Sarah seems to have found her Jewish mojo
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…
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?
Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi
More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.
Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.
UJW Sewing School graduates model creations
The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.
They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.
UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.
The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.
Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke
The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.
Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.
The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.
“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.
Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.
Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.
“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).
Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”
Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.
“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”
Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.
“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.
The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”
Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.
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