaper a few days ago, they point out that the public did not take note at the 2004 Olympics “when the German breaststroke swimmer, Sarah Poewe, made history. She won a bronze medal in the medley relay which was the first Olympic medal since before 1936 won by a Jewish German”.

They add: “In the European Maccabi Games, which will be opened today in Berlin by German President Joachim Gauck, Sarah Poewe is the patron of the swimming competition.”

They then quote Poewe: “It's a historic event when so many Jewish athletes in Berlin come together," she says. "We can only be deeply grateful for the resurgent Jewish life in Germany."

In the Maccabi programme Poewe adds she is honoured to be chosen as the German Swimming Patron for the Games. “During the 20 years of my swimming career, I have followed the Maccabi Games with great interest. Prominent swimming athletes, such as Mark Spitz, Lenny Krayzelburg and Jason Lezak initially brought the Games to my attention.

“In the past I had been invited to take part at the Games, but unfortunately due to my studies and training schedules I was unable to take part. Now that I have retired from professional swimming and have set up my own personal swim coaching business (Poewe Swim Coaching), I have time to invest and promote my role as an ambassador for the European Maccabi Games.

“Having the European Maccabi Games in Berlin for the first time on German soil, makes me excited and very emotional. Knowing the historical background of Berlin, highlights this event.

“I am so very much looking forward to supporting and working with the German Maccabi team.”

So I come back to the first question. What does Maccabi Germany have that Maccabi SA does not? Money? Could it be that Poewe is now out of the limelight and will need as much support as possible in her new business venture? Or is it really a change of heart?   




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