Cue “Hava Nagila,” Aly Raisman is coming to Israel.
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The Jewish-American gymnast, who performed her gold-medal winning floor exercise routine to the tune of that traditional folk song at the 2012 London Olympics, will compete in the 19th Maccabiah Games this July, organizers announced Monday at a news conference at the Maccabiah Village in Ramat Gan.
Maccabiah chairman Amir Pered said that Raisman will be honored during the opening ceremony, which will take place on July 18 at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
“We are very happy that an athlete like Aly Raisman, who is at the top of her game, will be coming to take part,” Pered said. He noted that she will be joined by her famously anxious parents.
Raisman’s triumph in the floor exercise at the London Olympics helped the U.S. women’s gymnastics team clinch their first Olympic gold medal since 1996. She also claimed an individual bronze in balance beam.
But it was her song choice and comments about the massacre of Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Olympics in Munich that endeared her to Jews around the world.
The 2012 games marked the 40th anniversary of the massacre, in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered by Palestinian terrorists from the group Black September. The International Olympic Committee decided not to hold a moment of silence for the victims during the Games’ opening ceremony, over protests by Israel and other countries. Raisman weighed in on the controversy after her floor exercise victory.
“If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it,” the 18-year-old native of Needham, Massachusetts was quoted as saying.
Her grandmother, Susan Faber, told Haaretz last summer that Raisman’s decision to dance to “Hava Nagila” sent a message “that she is proud of her religion.” Faber added: “She grew up overnight in my eyes.”
Since achieving Olympic glory, Raisman has been promoting a healthy lifestyle in speaking engagements around the United States. Later this month, she will appear as a contestant on the reality show “Dancing With the Stars.” She has said she will begin training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after her run on the show.
The Maccabiah, often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” is held every four years and is the world’s largest international Jewish athletic competition.
Among the other high-profile Jewish athletes who are expected to participate in this year’s games are Garrett Weber-Gale, an American swimmer who won two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; American basketball player Amare Stoudemire, who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics; and 19-year-old Australian sprinter Steven Solomon.
This Maccabiah will be the largest in its history, organizers said, with 8,600 athletes participating from 72 countries. Cuba will send a delegation for the first time. The athletes will compete in 42 sporting events, including several new additions: ice hockey, handball, shooting, archery, swimming - open water, bridge and badminton. The Paralympics athletes will compete in tennis, table tennis, cycling, swimming and wheelchair basketball.