Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005


On the second night of Hannukah my blogging gave to me...

A tale about the first Israeli skating champ's family treeeeee....

Michael Shmerkin, the first figure skater to represent Israel at the Olympic Games, had an unprecedented level of family support for his career. Michael's parents even got a divorce so that he would be able to compete!

Born in Odessa, USSR, Misha trained alongside Viktor Petrenko and shared his coach, Galina Zmievskaya. A promising young skater, Misha was informed by the Soviet Federation that if he intended to represent the USSR internationally, he would have to do one, little thing -- stop being Jewish.

In the USSR, where Judaism is considered a nationality, a non-Russian or Ukrainian could not be allowed to represent his country.

To that end, Misha's Jewish parents divorced, and his mother married -- on paper -- a Russian family friend, who then passed his nationality onto his new stepson.

Misha went on to represent the USSR at Junior Worlds, and at the 1990 GosTeleRadio Championship in Odessa, where he won the Short Program over eventual 1994 Olympic Champion Alexei Urmanov.

Still, with the situation in the Soviet Union growing more and more unpleasant, Misha's parents, who never officially remarried -- Misha teases them about "living in sin" -- decided to immigrate to Israel. Misha thought his skating career was over, though he does credit Galina Zmievskaya with being supportive. "She let me skate at her rink until the very last day before I left."

Once in Israel, Misha prayed at the Western Wall, asking God to make his dream of representing his new country at the Olympics, a reality. But, in the meantime, he needed to get a job. A few days after arriving in Israel, Misha was standing on his balcony, when a man came up and asked him if he wanted to work. Misha said yes, and found himself hauling cement bags on a construction site, out in the broiling Middle East sun. At the end of the day he'd suffered heat-stroke, and the realization that it was time to get back to the cooler atmosphere where he belonged.

He contacted Yossi Goldberg, mayor of Metulla, the location of Israel's only ice-rink. Yossi assured Misha that his facility was regulation-size and invited him to come North for a look. When he got there, Misha found a rink half the size of an Olympic one, and a host of self-proclaimed experts who tried to convince him that it was actually bigger than it looked.

With the help of the Canadian Jewish community, a regulation-size rink was finally built in Metulla. Misha trained there for the 1994 Olympics, and for 1995 Skate Canada, site of his greatest victory, and his greatest personal challenge.

Hours before he was set to skate the Long Program, a fellow skater ran up to Misha and told him, "Your president's been shot."

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination sent shock waves around the world, leaving a stunned Misha to cry, "I never thought a Jew could lift his hand against another Jew."

He considered withdrawing from the competition, but Federation Head Yossi Goldberg convinced him that, as an ambassador of Israel, now was the time to stand tall and show the world what he could do.

Misha stepped out on the ice wearing a skullcap, and asked for a moment of silence in Rabin's memory. He then went on to skate the performance of his life, and win the silver medal. He did what he'd been urged to do. To the best of his ability, he represented Israel -- the country that accepted him, when no one else would.

Misha went on to finish 15th at the 1997 World Figure Skating Championship, and 18th at the 1998 Winter Olympics (an event he almost didn't make; his ex-wife, Sarit, in order to get more alimony, tried to keep his plane to Nagano from taking off and a lien placed on his prize money).

Misha currently coaches in Roanoke, Virginia.


  • At September 30, 2009 7:29 PM, Blogger lbsmerk said…

    That is an amazing story.

    I found this site by searching for some "lost" relatives.

    I hope I can someday meet Misha.


    Lisa "Smerken" Ashley


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