US Gymanst Aly Raisman.
(photo credit: reuters)
When American sports superstars celebrate victory, they traditionally go to Disneyland.
But gold-medal winning gymnast Aly Raisman will celebrate in Jerusalem after she told Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein on Friday that she would accept his invitation to her and her family to make their first visit to Israel.
In a phone conversation facilitated by US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, Raisman told Edelstein that she was really happy to be invited and she would decide with her family when would be the best time to come.
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
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.”
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
Edelstein invited not only the 18-year-old gymnast, but also
her parents, Lynn and Rick, her younger siblings Brett, Chloe, and Madison, as
“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
There have been calls from Israeli politicians this week to do
more to prepare the country’s athletes for international
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
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
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro tweeted congratulations to Raisman
“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.”
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.”