zaretsky 311 REAL.
(photo credit: Jocelyne Hallé)
VANCOUVER – Wandering around the teeming downtown of this western
Canadian city, its residents filling the sidewalks as they celebrate
the Olympics at outdoor exhibits and street festivals, Israeli
Consul-General Amir Gissin was reminded of Tel Aviv.
Approaching a sporting venue, he noticed an long, orderly line of thousands of people patiently waiting to be admitted.
“Then I understood immediately that I was not in Tel Aviv,” Gissin told
some 500 locals who packed the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre Sunday
night to welcome Israel’s Olympic team.
Indeed, Vancouver – with its mountains, wet climate and exceedingly
polite citizens – is a far cry from Israel. Gissin noted as much when
described the Israeli athletes traveling from a land of desert, “to the
end of the world” to chase their Olympic dreams.
Yet despite the distance, he said, “We find a Zionist, warm, loving community for whom Israel is a second home.”
That community showed its enthusiasm for the delegation from the Holy
Land on Sunday night by giving the team multiple standing ovations,
waving Israeli flags and crowding the athletes to get autographs and
“The Jewish community is so excited about Israel being represented at
the Olympics. To not give them a chance to experience that joy and
excitement would be terrible,” said Danielle Gavon, who helped organize
Sunday’s event and said the overflow crowd “exceeded my expectations,
and I’m delighted.”
Gavon, who is originally from Israel, added that the athletes were also
excited by what they saw and the way in which they were received.
“They feel that the community cares, and they do feel that they
represent Israel and the Jews to the outside world. It’s important to
them that Israel and the Jews outside Israel support them.”
“It really means a lot that they’re coming to support our team,” agreed
Galit Chait, the coach for ice dancers Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky.
“It’s very special that you can have the community come together and support our team. It gives you a really good feeling.”
And skier Mikhail Renzhin said the support buoyed the team ahead of
their events, which he hoped would in turn improve their performance.
“It’s nice to see these people coming here in support of us,” said the 32-year-old repeat Olympian.
“I think it also will help us to do well.”
None of the Israeli competitors is expected to earn a medal, though the
Zaretskys hope to crack the top 10. But in Alexei Orekhov’s opinion,
making the Olympics at all was a major victory.
According to Orekhov, a former Israeli Olympic tae-kwon-do coach who
now works at the Vancouver JCC’s fitness center, the preliminary
competition, which pits the Israelis stacked against scores of European
opponents, can be even harder than the Olympics.
“It’s very difficult for Israelis to make it to the Olympics,
especially in the winter,” he said. “Just for these guys to participate
The crowd certainly seemed energized by the trio’s mere presence, an excitement reflective of frenzy throughout the city.
As the evening’s MC, Kyle Berger, put it, “It’s hard to be here right now and not be completely caught up in Olympic fever.”
The gathering was the second large-scale event organized by the Jewish
community to honor the athletes and raise Olympic spirits in the past
four days. On Thursday night, a Magen David Adom fundraiser also
featured the trio and paid tribute to Israel’s Olympic heritage.
“We’re all crazy for the Olympics,” local MDA chapter president Roy
Grinshpan noted. “The mood in the city is unbelievable and to get to
have that in a Jewish setting was phenomenal.”