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The Great Israeli Hope

February 11, 2010 | by Mark Miller

Meet Shmulik Weingarten: Israel’s Winter Olympian

Shalom, sports fans. As the mensches at Jewlarious have kindly allowed me this public forum, please permit me to introduce myself. My name is Shmulik Weingarten and I am in Vancouver this month representing my beloved nation, Israel, in the Winter Olympics. I am Israel’s only Winter Olympic athlete this year, which, as you might imagine, can make for a lonely life. So, I thank God for my friends, family, and especially my hand puppet, Miriam, who travels with me everywhere.

Israel has very little snow making winter sports training more challenging, and the snow cone industry nonexistent.

Those of you who do not follow the world of sports, Olympics, or geography may be wondering why Israel has just one Winter Olympic athlete in a country of seven million people. The answer is simple – Israel has very little snow and ice. This not only makes the snow cone industry one of our nation’s least successful endeavors, but also makes Winter sports training far more challenging. Trust me – I’ve tried sliding down a mountain on a piece of cardboard without snow. It’s like brushing your teeth with Brillo.

But we Weingartens have never shied away from a challenge. My father, Mordechai, created and marketed the world’s first candles for the blind. His father, Nachum, circumnavigated the globe in a dress. And my cousin, Mona, spent 37 years working on a biography of George W. McGill, inventor of the stapler. So we know challenges.

Still, I must admit that it came as something of a shock to my family, friends, therapist and mohel when I informed them of my career goal. I told them I intended on becoming a Winter Olympic athlete, specializing in men’s ski jumping. They reacted as though I’d told them I was enjoying a ham sandwich with milk for lunch.

For those of you unfamiliar with the sport of ski jumping -- in other words, for all you Jews out there -- Ski jumping is a sport in which skiers go down an "in-run" with a take-off ramp (the jump), attempting to fly as far as possible. Obviously, this would appear on the top five of any list of things a Jewish mother would forbid her children from ever doing, much less thinking about. In addition to the length that skiers jump, judges give points for style.

As you might imagine, all this is pretty cool for an Israeli Jew, considering that the coolest thing I’d done thus far was to memorize my bar mitzvah presentation. And the most stylish thing I’d ever done was wear my yarmulkah cocked jauntily to the side. As I quickly discovered, however, ski jumping is far more involved than stamp collecting, my previous passion.

Understandably, everyone tried discouraging me with the usual arguments – Israel has little snow, Israel has little ice, Israel has no major ski slopes, Israel has no skis, you’ve never skied before, you only move that fast when there’s halvah in the vicinity, and on and on. What a bunch of killjoys. But my mind was made up.

I think it all started when my Aunt Yetta brought me back a snow globe from her trip to the Swiss Alps. Inside it, a man and woman were skiing down a slope. They seemed so happy, so energized, so alpine. I knew at that moment that Winter sports would be my destiny.

Having thoroughly researched the topic, I realized the competition would be tough. In Germany, children are trained to ski before they can walk. One is not fully considered a man in Canada until one has mastered skiing. And couples in Norway say, “I ski you,” rather than “I love you.” But this wasn’t the first time a Jew would face seemingly insurmountable odds, and it wouldn’t be the last.

I sprang into action, doing something that wasn’t so out of the ordinary for Jews – I wrote up a business plan. In it, I detailed my mission statement goal of becoming Israel’s first champion Winter Olympic athlete in ski jumping. I ended that section of the presentation with the convincing words, “No, really!” I detailed my proposed training regimen, which included the sacrifice of giving up my beloved bagels, blintzes and baklava – and just about all foods beginning with a “b” -- in order to shape my body to its present, aerodynamic perfection.

I then discussed the organizational structure of my management team and board of directors. This didn’t take long because my management team and board of directors were each composed of just myself.

Marketing strategy is a vital part of any business plan. Fortunately, my cousin Yitzchak owns a computer and offered to email my story to the media. In exchange, I gave Yitzchak all of my bagels, blintzes and baklava. He seemed fine with it.

In the Risks Assessments section of the plan, I covered the two primary risks – injury and death, by furnishing proof of a new insurance policy that would pay off big-time to the state of Israel should anything tragic happen to me. And for my own benefit, I enlisted the aid of my brother, Avram, to keep a close watch on my skis to ensure no one will tamper with them to cause that insurance pay-off to happen prematurely, if you catch my drift.

I threw in a lot of other impressive stuff – tax advantages, non-compete agreement, promotional brochures, you name it. The upshot is I ended up getting a sponsor – Mendel’s Falafel -- to under-write the cost of my training, including bringing in artificial snow and ice. Mendel also paid for my uniform and my entry fees. This was a tremendous relief as it freed me to concentrate fully on my workouts. Every day I would wake up, jog five miles, climb the section of Mount Herzl that they ice-sprayed for me, and practice ski jumping all day long. My sister Hannah called me a mental case, but that only strengthened my resolve. Anyway, she has Jonas Brothers bed sheets, so look at the pot calling the kettle black.

I do have just one request for my Jewish brethren – cheer me on. Support me with all your Hebraic hearts and souls. Granted, this may be against my mother’s wishes. This may be against your mothers’ wishes. But if something like this upsets them, how will they react when they discover I’m planning to enter the Running With Scissors Competition in the Summer Olympics? Putting things in perspective is so important.

Will I make it? Will I successfully compete in the Winter Olympics. Will I bring honor and glory to my beloved Land of Milk and Honey, if not this Olympics, then next? That’s something only time will tell, only God knows. All I know is that this is something I must do. Aristotle said, “Man is a goal-seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.” So, I suppose that is what I am doing. But should it not work out, I want you to know that I do have a back-up plan: to become Israel’s first Grand Prix car-racing champion. Yitzchak has already said he would help me.


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