50 Influential Jews: The Israeli Athlete - No. 44

2023 saw Israeli athletes achieve great success in different sports around the world. Here are some of the best of the best who represented the blue-and-white flag internationally.

 Guy Luzon, Ofir Haim, and Inbar Lanir. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Guy Luzon, Ofir Haim, and Inbar Lanir.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel’s athletes managed to accomplish the impossible over the past year. Perhaps more than any other entry on this esteemed list of Jewish influencers, the sportswomen and sportsmen who represented the Israeli flag in international competitions over the past 12 months were able to capture that ever-elusive feat of uniting an entire nation for a positive and inspiring purpose. In both the team and individual settings – and for men and women alike – there were many outstanding achievements, and they were particularly notable for the range and diversity of sports in which they took place. To run down the list of just a few of the impressive exploits: 

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  • The Israel Under-20 National Soccer Team captured the bronze medal at the World Cup in Argentina, an event that was actually moved from Indonesia due to its objection to Israel’s participation. The young blue-and-white – a team composed of Jews, Druze and Israeli Arabs – took out the likes of Japan, Asian champion Uzbekistan and powerhouse Brazil to shock the sports world.
  • The Israel Under-21 National Soccer Team punched its ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics, where the country will be featured for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Games. The blue-and-white surprised many by defeating the Czech Republic and host Georgia while drawing against Germany, before bowing out to eventual-champion England in the semifinals.
  • Shelly Bobritsky and Ariel Nassee beat stiff competition in the Women’s Duet Technical event at the Artistic Swimming World Cup to become the first Israeli swimmers to win a gold medal at a major meet.
  • The Israel Under-20 National Basketball Team – led by budding star Noam Yaacov and naturalized Israeli Danny Wolf – shocked Spain and Germany before falling to France in overtime of the championship contest to come home with a surprising silver medal.
  • Israeli sprinter Blessing Afrifah has been climbing the ladder of success over the past couple of years and he showed no signs of slowing down by winning the gold medal in the 200m at the 2023 European Athletics Championships to go along with his Under-20 gold last year. The 19-year-old blue-and-white speedster is a threat to take home a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
  • The Israeli men’s lacrosse team finished in seventh place at the World Championships in San Diego, where it compiled a 6-1 record with the lone defeat in the quarterfinals coming against the United States.
  • Shahar Tibi became the first Israeli to win the World Championship in surfing since Lee Korzits turned the trick a decade ago in 2013. Not only did Tibi take the gold, but yet another Israeli – Katy Spychakov – took silver as these two Sabras will definitely be a threat at the 2024 Paris Games.
  • Judoka Inbar Lanir, 23, burst onto the scene by winning not one, not two, but three gold medals in the under-78kg. category, becoming the next in a line of Israeli contenders for a top medal at the upcoming Olympics.
  • Israel’s team, comprising Shani Bakanov, Eliza Banchuk, Adar Friedmann, Romi Paritzki, Ofir Shaham and Diana Svertsov, won the gold medal at the 2023 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in the group all-around category on August 25 in Valencia, Spain.
  • Israeli athlete Maru Teferi, 31, made history on August 27 by winning a silver medal in the men’s marathon at the World Athletics Championship in Budapest.

The bigger the stage, the larger the influence, and many young blue-and-white athletes rose to the occasion on the grandest of stages in 2023. Their “Summer of Success” created plenty of much-needed pride in a country embroiled in turmoil, while bringing together many different cross-sections of Israeli society – Jews and Arabs, religious and secular – in a way that is almost unfathomable in context of the current social and political climate.

Even more, the remarkable and unprecedented performance of Israel’s athletes continues to provide an entire generation of the country’s youth with the most powerful motivation possible – hope! 

Israeli and Jewish children today have real and relatable role models everywhere they look who prove that when it comes to their dreams, the sky’s the limit – a compelling and triumphant trickle-down message that extends far beyond the sporting arena.

Unity, inspiration, perseverance, pride, hope and success – an incredible package of values truly embodied by the young men and women who represented Israel in a multitude of athletic competitions this year. The intangible impact of their collective accomplishments enthralled in the moment and left an everlasting impression about the power of potential fulfilled, for Israelis and all Jews worldwide.

This was, in fact, their greatest victory of all.