Israel is reverberating in celebration of its first gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, won by artistic gymnast Dolgopyat. The 24-year-old Ukrainian-born moved to Israel when he was 12 years old and only learned of his Jewish side then too.
The victory has created an opportunity to showcase the many challenges of being an immigrant in Israeli society. Dolgopyat didn’t have an easy landing in Israel, leaving two schools behind, and choosing to pursue athletics at age 16. The country didn’t support his assimilation, yet both the President and Prime Minister were quick to congratulate him personally on Israel’s newest milestone.
Dolgopyat’s story represents both the rise and fall of the Israeli immigration struggle. Israel accepts thousands of new Olim, or immigrants, every year. Demand is rising with the increase of antisemitism across the world. However, restrictions on who is considered Jewish remain a sensitive touchpoint, as only people with Jewish mothers are considered Jewish. Dolgopyat’s mother was quick to point out that her son couldn’t get married in Israel. Still, there is no civil marriage in Israel, so religious law determines the precedent. Apparently, everyone can be Israeli, yet when it comes to being Jewish, it gets complicated.
If Israeli bureaucracy and Jewish law could find a way to be more welcoming to the wide spectrum of Jews, and future Israelis, who could certainly contribute, serve, and create more victories for the small state of Israel, it would certainly align with the attributes that every Israeli or Jew desires at the end of the day, a safe place to call home.
The victor won over China and Spain and was listed as a top contender for bringing home the gold medal. This is Israel’s second gold medal of all time. The first was won in Athens 2004 in sailing. A bronze medal came in for Israel in judo as well, totaling three so far.