SYDNEY (JTA) — Jo Aleh, the New Zealand Jewish Olympian who won gold in the sailing regatta, said part of her medal “belongs to Israel.”
Aleh, the New Zealand-born daughter of dual Israeli and Kiwi citizens Shuki Shukrun and Daniella Aleh, clinched gold last week in the women’s 470 sailing event with her partner Olivia “Polly” Powrie. Her parents were on hand to witness the triumph.
The new Olympic champion — whose father lives in Moshav Yinon near Kiryat Malachi and whose mother served in the Israeli army — said she was amazed and slightly bemused at the media fanfare in Israel.
“It feels great to know that there is even more people behind me and, given my parents’ background, part of my medal belongs to Israel,” she said.
Aleh’s half-sister Shefa is celebrating her bat mitzvah in two weeks. Aleh, the 2007 world champion, was scheduled to go straight to Israel, but as one of five Kiwi gold medalists she is traveling back for parades in Auckland on Wednesday and the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch on Friday.
“I am still hoping to make it back to Israel in time for my sister’s bat mitzvah,” she said.
In New Zealand, it was after midnight, Aug. 10, as many in the small Jewish community, which numbers around 7,000, celebrated a slice of their own history: Aleh is believed to be the first Kiwi Jew to win an Olympic medal.
“I was not aware of this,” Aleh said. “I guess it’s a good bonus.”
Shemi Tzur, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, said that “This is both an outstanding personal achievement and a great accomplishment for New Zealand. My colleagues at the embassy in Wellington and I followed the competition enthusiastically and we all share your joy and pride.”