Olympic Hopeful, Unable to Get Equestrian Competition Moved From Yom Kippur, Withdraws

'I do not come from a religious family. It’s not that I keep Yom Kippur, respect it,' Dan Kremer told Haaretz. 'But for me the decision comes because I represent the country and the flag'

Dan Kremer.
Ori Benik

A rider who was slated to represent Israel at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Mill Spring, North Carolina next month, has decided to not participate because he would have to compete on Yom Kippur.

“I do not come from a religious family. It’s not that I keep Yom Kippur, respect it,” Dan Kremer told Haaretz Thursday. “But for me the decision comes because I represent the country and the flag.”

Kremer was part of a team in which the other members are naturalized citizens — Americans Ashley Bond and Daniel Goldstein as well as Daniel Bluman of Colombia. The Israel Equestrian Federation has named Alberto Milchen of Mexico to replace Kremer at the championship.

Kremer, who grew up on Moshav Hayogev and whose family owned a horse, has dreamed for years of competing in the Olympics. He has ridden horses since he was 7 or 8 years old. He almost did riding as an outstanding athlete in the army before following in the footsteps of his father and two brothers into a combat unit. But after suffering a leg injury in the army, he returned to riding as part of his physical therapy regimen and caught the bug. He qualified for next month’s world championship last year.

As much as he did not want to give up on that dream this year, for him it was a matter of values. “I want the team to be for all Israel and not just for the federation and to act like a big sport,” he said. “If we aim for the Olympics we cannot play small. And if this event fell on a holy day for the people that live here, then let’s at least try to do something about it.

According to him, though, that’s not what happened, or at least not in earnest. He learned of the scheduling conflict at the beginning of the year, so he turned to the Israeli federation to work on changing the date to avoid the conflict with the Jewish High Holiday. He says that the federation did not act for months, only telling him that the International Federation for Equestrian Sports would not change the program.

“A couple of months later, the federation wrote it would try to change the dates closer to the championships when the exact hour is known, but it was not sure it will be accepted,” recalled Kremer, who currently resides in Belgium. They told him the decision to compete is up to each athlete.

“It was a sign to me they would try to do something,” he said. “I saw the schedule; it was 9 to 5. I asked again about changing the schedule,” he said, noting that by this time he had heard from the Culture and Sports Ministry. “My understanding from the ministry is that a team that participates on Yom Kippur will be severely punished, and that it will be bad for our careers. His answer was, ‘I don’t know why you are talking with the sports ministry and not the federation, which is unacceptable.”

Kremer says he was disappointed the local federation didn’t back him up. He says they would not write him a letter saying it is okay to compete on Yom Kippur, but rather that they expected him to compete “under the radar” and hope the public and officials didn’t notice, which he said was unrealistic in the age of social media.

If anything, he feels the federation missed an opportunity to join forces. “If they cannot put pressure to change the time, then enlist the help of the Culture Ministry,” he said, noting that the Israeli judo team set a precedent by rescheduling world championship matches that fell on Yom Kippur.

By last week, with the final deadline for registering for the games approaching and realizing that the dates were not going to be changed, Kremer withdrew from the team.

He just wanted, he stressed, for the Israeli federation to act in time to change the day of competition. “I am an athlete, but you cannot put me in a situation that I need a lawyer if I get caught competing and not be respected by people in my country if I do compete, and they don’t stand behind me,” he bemoaned.

Kremer hopes the team and the sport do not suffer by having the athletes competing, and that they can represent the country with pride.

Looking forward, he says his goal is for the European championship 2019 and the Olympic games at Tokyo 2020, and to give hope to the next generation in Israel to believe that they can make it in this small but growing sport.

The Israel Equestrian Federation and the Culture and Sports Ministry did not respond to requests for comments.