Israel’s Olympic gold victory raises Jewish identity debate

Aug 1, 2021, 11:52 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2021, 6:00 pm

JERUSALEM (AP) — Artem Dolgopyat fulfilled a lifelong dream when he won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. But back home in Israel, his hopes of trading gold wedding bands with his longtime girlfriend seem to be an impossible dream.

The Ukrainian-born Israeli gymnast was hailed as a national hero for winning Israel’s second-ever gold medal — and its first in artistic gymnastics. But the celebrations were tempered after his mother lamented that the country’s authorities will not allow him to wed because he is not considered Jewish according to Orthodox law.

“The state doesn’t allow him to marry,” Dolgopyat’s mother, Angela, told 103FM in an interview Sunday.

Her comments touched a raw nerve in this country, which has repeatedly struggled with balancing matters of religion and state since it was founded as a refuge for Jews 73 years ago.

Under its “Law of Return,” anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent is eligible for Israeli citizenship. But while Dolgopyat’s father is Jewish, his mother is not. Under “halacha,” or Jewish religious law, one must have a Jewish mother to be considered Jewish.

This discrepancy has resulted in tens of thousands of people, many of them from the former Soviet Union, who live in the country and serve in its army but who are blocked from Jewish rituals such as weddings and funerals.

Israel does not have a system of civil marriage and Israeli law mandates that Jewish marriages must be conducted by a rabbi authorized by the Chief Rabbinate. Christian and Muslim couples must also get married within their faith.

Those who do not meet the Orthodox standards set by the rabbinate — including same-sex couples, interfaith couples, and Israelis not considered Jewish by halacha — cannot get married in Israel. Instead, they must travel abroad to marry.

Attempts to legalize civil marriage have repeatedly foundered due to opposition by politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties.

Dolgopyat’s mother told the radio station that her son and his girlfriend have lived together for three years, “but they can’t marry. They need to go abroad, but they don’t let him go abroad because he always needs to do sports.”

The Olympic champion, for his part, tried to downplay the controversy. “These are things I have in my heart, it’s not right to talk about this now,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

But Dolgopyat’s wedding woes have dominated public discourse, with politicians and a raft of op-ed articles debating the issue of bringing civil marriage to Israel.

A 2019 survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that almost 60% of Israeli Jews support civil marriage.

“It’s not that Dolgopyat is entitled to marry in Israel because of the rare sports accomplishment he made, rather because he is a citizen in a democratic country,” Katya Kupchik, an activist with Israel Hofsheet wrote on the Hebrew news site Ynet. Israel Hofsheet advocates for civil marriages.

“He, like hundreds of thousands of others, ought not have to receive approvals or rejections from the Chief Rabbinate in order to exercise a basic right.”

Conversely, Yishai Cohen wrote in the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Kikar Hashabbat: “I wouldn’t want to live in a country that makes winning a sporting medal the standard for conversion” to Judaism. He said a conversion requires accepting “the yoke of Torah and the commandments.”

Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister, said Monday at a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party that he “will fight in every way possible so that there will be civil marriage” in order for Dolgopyat and others to marry in Israel.

“It’s insufferable in my eyes that someone can stand on the podium, hear Hatikva, and get a gold medal in the name of Israel, and then not be able to wed here,” he said, referring to the country’s national anthem. “It’s a situation that cannot continue, and we will fight for change.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Referee assistant Stephanie Frappart of France shows 7 minutes overtime during the World Cup group ...
Associated Press

Frappart to make World Cup history as first woman referee

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — French referee Stéphanie Frappart will become the first woman to take charge of a men’s World Cup game when she handles Germany vs. Costa Rica on Thursday in Qatar. FIFA also picked two women as assistants to Frappart — Neuza Back of Brazil and Mexico’s Karen Diaz Medina — to complete […]
24 hours ago
Kraken Burakovsky...
Associated Press

Burakovsky’s OT goal gives Kraken wild 9-8 win over Kings

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Andre Burakovsky had two goals, including the winner in overtime, and the Seattle Kraken defeated the Los Angeles Kings 9-8 on Tuesday night in the highest-scoring NHL game this season. Burakovsky scored on a power play at 2:08 of the extra session to give Seattle the first six-game winning streak in […]
24 hours ago
Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the first...
Associated Press

Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Caps beat Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night. Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894. “It’s always nice when […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

SIUE wins fifth straight game, beats St. Ambrose 89-54

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Terrance Thompson scored a career-high 15 points to lead SIU Edwardsville 89-54 on Tuesday night for its fifth straight win. Ray’Sean Taylor added 13 points, Lamar Wright 12 and Damarco Minor 10 for the Cougars (6-2). Amarey Wills scored 10 points to lead the Fighting Bees. ___ More AP college basketball: […]
24 hours ago
Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, left, makes a move under the basket against Los Angeles...
Associated Press

Powell scores 32 as Clippers rally past Blazers 118-112

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Norman Powell scored 22 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat Anfernee Simons and the Portland Trail Blazers 118-112 on Tuesday night. Reggie Jackson had 24 points and 12 assists, helping the Clippers to their second straight win. Ivica Zubac added 12 points and […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

Morgan State defeats Virginia-Lynchburg 123-59

BALTIMORE (AP) — Malik Miller scored 26 points and Morgan State defeated Virginia University of Lynchburg on Tuesday night. Khalil Turner added 21 points and Isaiah Burke 20 for the Bears (3-5). Marcus Willis led the Dragons with 25 points. ___ More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 Copyright © The Associated Press. […]
24 hours ago
Israel’s Olympic gold victory raises Jewish identity debate