Sunday, August 5, 2012

Making Aliyah for the Olympics

Why American-born athletes Donald Sanford and Jillian Schwartz are competing for Israel’s team in London
Donald Sanford in the men’s 400-meter semifinals of the 21st European Athletics Championships on June 28, 2012,
in Helsinki, Finland; Jillian Schwartz in the women’s pole-vault final at the same competition
on June 30, 2012. (Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Ian Walton/Getty Images)
On Saturday morning, Illinois-native Jillian Schwartz and Los Angelino Donald Sanford will put on their uniforms and take the Olympic stage in London where they will compete in the qualifying rounds for pole vault and 400-meter dash, respectively. But the two former U.S. citizens won’t be wearing red, white, and blue. They’ll be competing for Israel, as the only American-born members of the Jewish state’s Olympic team.

Of the 37 Olympians representing Israel at this year’s games, only 20 were born in Israel. Thirteen were born in the former Soviet Union; tennis player Andy Ram moved to Jerusalem at age 5 from Uruguay, where he was born to an Israeli father and Uruguayan mother; Ethiopian marathoner Zohar Zemiro emigrated to Israel at age 10 in a 1987 airlift. But Schwartz and Sanford, who both competed at the highest levels in the United States, only became Israeli citizens since the last Olympic cycle. -- Stephanie Butnick, Tablet

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