Central Synagogue welcomes Olympians

September 10, 2012 by Henry Benjamin
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Olympians Steve Solomon and Silver Medal winner Jessica Fox visited Sydney’s Central Synagogue for Friday night Shabbat prayers…and were guests of honour at a dinner following the service.

Rabbi Levi Wolff, Steven Solomon, Jessica Fix and Hillel Fried

The two Sydney-based athletes spoke at the Studio Central dinner attended by a sell-out. Shul goers had a chance to meet Fox and Solomon after the Service but while in Shul they were only briefly acknowledged by the synagogue’s charismatic Rabbi Levi Wolff who saved his remarks for the dinner. Steve Solomon, however, held one corner of the giant tallit under which little children were blessed following the Kiddush. J-Wire was in Shul with Solomon and watched as the faces of children from 4-12 stared in awe at the Olympian who made the final of the prestigious 400m track event. When asked how it felt to be held as a role model and source of inspiration for the youngsters, Solomon said: “It’s awesome and I am very aware of it.”

AT the dinner Rabbi Wolff introduced Solomon and Fox who brought the Silver Medal she won in the Kayaking K-1 event with her. Solomon told his personal story of how he had faced various challenges describing how an injured hamstring had affected his performance and the overall results achieved by the relay team of which he was part and repeated the story of how had approached Rabbi Wolff as to how to deal with the problem of consuming much needed carbs during Pesach….a tale published in J-Wire. He then spoke of the Olympic experience. Solomon said he spoke to other athletes about his dream to make it to the final of the 400m. Nobody believed he would be able to make it…but he did. Solomon then spoke about his coach, a 78-yr-old Russian grandmother Fira Doskvina. He said that one day he told her he could only train once in one week as it was Rosh Hashana. She started to cry. He said: “It’s not that serious. You don’t need to cry.” That’s when she told him that she was Jewish and that she did not know that he was Jewish, too. Doskvina came to Australia from the Ukraine in 1996. She told him for many years in Soviet Russia she was not able to practise her Judaism.

Jessica Fox’s family originally came from Algiers before moving to the  French city of Marseilles and subsequently Sydney. Her grandmother Julie Yerushalmi and her mother, fellow kayaking Olympian Miriam and sister Naomi, joined her at Central where they lit the Shabbat candles before the service.

Jessica Fox light the Shabbat candles watched by Rabbi Levi Wolff   all pix: Henry Benjamin

She said she had flopped in the initial rounds and then described the excitement as she watched the other competitors complete the final round she was ecstatic when she won the Silver Medal. She said that “silver was gold for her”.

Solomon was asked if he had experienced any anti-Semitism during the Games. His answer was a quick ‘no’.

Both Solomon and Fox expressed disappointment that the Olympic committee did not afford a minute’s silence at the Opening Ceremony to honour the memory of the 11 Israelis murdered at the Munich Olympics in 1972. They both said that when the torch was lit, some of the athletes took that as the time to produce a moment of silence.

They were asked how do you go from being a school student to becoming an Olympian. Both produced the same answer…’by pursuing your dreams’.

During his address, Steve Solomon deferred to his fellow Olympian saying that all should be in awe of the fact that she had won a medal saying “there are only about five or six in the entire city.”

Hillel Fried, Rabbi Levi Wolff, Steven Solomon, Jessica Fox, Miriam Fox, Nomi Fox and Julie Yerushalmi

Studio Central director Hillel Fried told J-Wire that the event was a complete sell-out. He said: “Although I successfully pleaded with the caterers to squeeze in extra chairs, I could still not accommodate the ten people who approached me during the service wanting to attend”.

He told J-Wire: “In the beginning it wasn’t easy to convince people to come to the synagogue for various reasons. We really thank our sponsors who enable us to offer huge value to guests. On Friday night I would guess about 120 out of the 165 dinner guests also attended the service. You have a feeling of a community at the dinners.

Speakers have included Westfield chief Frank Lowy and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott.

Fried said: “All our speakers have been major achievers in many varied fields and they all enjoyed sharing their experiences and inspiring those who came to listen to them.”

As Fried sits in his Bondi office planning the next Studio Central dinner, Jessica Fox and Steve Solomon will move forward into the future with Solomon leaving Australia this weekend for the United States where he will study medicine at Stanford University and Jessica Fox planning her university career.

But there paths will surely cross again…as they embark on the road to Rio.


One Response to “Central Synagogue welcomes Olympians”
  1. I had the pleasure & honor of attending the dinner.
    They are 2 very special young adults who demonstrated humility and dignity in their respective talks.
    It was a priviledge to hear their individual journey to the Olympics, and they deserve every bit of success that they have had, and will no doubt have in the future.
    They certainly lived their dream and may very well convince others to do the same.
    They are a credit to their parents and the Community.
    Well done to both of them.

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