Expressing Zionism Through Sports: The Israeli Bobsled and Skeleton Team

by Samantha Vinokor

More than half of the geography of the State of Israel is comprised of the Negev desert. Israel is a country that prays for rain, and has become an innovator in the field of irrigation and water technology due to deficits of that most coveted resource in the Middle East. Thus, it may come as a shock to many that Israel, a country full of desert sands, is also home to its own Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

Bobsled and Skeleton, for those unaware, is a winter sport involving racing downhill on tracks of ice and packed snow. Israel doesn’t have a track, but does have a team, headed by Skeleton racer Bradley Chalupski. Bradley, a New Jersey native, got involved with sliding while attending law school at Seton Hall University. He saw the sport being played at the 2006 Olympics, and decided to try it for himself. After participating in training camp with the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and competing in regional events with the American team, he narrowly missed making the US National Team.

It was around that time that Chalupski was approached by the Israeli Federation. At first he was hesitant to compete for Israel. “I didn’t want to be an opportunist. I have a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, so I was raised very secular; I hadn’t been to Israel before and didn’t really feel a connection with it.” After soul-searching and talking with friends, family, and members of the Jewish community, Bradley began to change his mind. A connection with Judaism and the Jewish people began to emerge as various friends all had the same reaction to his query: You’re Jewish; of course you can represent Israel. Bradley, a Birthright Israel alum, was captivated by the natural beauty of the Negev desert during his inaugural trip to Israel, and began to develop a personal connection with the country.

Bradley credits his girlfriend with giving him the push that he needed to play for Israel when she said, “You have to do this. You’re Jewish and it’s Israel. Israel is a part of every Jew, and you have an obligation to do this, to try and qualify the country for the Olympic games.” Thus, the unaffiliated University of Maryland alum began to connect with Israel and his personal Zionism through bobsled and skeleton.

Now, Bradley appreciates and relishes in the opportunity to bring awareness about Israel and Jewish people to the world through sports. He takes pride in the opportunity to represent Israel, noting that “Sport is always a prism for national pride. You don’t have to look any further than the Munich Olympics. When people look to attack a country, athletes are up on the list, because they have a place in the national psyche.” He views his own connection to Israel, as forged through the sport, as a success of the Zionist movement, being that it brought him to Israel and back to his Jewish heritage. He hopes that people will view it as inspiring that Jews can do this. As he said, it means something to people when they are able to say that “Jews can be crazy too!” Jewish and Israeli participation in sports is a vehicle by which people can view Israel as a country just like any other, a participant in the world of global sports, and hopefully, one day, a champion at the Winter Olympics.

For more information about the Israeli Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, contact Tamar Simon. Tamar.Simon@gmail.com and check out the IBSF Twitter @TeamIsraelSkele

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