(photo credit: Reuters)
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
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
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
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