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Jerusalem of Gold: Raisman invited to Israel
By GIL HOFFMAN
10/08/2012
Exclusive: Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein invites Jewish-American medalist Aly Raisman and her family for first Israel visit.
 
When American sports superstars celebrate victory, they traditionally go to Disneyland.

But gold-medal winning gymnast Aly Raisman could end up celebrating in Jerusalem after Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein sent an invitation Thursday to Raisman and her family to make their first visit to Israel.

Raisman, 18, became a household name worldwide last week when she performed her floor routine to the tune of “Hava Nagila,” making her the first US woman to win gold in that event. She won another gold medal for the performance of the US women’s gymnastics team she captained and a bronze in the balance-beam competition.

When asked why she chose to perform to “Hava Nagila,” she said she was proud to be Jewish and she wanted to represent her heritage at the Olympics. She said that while she did not choose the song in honor of the 11 Israeli sportsmen who were murdered at the Munich Olympics in 1972, she dedicated her medals to them and she would have stood for a moment of silence in their memory had the International Olympic Committee accepted requests for such a gesture.

“Having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” Raisman said in a New York Post cover story under the banner headline “Star of David.”

“The fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me. If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it.”

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Edelstein wrote Raisman an impassioned letter congratulating her for her victories and for giving Americans yet another reason to be proud. In the letter, which was obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, Edelstein said Israelis were moved by her performance and her recent statements.

“I am sure you know that beyond your wonderful personal achievement, you also brought great pride to millions of Jews in Israel and around the world,” Edelstein wrote. “For me personally, as the minister in charge of relations with Diaspora Jewry, hearing why you chose the song made me realize that the concept of Kol Israel Arevim Zeh Lazeh [All Jews are responsible for one another] still holds true and that the Jewish people remain united no matter how far apart we may live. I was impressed that someone so young made such a monumental, ethical decision.”

Edelstein invited not only the 18-year-old gymnast, but also her parents, Lynn and Rick, her younger siblings Brett, Chloe, and Madison, as his guests.

“Making your first visit to Israel is not only important because it is the homeland of the Jewish people but also because you can contribute from your experience to the young generation of Israeli athletes,” wrote Edelstein, who has won international competitions in boxing and table tennis.

There have been calls from Israeli politicians this week to do more to prepare the country’s athletes for international competitions.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat announced Wednesday that she would appoint a team of experts to examine why Israel did not win a medal for the first time in a Summer Olympics since Seoul in 1988.

Edelstein’s ministry was in touch with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and Raisman’s synagogue in Newton, Massachusetts, to make sure she received the invitation.

US Ambassador Dan Shapiro tweeted congratulations to Raisman in Hebrew.

“I am so proud of the American gymnast Aly Raisman,” Shapiro wrote. “She won the floor exercise and immediately dedicated her medal to the Israelis murdered in Munich. What an impressive decision.”

Raisman’s rabbi, Keith Stern of the Reform Temple Beth Avodah, said her family was not particularly observant, but very proudly Jewish.

“I’ve known Aly since she started pre-school here at my temple,” Stern told The Jerusalem Post. “She has always been a sweet, kind, dedicated girl. To see her dancing and tumbling to “Hava Nagila“ was overwhelming.

That a young Jewish-American girl would proudly and yes, courageously perform to what even most non-Jews know to be an Israeli folk song on the international stage was inspiring. That she did it 40 years after Munich is a proclamation of Jewish strength and pride and determination. I will never forget it.”
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