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Russian-Israeli tennis player makes history at Australian Open




(JTA) Aslan Karatsev, a Russian tennis player with Jewish heritage who lived in Israel for nearly a decade, is making history at the Australian Open.

It’s his first appearance in a Grand Slam tournament, and now Karatsev, who was ranked 253rd in the world after play resumed last year following a pandemic break, is in the semi-finals.

He’s only the second qualifier in history to make it to the Australian Open semi-finals, the fifth qualifier to reach a Grand Slam semi-final in the so-called Open Era (beginning in 1968), and the first male player to reach the semi-finals in his Grand Slam debut.

Along the way, the 27-year-old upset Argentine-Jewish standout Diego Schwartzman, who is ranked in the top 10, in the third round; top-20 Canadian youngster Felix Auger Aliassime in the fourth; and veteran Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals.

Next up is Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, in the semis.

Karatsev has soared to 114th in the rankings and no matter the result against Djokovic, he will break the top 50. “It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Karatsev said after this win.

Karatsev was born in the North Caucasus region of Russia. His maternal grandfather is Jewish.

“I moved to Israel when I was three years old with my family, and then I started to practice in Yafo, Tel Aviv-Yafo,” he said at a recent news conference. “I grew up there, practicing there until 12 years old, and then I moved back to Russia with my father.”

Karatsev said the Israel Tennis Association’s lack of funding was a major factor pushing him to leave. His mother and sister remained in Israel.

He moved to Rostov, Russia, for better training, then Moscow. From there, it was on to Halle, Germany, and Barcelona, Spain, before finally ending up in Minsk, Belarus, where he lives today. Karatsev still has an Israeli passport, and speaks fluent Hebrew.

The Australian Jewish News reported that in September, Amir Weintraub, an Israeli tennis player, and Avi Peretz, the chairperson of the Israel Tennis Association, tried to convince Karatsev to play internationally for Israel. But Karatsev had already signed on to compete with Russia in the Davis Cup tournament, which pits teams of players representing different countries against each other, Olympics style.

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Deaf swimmer makes waves with Robben Island swim



After crossing from Robben Island to Blouberg Beach, deaf swimmer Ariella Levin’s grandmother Irene Marx has only one way to describe her beloved grandchild: “You are my crazy, courageous little dolphin.”

Her recent 8km swim, completed in two hours and 23 minutes, is the latest accomplishment of this fiercely determined 22-year-old, who first discovered a love of water splashing around in the bath with her sister. In the water, she has found a world of her own. While she now has cochlear implants, she can’t wear them when swimming, and it’s there that silence brings peace.

Levin’s family didn’t know she was deaf at birth, only discovering it when she was eight months old. One day, her mother, Karen Jankelow, came home and the door slammed shut behind her. Levin, who was in the room playing with her toys, didn’t flinch. The family thought it was perhaps an ear infection, but further medical tests showed she didn’t have any hearing at all.

Over the years, she became one of the youngest people to undergo a cochlear transplant, although it took four operations to achieve full success. With extensive speech and hearing therapy at a specialised nursery school, Levin was able to mainstream into Grade 0 and thrived during her school years. She does rely on lip-reading as well, but otherwise her “bionic ears”, as Jankelow dubs them, have served her well.

When she started swimming lessons, her teacher soon picked up she was very good at it. At one stage, scheduling conflicts placed her in her older sister, Talia’s, swimming age-group and Levin became determined to keep up with those two years older than her. It was a competitive edge that later helped her to make the school’s A-Team.

Although she would be given a hand signal at galas instead of the usual gun start, causing her always to start a few seconds late, she was unperturbed, saying, “I was still one of the strongest on the team.”

However, it hasn’t always been calm waters when it comes to Levin’s hearing impairment and swimming. When she was seeking to join a squad out of school, she was rejected a few times, being told it was too inconvenient to cater for one deaf teammate when everyone else could hear. Another time, she was told she couldn’t be made a captain of a team because as a deaf person, she couldn’t “motivate the players”.

“But I carried on swimming. I was never going to give up something that I love because of what someone else said,” Levin says.

In Grade 9, Levin discovered her love of open-water swimming after she took part in the Midmar Mile for the first time. At first, the jostling of hundreds of people felt overwhelming, especially since “when you are deaf and swimming, you aren’t involved in the outside world”. However, soon Levin found her own rhythm in the water. “It became my time,” she says, alongside the “adrenaline rush of swimming with everyone next to me, making it feel more like a team sport.”

Soon, one Midmar Mile wasn’t enough for her, and she began to push to do multiple sets. She also completed the Sun City Swim, which takes place in a huge dam, and came first in the disabled women division.

Last year in February, Levin completed eight Midmar Miles in memory of her boyfriend, Adam Rabinovitch, who died in a tragic car accident. Rabinovitch, who wore hearing aids, was a responder with Hatzolah, and Levin raised R35 000 for the organisation with her swim.

She still feels the pain of his loss, but remains appreciative of the time she had with him. “I’m very grateful for it. Obviously, I wish it was longer, but we can wish for a lot of things.”

Even her most recent Robben Island swim was marked as an act of commemoration, writing Rabinovitch’s name, as well as that of her late uncle, Leonard Marx, on her back in tribute.

She says in the moments that the race become physically difficult, her mind turned to them. “I thought about how it’s not only about me, I can’t disappoint anyone. And I thought about how Adam and Lenny didn’t get to live out their dreams, so I must push on as I get to live mine.”

Levin was originally inspired to train for her Robben Island swim after reading a book about South African extreme swimmers. “I read it in about a day, and decided I have to do this!”

Her first step was to take ice-baths, in which she immersed herself in freezing water for 20 minutes to acclimatise her body and build up visceral fat.

“It’s a mental game. At first, you are shaking so hard, you could literally generate electricity, but then after 10 minutes, your body just completely calms down. It’s such a serene moment.”

During COVID-19, she began training with coach Cyndi Starr, who previously worked with deaf South African swimmer Terence Parkin.

In December, the family went to Cape Town, and she began swimming in the sea. The night before she was to complete her Robben Island swim through Big Bay Events, the country went into full lockdown and the beaches were closed. Although disappointed, she remained convinced that another opportunity would arise.

That time arrived last month, and Levin, her mother, and grandmother found themselves back in Cape Town. On the morning, Levin recalls looking at the huge swells and misty conditions in Blouberg with concern. Nevertheless, she was soon on the boat that takes swimmers to the starting point on Robben Island, having already worked out a communication system with the skipper and assistant who follow the swimmers on their route.

While the length of the swim should be 7.5km, at one stage, she veered sideways, extending the time, jokingly declaring it was “because I was overachieving”.

The swim was difficult and exhilarating. At some point, “what’s so nice with the cold, is that your mind goes blank, but then especially when you can’t see anything around you except the water and the boat, you have to draw on your mental strength to cope”.

“When I was 2km away, I did think, ‘I’m never doing this again’, but then, as my feet touched the sand on finishing, I said, ‘Oh, I am so doing this again!’”

Indeed, Levin says swimming has taught her a lot about having the right attitude to life. “Often when I’m swimming and I really just want to give up or I’m tired, I say to myself, ‘It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go. Just keep moving.’”

It’s a lesson her mother and sister say has been profound for them too. Talia says as the older sister, she took on the role of teacher to her sister, one that inspired her to pursue a career as a foundation-phase teacher. Levin remains “the light of my life; she is literally my world”.

Jankelow says her daughter has been her teacher. “She has taught me you do things without needing it to be about being perfect. She’s so confident in herself as she is.”

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Durban runner scores silver at SA Championships



Adam Lipschitz, 27, is soaring high after scoring a silver and fourth place for his races at the South African Championships at Tuks Athletics Stadium last week.

“I’m happy with the positions, but want to improve on times,” the ambitious and driven athlete says, reflecting on his performance at the Athletics South Africa senior track and field national event.

In the 10 000m race, Lipschitz came second with a time of 29:30:40, and in the 5 000m, fourth, with a time of 14:01.

When he is successful in a race, Lipschitz appreciates the long road of consistent effort it has taken to achieve the result.

“Running is an individual sport so what you put in is what you get out. With running, there is no time to rest, you have to give it your all from the get-go. If you aren’t in shape, it will show in your race from your position. When you are fit and winning, you are grateful for the training that you have put in.”

Although no one enjoys losing, Lipschitz says he takes the opportunity when he doesn’t achieve his goals to think about the adjustments he can make. “You reflect, then you act on it in training.”

The born-and-bred Durbanite, who runs his own property investment and management business, says that while COVID-19 has curtailed participation in many international events, his sights are on the horizon – possibly even the Olympics in the years ahead. His dream is to train for the marathon race in this event.

In the interim, he’s looking forward, hopefully, to participation in the upcoming World Athletics Championships in America, then Commonwealth Games, as well as next year’s Maccabi Games – an arena in which he has already had astonishing success.

Lipschitz has been running since primary school, representing South Africa in his high-school years, and continuing at university level.

He trains every morning as part of a disciplined schedule. He doesn’t work with a coach, instead choosing to “use a lot of different programmes that I’ve taken over the years that work for me”.

Running remains a form of meditation for him. “You have time to yourself. I run alone in the morning. It’s when I’m without my phone, no music, just running round the athletics track. It’s time to think about life and any problems, time to evaluate. I enjoy it.”

Ultimately, the sport has taught him powerful life lessons. “It has taught me self-control, self-discipline, and to stay motivated.”

Lipschitz says his family and running club are very supportive, and he is particularly appreciative of his parents’ support over the years.

He comes from a traditionally Jewish family. “I practice the faith, and it’s very much a part of my identity,” and enjoys giving back to the community via the Community Security Organisation and through involvement in Maccabi in KwaZulu-Natal. His other big passion is the administrative side of sport, and he is hoping to be part of making changes provincially in this arena.

Besides having the opportunity to travel internationally, Lipschitz says it has also been amazing to travel to all nine provinces of South Africa through running. “It’s a beautiful country,” he says. The Transkei is his favourite destination so far.

Lipschitz’s message to other budding Maccabean athletes is to “understand yourself and your body first. No one knows your body how you know it yourself. Feel confident and comfortable before you get a coach to tell you what to do or go onto someone else’s plan.”

Lipschitz’s accolades have been celebrated by Maccabi SA, with whom he has a long association. In the 2019 European Maccabi Games in Budapest, Hungary, Lipschitz won the half marathon – “beating the athlete who came second by thirteen minutes!” says Maccabi SA spokesperson Ros Goldin.

At the 2017 Maccabi Games in Israel, Lipschitz won gold medals for both the 10 000m road race and the 5 000m track race.

“To add to that, the 10km was actually the 10km Jerusalem night race, which was open to the public, with the Maccabi race included as a race-within-a-race. He won the whole event, so both the public and Maccabi races.

“He won against very strong competition. In the 5 000m, he came from third to win it. He was brllliant,” says Goldin.

“He’s a great role model for all sports because he’s very dedicated, he trains hard, and plans well. His races are strategic, and he gives it a lot of thought. He sets an outstanding example for our juniors,” Goldin says.

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The tale of the cricketer who perfected the googly

Reggie Schwarz – the name might ring a far-off bell? If not, for sheer romance – if not the manner of his death, which strikes a contemporary note – his story is worth re-telling.





The son of a German-Jewish merchant father who settled outside of London, Schwarz was born in Lee in 1875, and played three rugby Tests for England between 1899 and 1901.

His summer game was cricket but, certainly at first, he achieved little success. He hovered around the edges of playing for Middlesex but didn’t play regularly for the county, emigrating to South Africa in September 1902 where he joined the South African Railways.

Like many men of his class (he was Cambridge educated) he caught the mail ship to Cape Town in search of fame and fortune. Although he was unsuccessful as a cricketer in England, he had been exposed to the wiles of Bernard Bosanquet, two years younger than he.

Bosanquet has been widely credited by cricket historians as inventing the googly, (or, as it was once called, in honour of its founder, the “bosie”).

The googly is bowled with a traditional leg-spinner’s action, but instead of pitching from the leg and spinning towards the off, it does the opposite, spinning from off to leg.

From a batsman’s point of view, it’s difficult to predict (because it looks like a leg-spinner) and therefore difficult to play – a magic delivery, if you will. A mis-read googly is liable to bowl a batsman or hit his pads. If he survives with his wicket, the befuddled batsman is liable to look slightly stupid at the very least.

While Bosanquet invented the googly, he was seldom able to perfect it, interspersing the dangerous deliveries with some poor ones easy to score runs off. With a note of exasperation, the famous English cricketer, “Plum” Warner once called Bosanquet the “worst-best bowler in the world”.

First in the Cape and then in Johannesburg, Schwarz found the ideal, far-from-prying-eyes conditions in which to practise bowling Bosanquet’s bosie. Although he wasn’t immediately successful, he honed his craft, and was often a feature in the nets while others were having lunch or had gone home.

In 1904, he was chosen to tour England as a member of the South African team, the qualifications for playing for another country far more elastic than they are today. He was picked for South Africa essentially as a batsman, but in the fourth match of the tour against Oxford University, the students were cruising in their second innings and he was tossed the ball.

He was an immediate success. “Precisely 7.2 overs later, he had five wickets, all clean bowled,” reports a recent article on Schwarz in The Guardian, “and Oxford were all out for 167. He ended up as the tour’s leading wicket-taker, with 96 of them at an average of 14.81 per wicket.”

Upon his return to South Africa after the 1904 England tour, Schwarz did for others as Bosanquet had done for him. He generously shared his conjurer’s secrets, and by the time the South Africans were ready to tour England again three years later, they arrived with a legendary four-pronged spin attack.

Team-mates Aubrey Faulkner, Gordon White, and Bert Vogler had all caught the googly bug. England batsmen found them tricky customers. Schwarz took 143 wickets on the tour, some finding him virtually unplayable. Those who knew him as the likeable mediocrity lingering on the fringes of Middlesex when he left five years earlier, couldn’t believe their eyes.

As is the case with all those who broaden and deepen a tradition, whether in music, sport or the arts, Schwarz put his own unique spin on what Bosanquet had taught him. He had started out as a medium-fast bowler before falling under Bosanquet’s spell and it was natural for him to bowl his googlies at a brisk pace.

The speed at which he bowled added to the difficulty of facing him, and he carried on being a handful back in South Africa, particularly because coiled hessian (or matting) wickets were still widely in use and they encouraged the ball to grip, thus aiding spin.

Photos of Schwarz show why he was well-suited physically to spin bowling. He had long – almost delicate – fingers, perfect for imparting revolutions on the ball, and he was tall, so he let the ball go from a reasonable height, which added bounce.

Hard as he worked on his art, however, he was unable to master the orthodox leg-spinner. Had he been able to bowl the googly (with a leg-spinner’s action) and the conventional leg-spinner, like, say, Imran Tahir, the Pakistani-born South African, he would have revolutionised the game rather than providing it with a charming footnote.

Having returned to England, Schwarz fought on the Western Front as a major at the beginning of World War I, later being promoted to the position of deputy assistant quartermaster general. He survived the hostilities, but in a cruel twist of fate, died of the Spanish flu seven days after the armistice had been signed in November 1918, the victim of a virus rather than war itself.

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