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.

zaretsky 311 REAL (photo credit: Jocelyne Hallé)
zaretsky 311 REAL
(photo credit: Jocelyne Hallé)
VANCOUVER – Wandering around the teeming downtown of this westernCanadian city, its residents filling the sidewalks as they celebratethe Olympics at outdoor exhibits and street festivals, IsraeliConsul-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 toldsome 500 locals who packed the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre Sundaynight to welcome Israel’s Olympic team.
Indeed, Vancouver – with its mountains, wet climate and exceedinglypolite citizens – is a far cry from Israel. Gissin noted as much whendescribed the Israeli athletes traveling from a land of desert, “to theend 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 HolyLand on Sunday night by giving the team multiple standing ovations,waving Israeli flags and crowding the athletes to get autographs andpictures.
“The Jewish community is so excited about Israel being represented atthe Olympics. To not give them a chance to experience that joy andexcitement would be terrible,” said Danielle Gavon, who helped organizeSunday’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 alsoexcited by what they saw and the way in which they were received.
“They feel that the community cares, and they do feel that theyrepresent Israel and the Jews to the outside world. It’s important tothem that Israel and the Jews outside Israel support them.”
“It really means a lot that they’re coming to support our team,” agreedGalit 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 oftheir 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 theZaretskys 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 whonow works at the Vancouver JCC’s fitness center, the preliminarycompetition, which pits the Israelis stacked against scores of Europeanopponents, 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 participateis 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 Jewishcommunity to honor the athletes and raise Olympic spirits in the pastfour days. On Thursday night, a Magen David Adom fundraiser alsofeatured the trio and paid tribute to Israel’s Olympic heritage.
“We’re all crazy for the Olympics,” local MDA chapter president RoyGrinshpan noted. “The mood in the city is unbelievable and to get tohave that in a Jewish setting was phenomenal.”