An Israeli Fencer at Notre Dame

Notre Dame, a bastion of Roman Catholic education, enrolled its first Israeli undergraduate student this academic year. He is 22-year-old Yehuda Kovacs, whose course of study is mathematics but whose avocation — and reason for choosing Notre Dame — is fencing. Kovacs is a former national junior fencing champion in Israel. Wishing to further his skills in the sport and, in the absence of such university programs in Israel, he wrote to 13 American schools with top-flight fencing programs. One of the 13 was Notre Dame.

Coach Mike DeCicco showed Kovacs’ letter to university president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh who, he said, was “ecstatic” at the possibility of enrolling the college’s first Israeli. “We wanted him as much as he wanted to be in this country,” said the coach.

DeCicco approached a friend, Rabbi Yisrael Gettinger of the Hebrew Orthodox Congregation of South Bend, to discuss the question of money, as there are no fencing scholarships at Notre Dame. Gettinger mobilized his congregation to raise over half of Kovacs’ tuition and a great part of his living expenses. He wrote Kovacs that the city’s Jewish community would welcome him with open arms.

Kovacs, one of the college’s 18 Jews out of a student body of 7,500, has flourished at Notre Dame and on its fencing squad, which also includes a Soviet Jewish immigrant. He finished as a runner up in his first tournament, racked up a 29-3 record, and recently bested a Wayne State student who is the defending national collegiate foil champion.

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