American swimming champion Garrett Weber- Gale winner of two gold medals at the Beijing Olympics and presently in Israel with the US Maccabiah team, has expressed a desire to make aliya.

He was among the 200 guests – inspirational athletes, Maccabi World Union officials, delegation heads of delegations and 19th Maccabiah sponsors – at President Shimon Peres’s official residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Weber-Gale, who set eight American records and won four world championships said he has a stock reply when asked why he wanted to come to the Maccabiah: He contrasts his desire to attend the Olympics – the greatest sporting arena in the world – with the wish to be part of the Maccabiah – to compete with the greatest Jewish athletes in the world. He admitted not really knowing what the Maccabiah was all about until he got to Israel and felt the emotion of it.

“At the Maccabiah it’s not about proving which country is best, but that the Jewish people is strong,” he said.

Weber-Gale connected so strongly with his Jewish heritage that after only two days in Israel he was seriously contemplating aliya, he said. But that decision won’t be his alone since he recently became engaged and his fiancee will have a say in the matter.

The most emotional moment for Weber-Gale at the opening of the Maccabiah was, he said, when so many thousands of people together sang “Hativka – the anthem of the Jewish People and the State of Israel.”

He said he looked forward to being an ambassador for the Maccabiah Games for many years to come.

Peres, meanwhile, said that when he was young, his preferred sport was swimming – “because if you swim you never get dry.” Later, as defense minister, Peres said, he watched soldiers learning to swim and was intrigued when instructors told them: “If you reach the middle of a lake and get tired, don’t swim back.”

On pondering this, Peres decided it was good political advice. “In sports you don’t stop in the middle.

In politics you do,” he said at the reception. The president defined sport as an extension of education.

“Sport dismantled racism” he said, pointing out that when athletes get together for a sports event, no-one is interested in their color, but in their speed. “I’d rather people be fanatic about sport than about racism,” he said.

“Unintentionally, sport became a preparation for peace,” Peres said, calling sport a war without killing and a competition without insults. Then, looking out across the rows of young athletes and taking his cue from Weber-Gale, Peres, a former immigration and absorption minister, said: “Whoever wants to make aliya – I’m ready to register you personally.”

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