Nice Ice: Jews on skates

Did you know that, from 1867, Jewish ice skating clubs existed in Lvov, Cracow and Warsaw?

Members of the Tribe who wanted to be part of Polish society were interested in sports, according to Yeshiva University professor American Jewish history Jeffrey Gurock, who is quoted in the story below.

The New York Jewish Week article, by Alina Adams, covers Jewish (or those with Jewish background) skaters and ice dancers, and the reasons for increased participation.

Skaters include Sasha Cohen, US; Emily Hughes, US; Irina Slutskaya, Russia (Jewish father); Benjamin Agosto (Jewish mother, Puerto Rican father); and Maxim Staviski, Bulgaria

Ice Dancers include Melissa Gregory and Jamie Silverstein, US; Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhanovski, Israel; and Alexandra and Roman Zaretski, Israel.

Agosto and the Zaretskis will compete in the upcoming Vancouver Winter Games.

Why the increased Jewish presence?

Kenny Moir, director of figure skating at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, says he has witnessed an increase in Jewish students at all levels since the Israel Skating Federation was created two decades ago. “Very quickly, Jewish skaters who lived and trained in countries that had a high density of competitive skaters, such as Canada, the United States, Russia, etc., could move to Israel or at least compete for Israel,” Moir says.

Another reason: the breakup of the former Soviet Union, which sent trained skaters and coaches throughout the diaspora.

Another important event was the 1995 completion of Israel’s first Olympic-sized ice rink – Canada Centre in Metulla. Those interested in the sport now had a place to train. The Israel Skating Federation was formed following a wave of Russian immigration in the late 1970s.

Russian skaters often hid their ancestry to represent the FSU.

The article provides interesting views of the USSR Skating Federation by former athletes and others. Basically, if a Jewish athlete could bring home a medal, they let him or her on the national team, but might not allow their Jewish coaches to travel internationally.

Odessa-born Mikhail Shmerkin, who made aliyah and became the first Israeli to enter the Winter Olympics, as a figure skater, asserts that while he was training with coach Galina Zmievskaya alongside eventual 1992 Olympic Champion Victor Petrenko, he was informed by the Soviet Skating Federation that if he intended to represent his country internationally, he would need to stop being Jewish.

As a result, Shmerkin’s mother divorced his father and married a non-Jewish friend so that, on paper, her son could be considered Russian. He went on to represent the USSR at the 1990 Junior World Championship.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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