Tag Archives: 2016 Rio Olympics

Jews of the Week: Oren Smadja & Sagi Muki

Judo World Champion

Oren Smadja

Shay Oren Smadja (b. 1970) was born to a Tunisian-Jewish family in Ofakim, Israel. He was the son of Israel’s first judo coach, Morris Smadja, who played a key role in introducing the sport to Israel. Trained by his father, Oren Smadja won his first gold medal in judo at the age of 12. Seven years later, he was Israel’s judo champion. Smadja went on to represent Israel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he won a bronze medal. Three years later, he won the silver medal at the 1995 World Judo Championships. In 2008 he was a participant in the Israeli TV version of “Dancing With the Stars”. Altogether, Smadja won a medal or championship in 14 professional tournaments. He retired after competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and turned to coaching judo full time.

Sagi Muki

One of Smadja’s first students was a four-year old Sagi Aharon Muki (b. 1992) from Netanya, Israel. At the young age of 8 he had to choose to pursue either soccer or judo, and went with the latter. Under Smadja’s tutelage, Muki went on to win the under-20 European Cup in Berlin in 2011. The following year, he was Israel’s judo champion in his weight class, a feat that he repeated in 2013. He continued to win in multiple international competitions, and was ranked second in the world by 2015. That year, he took gold at the European Games and the European Judo Championship. Muki represented Israel at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, he failed to win a medal after severely injuring his spine. Bedridden for months, it seemed that Muki’s career was over. Undeterred, he refused surgeries and instituted an intense healing and training regime. Muki got back into shape and returned to judo at the Grand Prix Tashkent in October 2017. Silencing all of his critics, Muki won gold. Half a year later, he took another gold in the European Championships. Earlier this year, Muki climbed back to the world number 2 spot. Last week he won gold at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, making him the first Israeli world champion. Muki also served in the IDF and carries the rank of sergeant. He takes great pride in representing Israel around the world, and is expected to bring home another gold at next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

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Words of the Week

Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.
– Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, Ottoman politician and Muslim scholar (1899)

Jews of the Week: Amy Alcott and Laetitia Beck

Two Great Women in Golf

Amy Alcott (Credit: World Golf Hall of Fame)

Amy Alcott (b. 1956) was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She played golf for the first time when she was nine years old, and the golf club was so impressed they give her special access to their facilities. At age 18, Alcott decided to skip college and become a professional golfer. She joined the LPGA and won her first tournament shortly after, as well as the Rookie of the Year award. Alcott went on to win a whopping 29 LPGA tour championships, 5 of them majors. In 1983 she became only the sixth golfer ever to make a million dollars in winnings. Alcott donated much of those earnings, and was awarded the Founders Cup three years later for her philanthropic work. In 1986, she became the third golfer ever to make two million dollars. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, as well as to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Since retiring from professional play, Alcott has turned to coaching girls golf, painting, and designing golf courses. Perhaps her most famous work is designing the golf course at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Laetitia Beck

Playing on that course and representing Israel in golf for the first time was Laetitia Beck (b. 1992). Beck was born in Belgium to a religious Jewish family which made aliyah to Israel when she was six years old. The family settled in Caesarea, near Israel’s only full golf course. Like Alcott, Beck first played golf at age 9. At just 12, she was the ladies champion at the Israel Open, and won again the following year. She then moved to the US for better opportunities and tougher competition. At 18, she returned to Israel and enlisted in the IDF. However, after completing all her exams she was given an exemption from service under the category of being a “sports prodigy”. She joined the LPGA Tour and became the first Israeli ever to do so. Beck always sports an Israeli flag somewhere on her uniform, and has said that “My goal is to represent Israel and the Jewish people.” She has done this extremely well, as she always keeps a kosher diet wherever in the world she plays, and never performs on Jewish holidays. When she declined an invitation to a golf tournament in October 2011 because it conflicted with Yom Kippur, she was compared to Sandy Koufax, who famously missed a game of the 1965 World Series for the same reason. Meanwhile, Beck earned an undergraduate degree from Duke University in 2014, where she had played for the school’s golf team, the Blue Devils. So far, Beck has won two golds at the Maccabiah Games, and five Israeli Opens (with the most recent ones played in the men’s division), as well as a Rookie of the Year award, and two appearances on the All-American golf team. She is teeing off tomorrow morning at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.

Words of the Week

The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn…
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel