A host of Jewish faces at the 2016 Rio Olympics

  • 1-Milner Jack
The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil begin on Friday, August 5 and unlike the recent European Soccer Championships hosted by France, there will be quite a bit of Jewish interest at this year’s Olympics.
by JACK MILNER | Jul 20, 2016

Never mind the athletes. Three of the top officials of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, including its president, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, are Jewish.

One of Brazil’s most prominent sports figures, Nuzman, 74, is a former president of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation and has been president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee since 1995.

“My connection with Judaism and with Israel is through sports,” said Nuzman, who was part of the first Brazilian male volleyball team in 1964 when the sport debuted at the Olympic Games.

“I started my career playing at the Brazilian Israelite Club and I have attended four Maccabi Games in Israel.”

The grandson of Russian immigrants, Nuzman was born in Rio. He is an active member of the 440-family Conservative synagogue Congregacao Judaica do Brasil led by Rabbi Nilton Bonder, his nephew. Nuzman’s father, Izaak, presided over the Rio Jewish Federation, the Hebraica Club and the local Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.

Sidney Levy, a business executive, is the Rio 2016 committee’s chief executive officer and has a $2,2 billion budget to manage. Leonardo Gryner, a communications and marketing director who was part of the Rio 2016 bid, is deputy CEO.

The trio are behind the ceremony to honour the Munich victims. At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich in Germany, 11 Israeli Olympic team members were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September.

The August 14 ceremony at Rio’s city hall, will be co-led by the IOC along with the Olympic committees of Israel and Brazil.

As far as sportsmen and -women are concerned, Aly Reisman, who set the gymnastic world alight with her performance in London four years ago, will be back for the US team while there are also Joshua and Nathan Katz who will become the first set of brothers to represent Australia in judo at a single Olympics.

Nate Ebner of the New England Patriots has qualified for the US Olympic men’s rugby sevens team. The 27-year-old Ebner was included in the 12-man squad. Joining Ebner on the squad is another Jewish player, 26-year-old Zack Test from California.

Ebner’s father, Jeff, was the Sunday school principal of Temple Sholom in Springfield, Ohio. Sadly in 2008, he was killed by a man who attacked him during an attempted robbery in his shop.

“He taught me the importance of being Jewish,” Ebner told the Jewish Journal of Massachusetts last year. “My dad stressed finishing strong in every task I did and conduct myself always in a proper manner.”

Speaking of his grandparents, he added: “They make sure I keep up with Jewish events and that I remember my origins.”

Rugby has not been played in the Olympics since 1924 when the US team won gold. That squad included Samuel Goodman, a Jewish player who also managed the club. Goodman also played for and managed the US team who had won the gold four years earlier.

Perhaps one of the most interesting Jewish participant is golfer Laetitia Beck who will represent Israel. Considering Israel has just one 18-hole golf course - in Caesarea - it is rare to find a player of her calibre. The 24-year-old was born in Belgium but moved with her family to Caesarea when she was six. The golf club was within walking distance from their home and Beck would practise at the club every day after school.

When she was 12, a coach at the club noticed her golfing skills and suggested she compete in the Israeli Open Golf Championship. She ended up winning the competition. At the age of 14 she moved to the US and eventually studied at Duke University.

“Everywhere I go, I want people to know where I’m from, my background and where my family came from, because of the struggle they had to go through,” she told the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

“Every week when I play and I see the Israeli flag, it brings me a lot of pride and I think it’s because of what my grandparents had to go through. Not just them but everybody during the Second World War and the Holocaust. That brings me anger but what I’m trying to do is do something meaningful with that anger.”

Beck was born into to a traditional family who observed Shabbat and kept kosher. “For me, it’s very important for people to know first that I am Jewish and that I come from Israel, and next that I am a golfer.”

She is Israel’s first professional women’s golfer and calls the Olympics the “biggest stage” yet for her. “Hopefully, when it comes, I’m not going to be too nervous.”

Beck will walk into the arena at the opening ceremony as part of Team Israel, an experience she said to which she is looking forward.

 “That’s a very important part for me. Just being with the team and standing with the Israeli flag when they announce it. I don’t think I should carry it right now but in the future, I hope so.”



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