On Sunday, Israel celebrated the historic achievement of Artem Dolgopyat, who won a gold medal in artistic gymnastics. But hours after the prime minister and the president of Israel congratulated him for bringing pride to the entire country, his mother told a local radio station that Israel’s new hero cannot get married in Israel.
During an interview on Radio 103FM, Dolgopyat’s mother, Angela Bilan, explained that her son, like hundreds of thousands of Israelis, is not considered Jewish by the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate, which controls marriage and divorce procedures for Jews in Israel, thus limiting his ability to marry in his home country.
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Asked when her son will have children, Bilan answered: "For grandchildren, he needs to get married. The country doesn't let him get married.” She explained that since she is not Jewish, her son, who has a Jewish grandmother from his father’s side, is also not recognized as Jewish by the Rabbinate.
The fact that his grandmother was Jewish made it possible for the 24-year-old gymnast to receive citizenship in Israel based on the country’s Law of Return. But the Rabbinate, which adheres to a strict ultra-Orthodox interpretation of Jewish religious law, does not consider him Jewish and would require him to go through the conversion process in order to get married.
Bilan further said in the interview that Dolgopyat has a Belarusian girlfriend with whom he has been living for three years. There are no civil marriages in Israel, but if the couple were to get married outside of Israel, their marriage would be recognized by the State of Israel. However, due to COVID travel restrictions, they have not been able to do so.
Their inability to marry in Israel has provoked a strong reaction from Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, a former Olympian judoka and a member of the Yesh Atid party. “The pride of Israel on the podium – and second rate under the chuppah,” he wrote on social media, referring to the Jewish canopy used in weddings.
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Dolgopyat was asked about the issue at a press conference at the Olympic village in Tokyo, but refused to address it directly. “First of all, it’s my personal life, and I think it isn’t so proper to discuss it in front of the entire country,” he said. “These are matters of the heart, and they are mine, so I would rather not answer.”
Dolgopyat acknowledged that he needs to adjust to getting more media attention than previously. “The truth is that I don’t know how it will be when I return to Israel because, you could say, I wasn’t known until now,” he said. “However, I want to remain modest the way I am and not to think about everything around me. I simply want to do my job, our job,” he added, acknowledging the people around him who support him.