Israel’s national mixed curling team faces a daunting challenge next week when it joins the Mixed World Championships, but at least its members cleared one hurdle this week: citizenship.
Three of the squad’s four members arrived in Israel on Wednesday afternoon under the auspices of Nefesh B’ Nefesh (the immigrant assistance organization) to become formal Israeli citizens.
Taking advantage of the afternoon opening hours of the Interior Ministry, they proceeded to Jerusalem to do all their paperwork and receive their laissez passé travel documents, Simon Pack, the Israel Curling Federation's director of development, told Haaretz yesterday.
“At 8 A.M.(Thursday), they were on a flight to Switzerland as Israeli citizens,” said Pack.
The three newly inducted Israelis are Elana Sone and Andrea Stark, who both curl in the Toronto area out of the East York Curling Club, and Larry Sidney, an extreme athlete who curls with Lake Tahoe Epic Curling in South Lake Tahoe and will race skeleton for Israel.
Relatively veteran Israeli Jeff Lutz, who is sharing the skip duties with Elana and hails from Detroit, played for the men’s team in the European C and B tournaments.
Although Sidney just became a citizen, Bern will be his second competition representing Israel.
In January, he competed in Quebec City, Canada, at the Winter World Masters Games, which Pack explained has less stringent representation requirements. Sidney has a brother who lives in Israel.
Israel has no easy path to next Saturday’s final, having been placed in Group B. “We’re in a group of death with Canada, Norway and Germany, and it should be interesting,” said Pack. Israel has to finish among the top three in order to advance to next Friday’s elimination round. Beside the three favorites, Group B includes Australia, Finland, Latvia, Spain and Wales. Israel's first match will be against Canada on Sunday.
Mixed curling in the four-member team format is not an Olympic discipline, so next week’s championship is open to all national associations that are members of the World Curling Federation.
The dedication of the four teammates is making it possible for Israel to send its first-ever delegation to the World Championship, according to Pack.
“The Israel Curling Federation is on a shoestring budget, so these four players have decided themselves that this is important for them,” Pack said, about the team’s determination to go this year.
“They want to play in this, so they are financing their own travel,” he added.
Pack said that mixed double curling was just added as a medal sport for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, so he thinks the world federation added the tournament in Bern – which commences tomorrow – to get in some early competition and “test the waters to see if it will stick as a medal sport.” He added that the first world double championship is to be held in Sweden next April.
North American immigrants to Israel are making an impact not only in curling but other sports as well, including lacrosse and track and field.
Jillian Schwartz, a U.S.-born pole vaulter, competed for Israel at the 2012 Olympics after previously representing the United States in Athens (in 2004). American-Israeli sprinter Donald Sanford also competed at the London Games.
“In many people’s eyes, making aliyah to Israel is the ultimate realization of the Zionist dream. Representing Israel on an international platform is taking that dream to the next level,” explained Marc Rosenberg, pre-aliyah director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“The significant contributions that are being made by North American olim to Israel, socially and economically as well as in the international sports arena, are putting Israel on the map,” Rosenberg added.