If you are alive, Jewish, and into sports you should know about figure skater Tamar Katz and the Israeli Olympic Committee’s ruling not to send her to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Her story has been covered by major news outlets including The New York Times and The Jewish Week. I am someone who is basically pro-Israel in every way, but I think Israel got it wrong on this one. We need these athletes to show the world that there is more than conflict going on in the Holy Land, and I think the Olympics are a perfect platform for that. I recently had a chance to chat with the Israeli skater to get the inside scoop—Jewish sports journalism at its best.
Jeremy Fine: How long have you been skating? Where did you get your start?
Tamar Katz: I was eight years old when we moved to Washington D.C. and I began skating when I was 10. We were there until I was 13. When we returned to Israel it was hard to continue skating. There is only one real ice rink in Israel. So, my family and I relocated from Zichron Yaacov to be closer to the rink in Mitulah. It was still difficult to train because it’s not a great rink and it is shared with the hockey players, free skate, and other events. It was even closed once or twice due to Hezbollah. So, at 15 I moved to New Jersey to pursue my dream. My mother came to live with me for a while. I then moved in with Sally Wittmore, a wonderful woman who is also a Holocaust survivor. Eventually, I moved to Monsey, NY and began training with my coach, Peter Burrows. The community around me has been very supportive.
Could you have tried to represent the US in the 2010 Olympics?
Well, I have both American and Israeli citizenship. I learned English when I was eight years old. But I will always represent Israel. First, I am Israeli, then I am Jewish, then I am American.
Tamar, you have been in the news a lot recently, what exactly happened?
I qualified for the Winter Olympics to represent Israel. We had three spots in the Winter Olympics. I was the first person to represent Israel in figure skating. But my spot was taken away by (the Olympic Committee in) Israel. (The committee) has a rule that you must place within the top 12 in the European Championships (to compete in the Olympics). During the European Championships I had a viral infection. I shouldn't have competed, but I did anyway because it was my dream to represent my country. Unfortunately, I finished 21st. But in September 2009, I qualified for the Olympics at the Nebelhorn Trophy, Olympic Qualifying Competition. There, I finished seventh.
Why won't Israel let you compete?
Israel has an internal standard (not that of the Olympic games). I must finish in the top 12 to 14 at the European Championships. Israel has said several times that they do not want to send "tourists" to the Olympic games. They want to send people who will bring back medals. Well, I was not intending on going as a tourist and while I might not have won a medal, I think it is important for the world to see Israel compete. That is how a sport grows, through exposure.
What are you doing now?
My battle is over. Israel decided to (give) the spot I got to Australia. So, now I am trying to advocate for future Israeli athletes who want to participate in the Olympic Games. I started a Facebook group that has over 1,700 members to raise awareness. Also, my story has been picked up by many Jewish outlets.
Did the Facebook group work?
It definitely gets the word out there. Israel has never won a medal in the winter games. But I do not think it should just be about medals. This was my dream and many other will have the same dream. I don't want this to happen to someone else.
So now that 2010 is unfortunately not going to be a reality, do you plan on trying again for the 2014 Olympic Games?
This is still very hard for me. I am still very upset now. I need some time to think about it. But I am definitely not ruling it out.
We are a Jewish blog, so I was wondering what your Jewish life is like?
Being Jewish is important part to who I am. For the 2006 Olympics there was a qualifier on Yom Kippur. I did not participate. It wasn't even a thought. Yom Kippur is a holy day.
So what is next for Tamar Katz?
I am going to compete at the World Championship in March in Italy. There will be the same competitors as the Olympics but actually more competition. Hopefully, I will do well there and prove something to everyone.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I've had incredibly support from Boris Chait and the Israeli Ice Skating Federation who fought until the last minute so that I wouldn’t have to give up my spot.
Comment below to let me know what you think about Tamar's story.
And Let Us Say...Amen.