After making history in the High Court of Justice, 16-year-old Yuval Freilich
has his sights on setting even more precedents, this time in his beloved sport
Two and a half years ago, Freilich’s appeal to the High Court
not to compete in junior competitions on Shabbat was accepted by Justice Hanan
Meltzer. All Freilich wanted was to have a chance to compete for a place in the
European junior championships, but the groundbreaking ruling in his favor had
The religiously observant Freilich petitioned
the High Court in October 2008 to reschedule a decisive competition, as taking
part in it would require him to violate Shabbat. His appeals to move the event
to Friday were ignored by the Israel Fencing Association, but not by the High
“Fencing is my entire world,” Freilich told Meltzer in court. “I
train four to five times a week and feel terrible that by being an observant Jew
in the Jewish state, I am denied the opportunity to represent Israel in
Meltzer accepted Freilich’s arguments that
the Fencing Association’s insistence on holding its competitions on Shabbat
constituted discrimination against religious Jewish athletes, and that it went
against the Equal Opportunities Act. The judge ordered that the event be moved
from Shabbat or that the fencer be awarded a technical victory in any
competition in which he could not compete due to his religious
The Fencing Association refused to move the competition, but the
court’s ruling eventually left the association with no other option but to avoid
scheduling future events on Shabbat.
Since that time, Freilich has become
one of Israeli sports’ most promising Olympic prospects.
Last month he
was crowned as the Cadet (under- 17) European champion in the epee, one of the
competitive fencing categories in the Olympic Games. And Freilich has excelled
against much older fencers, finishing in eighth position in the Under-20
European Championships earlier this year.
However, his success has also
resulted in criticism.
Freilich chose to compete on Shabbat on his way to
winning the bronze medal at the Cadet World Championships in Azerbaijan last
April, angering many people after competitions in Israel were moved following
his petition to the High Court.
“I think it was quite hypocritical on my
part,” he admitted. “I can understand why people got upset.
I had already
separated myself from the whole High Court business because I knew this would
eventually happen. I knew there would be a massive media upheaval about
Freilich, who lives in Neveh Daniel in Gush Etzion and trains in
Kfar Saba, wears a kippa and considers himself a religious person, admitted that
he is willing to make compromises to further his fencing career.
fencing career comes first,” he said. “I try to observe Shabbat as best as
possible when I am away at competitions. I’ve had one or two competitions that
have been on Shabbat, no more. We are usually very close to the competition
venue, so I’ve been able to walk there most of the time.”
would like to leave the whole High Court episode behind him, he doesn’t regret
that it happened, as he feels it has helped many other religious
“For me that story is finished; but now that it has been done,
there are a whole lot of fencers who are benefiting from it,” he said. “My
father will do whatever he can so that other people who are inflexible
religiously can compete on weekdays.
I think most people also want to
have Shabbat off. My coaches also want to be with their families on
While sporting success seems to be an obsession for most
top-level athletes, Freilich is adamant about taking it all in his stride, even
saying that he wants to put school before sports.
“I come back from
training and study as much as I can,” the 11th-grader said. “I’ve put fencing
first this year, which is something I didn’t want to do at the beginning of the
year. I wanted to put school first, but that’s the way it went. It’s not very
easy having a career in fencing.
It’s always a good hobby to have, but
I’m going to have to do something apart from fencing.”
He is targeting
reaching the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games but sounded almost nonchalant when
speaking about participating in the Olympics.
“Competing in the Olympics
hasn’t really been a dream for me,” he said. “If it comes, it comes. I will be
very happy if I get the chance to compete, but I don’t dream about
He has dominated his opponents in recent years. He is the twice and
present under-17 national Israeli champion and is currently the top ranked
under- 17 and under-20 fencer in the country, being named the Wingate
Institute’s Outstanding Junior Athlete of the Year two years running.
am expected to do well in continental competitions, but I don’t know if I am
expected to win,” he said. “In under-16 events in Israel I expect to win, but
not overseas. I always tell myself to expect the least.”
Freilich will lead Israel in the under-17 and under-20 World Championships in
Jordan, hoping to prove once more that he has what it takes to make it to the
Although the early signs are encouraging, only time will tell
if Freilich will go on to become an Olympic star for Israel.
has already shown that he is not afraid of going against convention, and that
may well prove to be the key to any future triumphs.
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