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Israel’s Olympic Athletes Face Yom Kippur Problem

September 20, 1988
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Israel’s athletes at the 23rd Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, are facing more than a competitive challenge.

Their problem is how to a void violating Yom Kippur, which conflicts with many scheduled events. The Day of Atonement begins at sundown Tuesday and ends at sundown Wednesday.

While they are not necessarily observant, the 19 Israeli gladiators hold Yom Kippur sacred. They are coping with the problem in different ways.

Gymnast Revital Sharon will be fasting Wednesday, the day of the gymnastic finals for which the 18-year-old has qualified. She plans to revive her strength with a quick sip of glucose before competing.

Fortunately, the event was scheduled to begin in late afternoon and the organizers agreed to delay her appearance until after the fast.

Israel’s fencing team withdrew from the games when it learned their event was set for Wednesday.

The two yachting crews — ranked among Europe’s top 10 — appealed in vain to get Wednesday’s race, one of seven, switched to another day.

Yachtsmen are judged by the best six of their seven races. The brothers Dan and Ran Torten in the 470 class, and Yoel Sela and Eldad Amir in their “Flying Dutchman,” represent Israel’s only real chance for an Olympics medal.

But they will not compete Wednesday, leaving themselves no margin for error in their six other races.

Flyweight boxer Yehuda Ben-Haim’s problem is compounded by politics. He is scheduled to fight Mahjoub Mjirih of Morocco on Wednesday. The Olympic authorities refused to reschedule the bout.

The Moroccan sports officials may decide to keep their contestant out of the ring in support of the Arab League boycott of Israel. In that case, Ben-Haim would simply have to walk to the stadium Wednesday — he refuses to ride — weigh in and claim victory by default.

But if the Moroccan does show up and Ben-Haim refuses to fight him, he will lose by default.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community is unmoved by the Olympic team’s problems. By participating in the ceremonial opening of the Olympic Games on Saturday, the team “profaned the name of the Lord in the eyes of the world,” according to the Agudat Yisrael newspaper Hamodia.

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