Going for the Israeli Gold

All the Presidents Men and Women

By David Wiseman

One of the reasons why ‘The West Wing’ was so popular was its ability to allow people to see or at least imagine what was happening behind closed doors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There is nothing like the feeling of being a fly on the wall especially when the wall is located on very exclusive and rarified real estate.

I have always had a similar feeling when walking past ‘Beit HaNassi’. Behind the fortified gates looks like a scene from Citizen Kane regarding Xanadu – except here was no menagerie.

So when we as Times of Israel Olympic Bloggers were invited to attend the athlete’s farewell at the President’s house, I jumped at the chance.

My bubble was quickly burst though when my name wasn’t on the list and I was left to wait on the wrong side of the velvet rope. It took me back to my youth when a Saturday night consisted of standing outside some warehouse that had been turned into party central. Time would tick by ever so slowly, while waiting to be allowed admittance to something we knew wouldn’t be as good as, what we imagined it to be.

Eventually I negotiate security and allowed to enter the other side of the gates. There are Olympic athletes milling around before the formalities are about to start. There is some food put out which to be honest looks completely unappealing. Having just read the Prime Ministers, I can see why Yitzchak Rabin went for the non-kosher meal. This looks like the leftovers from last week’s Kiddush.

My first thought on having a look at the grounds is holy cow, what would the arnona be on this place?

Nearly everyone walking round has something in their ear. Some special people even have something in both ears. I’m left to rely on the little voice in my head.

One of the cool things about going to a high-powered event that is loaded with dignitaries is to observe the mechanics of their retinue. Having watched VEEP I am more familiar with their movements and how they roll. Oh how I would love a person to act as a human bulldozer for myself thereby allowing me to be pleasant to everyone while someone else does my dirty work for me. They could stand in for me at the post office and then when it’s my turn, I could just rock up to be served.

Finally, the President enters the room and from close range and from the back all I can think is how closely he resembles Montgomery Burns. It’s amazing to see the transformation from Peres the ballot box kryptonite to the man with the golden Presidential touch. It seems like the role he was born to play. He is five years into his seven-year term and will be nearly 91 once it expires. Who knows what he will do following it, but who would bet against him staying in public office?

The sense of excitement and expectation in the room is palpable. Of the four-year cycle, this is about as close as the athletes can get to the games without actually being in the host city. For what was, the future for a very long time is now the present and very soon it will be the past. Before they know it, the Games will be over and that sense of optimism will in some cases be replaced by disappointment and regret. But for now, it’s all about having that chance to shine. To win an Olympic medal etches you into sporting immortality especially for a small country such as Israel.

The speeches begin and go on and on and on. It’s Gan Graduation month so I have already sat through a couple of these and it feels the same, although nothing can really compare to watching 5 year olds do Hamlet in Hebrew. Then when the girl comes on to sing and her microphone doesn’t work, it really does feel like a Gan party.

Limor Livnat gets up and talks. She touches on the 11 who were murdered at Munich. Often sport is described as being more important than life or death, but that is complete nonsense. Even if you get thrashed, you still get to come home to your family and friends. What happened at Munich left a permanent stain on the Olympics and Israel’s Olympic experience. It is impossible to talk about Israel and the Olympics without the conversation heading there. It puts everything into perspective.

Then it finishes and I join the stream of Olympians heading towards the street. I am going home while they are going to their next scheduled appointment. Spending some time with these athletes and interacted with them transforms them from names you see on Wikipedia to someone you have a connection with. They are living, breathing people just like you and me. When they’re bored, they play Angry Birds on their phone and when they’re home, they drink out of the bottle. For some reason society likes to make celebrities out to be atypical. We put fame on a pedestal and when we bump into famous people we get a real kick out of it when they are normal, but should we be that surprised? Why would the ability to play tennis really well, swim fast, or run like the wind make them so different?

They carry the hopes of our nation and it will be exciting to see how they fare in London. Even if you don’t like sport, there is a thrill to be gained by seeing your Olympians do well.