Sixteen-year-old Club Champ cuts swathe on the green
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Bennett started playing golf regularly only in 2021. So she was overwhelmed when she won the ladies division of the 18-hole Gauteng Provincial Club Champs on 26 September.
A member of the Killarney Country Club, Bennett beat Club Champs from other Gauteng clubs by carding 38 points, two more points than had she achieved her handicap, according to the Stableford scoring system.
“I really didn’t expect to win, so I’m surprised, but I have to say I was very proud of myself for the way I played and also for the fact that I haven’t played golf for that long,” says Bennett.
The Grade 11 student at Kingsmead College in Rosebank, Johannesburg, qualified for this tournament courtesy of her victory in the 36-hole women’s B division at Killarney Country Club’s Club Champs in May this year.
“When I played that tournament in May, I really wasn’t expecting to win at all – I just played it for the fun of it,” says Bennett. “Winning it was something that made me believe I could really get good at the game. It was a two-day tournament, and after the first day, I was at the top of the leader board. I actually shot a lot better on the second day than I did on the first because I had learned from mistakes I made on certain holes. In golf, you have to believe in yourself. It’s a very difficult game to play if you don’t believe you can play it.”
Bennett now has the chance to be crowned the ultimate Club Champ in South Africa when she competes in the national tournament against Club Champs from nine provinces.
Her enthusiasm for the sport stems from her dad, who has been a member at Killarney for more than 20 years. “As my grandpa was also a member there, my dad has wanted me to play golf for so long. He bought me my clubs at the beginning of 2018, and I played two or three times a year during that year and in 2019.
“I was pretty good, and had a lot of potential. I believed that because I played a lot of ball sports – not to sound arrogant, but I’m quite a sporty person in general – if it was something I could practice, I could get quite good at it.”
She started swinging her clubs a bit more after the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in her school sports – tennis, water polo, swimming, and netball – being cancelled. “Golf was just something I could do during COVID-19 and something I could do to spend time with my dad, which was also really nice.”
Over the past few months, Bennett has been going for lessons every week and playing two games on the weekends to improve.
“It’s more like a fun thing for me, and I really enjoy it because I’m quite good at it. It’s also something that I feel I can keep improving on.”
If she does keep improving her game and succeeds in bringing her handicap down, she would ultimately like to get a scholarship to study overseas after school.
“I know there’s a lot of scholarships for women golfers in America, and they want to recruit women golfers from overseas. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go pro, but that’s what I would like to do – just to get to the point where I would be eligible for a scholarship.”
The golfer she looks up to is her dad. “He is a good golfer so if I did make it on to the PGA tour, he’s someone who I would love to be my caddie. He’s very supportive of me, he really inspires me, he also motivates me to keep getting better, and he helps me. He got me the clubs, takes me to my lessons, and is a very important figure for me to get better at golf. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without him.”
Golf aside, Bennett used to play the drums. “When I started high school, I didn’t have the time for that. I try to prioritise academics. It’s quite important for me if I want to get a scholarship overseas because golf isn’t necessarily going to be the only thing that’s going to take me there. Golf is like my primary hobby at this point, but otherwise I focus on school and trying to get good marks at the end of Grade 11.”
Leilah hip-hopping to stardom
Hip hop national champion Leilah Jankelowitz puts her success down to hard work.
The Grade 10 student at Roedean School in Johannesburg won the 15 to 16 age group in the South African National Hip Hop Championship at the South African State Theatre in Tshwane from 2-3 October 2021.
“It felt unbelievable, as if my hard work had paid off,” says Jankelowitz.
She was invited to the national tournament, organised by the South African Body of Dance, courtesy of achieving a certain percentage in four online and in-person competitions over the past year.
“If you qualified by placing in the top three for all of these competitions, you were given your provincial colours since you were seen as being the best of the best,” the dancer says.
Originally inspired by African dance movements, hip hop dance took off during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It flourished as a new style of street dance, incorporating aspects of modern dance, tap, and swing, integrating music and complex movements to form artistry.
For Jankelowitz, hip hop dance is both a sport and an art because it demands the creativity of art and the discipline and athleticism of sport.
“I’ve always loved dancing,” says Jankelowitz. “I began working with small and basic dance studios until they said that they felt I should move to something more professional as well as more challenging. That’s exactly what happened.”
She practices with other dancers in Pretoria about two or three times a week for about three hours. On her own, she practices twice a week for about an hour.
“When competitions are coming up, we train heavily, and I usually spend seven hours or more in Pretoria on a Saturday. That’s in addition to the training sessions during the week.”
Jankelowitz hoped to compete in the World Hip Hop Championships in Slovenia in November. “I qualified by getting a certain percentage or higher and placing first in the top three at nationals,” she says. Unfortunately, the rise in COVID-19 cases in the Central European country has resulted in the tournament being cancelled.
Jankelowitz could arm herself with Michelle Leigh Openshaw’s four principles for women looking to make a career in hip hop. The first female judge from Africa to sit on the world hip hop international panel, Openshaw’s advice is to fully discover your strengths and weaknesses, believe in yourself, be an apprentice or find a mentor, and remove fear of failure.
Hip hop isn’t the only sport that Jankelowitz excels in. She’s excited to be in South Africa’s netball squad for next year’s Maccabi Games in Israel. “Netball is another one of my passions. I went to multiple trials until I made it to the final round where out of the huge group, they chose nine to 12 girls from Johannesburg and Cape Town and I was among them.”
The Maccabi Games runs in the Jankelowitz family. Both her parents were Maccabeans, with her mom participating in netball and her dad in soccer.
In addition to netball and dancing, she also plays soccer, tennis, and does athletics. “I love going on runs or going to the gym. I really love spending time with my mates and going out with them,” says Jankelowitz.
Hatzolah’s invasion tour brings freedom back
I’ve never thought of us as the invading type, we’re more “people of the book”, but for five amazing days, even if in our own minds, we invaded the roads of the Overberg region on the 2021 Hatzolah Cape Invasion Tour.
As a first-time invader, and yes, I have to say it, in a COVID-19 year, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how I would feel being in a hotel for five days with a group of guys, many of whom I didn’t know, and riding in a mask-less peloton. This was in addition to the real fear of whether my “pins” (legs) would hold up for the 500km of riding and more than 5 000m of climbing that was necessary to claim a full invasion.
What I hadn’t taken into account was the “Hatzolah factor”. Here is an organisation whose mission it is to care, keep our community safe, save our lives when called upon to do so, and in doing so, to help create “a future that looks brighter together”.
In some respects, the riding was secondary. The operation to keep the invaders safe in all aspects was the real show, and the stakes were high for Hatzolah, which has been our knight in shining PPE (protective) suits throughout the pandemic. And what a show it put on! Led by rosh riding, Mark Kruger; rosh logistics and anything else you could think of, Sharon Newfield; and rosh medical, Yudi Singer, the Hatzolah team of Bernard Segal, Justin Gillman, Albert Ndlovu, and Sisqo Buthelezi were simply exceptional. I can tell you from personal experience that to have Segal following you in a red ambulance and then pull up next to you and offer you a “red ambulance” (an ice-cold Coke) when you’ve been dropped by the group is really quite remarkable.
As were the unbelievable marshals who worked the traffic and kept us moving safely in every direction, and our bike mechanic, Sylvester, who kept our Dogmas, Canyons, and Treks rolling smoothly on the open road. An essential function for a group full of Jewish bike mechanics.
The riding was exceptional. From the spectacular descent into Gordon’s Bay to the golden fields of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, from Pringle Bay to Villiersdorp and Hermanus, we were treated to the best of our beautiful country.
One of the biggest challenges for the invaders, on top of riding and climbing, was to return from the invasion weighing less and not more than when we started. Avron of Avron’s in Cape Town made sure that was almost impossible. The food was top class. How do I know? No one complained.
Not everything was smooth sailing. On day three, one of the more accomplished riders in the group, who was beginning to glow like a lava lamp, discovered that he had been shmeering himself with sanitiser and not sun block, but even that was quickly fixed.
And just when it couldn’t get any better, it did. Each evening, we were treated to a virtuoso performance of Pavarotti, Bocelli, and beautiful chazonis from one of – actually probably the only – multitalented rider on the tour, Ezra Sher.
I almost forgot. How do you know you’ve got Chabadniks on the ride? You have a shul set up complete with a Torah and guys lining up to put tefillin on in the morning. Love it!
From the COVID-19 tests that were required from all riders prior to arriving at Arabella, to the dedicated dining area, to the support teams and riders who made up the invading party of 2021 in a COVID-19 year, it almost felt normal. Like we were back.
This year’s tour was as much about the riding as it was about re-claiming just a little bit of our freedom that has been taken away from all of us over the past 18 or so months. It was about being careful, which allowed us to be carefree. It was about being part of a remarkable community of riders supporting the remarkable organisation that Hatzolah is. There aren’t many quotable quotes when one thinks of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but when it comes to the Hatzolah Cape Invasion for 2022, one springs to mind. “I’ll be back!” May the wind be at our backs.
- Herschel Jawitz is on the board of the SA Jewish Report.
“The Cheetah” sets the pace in ju-jitsu and judo
Mila Ben David, known as “The Cheetah”, became the youngest ever person to be crowned Woman Achiever of the Year at the Johannesburg Women in Sports Awards held on 8 October.
A Grade 4 student at King David Linksfield, the feisty 10-year-old martial artist won the accolade based on her achievements in ju-jitsu and judo.
“Thank you so much for inviting me and for this beautiful award,” Ben David told all the attendees, including Banyana Banyana forward Rhoda Mulaudzi. “I’m so glad to be recognised for my hard work and dedication.”
Ben David went on to thank her family, coaches, and Moonira Ramathula, who founded the Awards in 2018.
Ben David’s Israeli-born father, Amir, told the SA Jewish Report, “The nominees were all women, adults, and then a young girl actually wins. Normally these awards go to sports like rugby and the more popular sports. So, this is a big thing for ju-jitsu and judo. But the unique thing about Mila is that, in South Africa, she’s always fighting in the boy’s division and keeps winning.”
She has 24 gold medals for ju-jitsu and four gold medals for judo. She won the 2018 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Los Angeles, the African Continental Jiu-Jitsu Championship (boy’s division) three times in a row, and the Israeli Championship. In addition, she came second in the European Championship.
In South Africa, she has been dominating competitions against boys for the past three years.
In a recent interview screened on Disney Junior (DStv channel 309), Ben David explained why she no longer competes against girls. “After my first fight, the first competition, the girls decided that they didn’t want to fight with me,” she said. “So, I moved to the boy’s division, and my coaches said that it was a good challenge.”
Born in Madrid, Spain, Ben David emigrated with her family to South Africa when she was five.
“She speaks Spanish, her first language, and Hebrew,” says her father. “When we came to South Africa, she couldn’t speak a word of English. Now she speaks a very good English.”
Ben David was motivated to get involved in judo when she watched the sport during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “My dad asked me if I wanted to try that kind of sport,” she recalled. “The next day, we went to the gym and I met my coaches. Since then, I haven’t missed one training.”
Her dad encouraged her to take up martial arts that have a grappling instead of striking style. “I think it’s a better style for a girl. She does box and does kickboxing, but she’s not competing in that.”
Judo and ju-jitsu are grappling arts that trace their roots back to feudal Japan. Whereas judo focuses on standing and throwing techniques, ju-jitsu concentrates its efforts on controlling and submitting opponents on the ground. In short, judo is 90% standing and 10% on the ground; ju-jitsu is the opposite.
Ben David practices judo and ju-jitsu every day of the week, and trains at Gracie Barra, a martial arts school in Illovo, Johannesburg. In addition to the “The Cheetah”, they also call her “Mila the Killa”.
Storm Conrad, Ben David’s coach since she started martial arts, said, “She’s not the type of student that comes every day. She wants to fight the bigger, stronger kids. She’s always up for a challenge. She’s the most diligent, hardworking individual I’ve ever come across.”
Said her father, “She’s extremely dedicated. In King David, she brought the medal from the awards to the school and her interview on DStv was played in assembly on Friday. In a recent competition, once again, she was the only girl in the boy’s division and won all the fights by submission, not even by points. It’s quite extraordinary when a girl does that.”
Said a male opponent, “Mila is one of the hardest opponents for me to face – I think I can speak for a lot of the children at [Gracie Barra]. Mila is very focused when she starts ju-jitsu and I don’t think anything can get her unfocused.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Ben David took part in Zoom martial arts classes. “But it wasn’t like the real combat sport. I was happy to move back to gym,” she said.
Ben David also trains in rock-climbing and Muay Thai, a combat sport characterised by its use of stand-up, kicking strike actions. Although she enjoys dancing and cooking, she wants to succeed in martial arts.
“My dream is to be a world champion and a black belt,” she said. “I was also thinking of being an astronaut because I love space, or a palaeontologist because I like dinosaurs, so I’m not really sure about it yet.”
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