Vancouver Jews give Israeli team standing ovation

“We find a Zionist, warm, loving community for whom Israel is a second home," says Consul-General Amir Gissin.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPOND
February 16, 2010 04:24
3 minute read.
Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky pose with a couple of

zaretsky 311 REAL. (photo credit: Jocelyne Hallé)

 
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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.

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“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 pictures.

“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 is amazing.”

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.”

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