Olympian Artem Dolgopyat returned home with a heroic welcome after winning Israel’s second gold and first in artistic gymnastics
TEL AVIV, Israel – Olympian Artem Dolgopyat arrived in Israel on Tuesday with a heroic welcome after winning Israel’s first-ever gold in artistic gymnastics.
On the ground at Ben-Gurion International Airport, he absorbed the cheers of the crowd, raising his medal and putting his other arm around his longtime partner, Maria Masha Sakovichas. The image captured the duality of Dolgopyat’s life in Israel, between his historic accomplishment for the country and his religious standards that prevent him from marrying Sakovichas because he is not Jewish under Orthodox law.
Dolgopyat made no mention of the marital issue, which his mother lamented earlier this week.
“It truly is the warmest welcome I have ever received in my life,” he said. “I want to cry from all the excitement, even more than the medal. Just kidding, but really it’s a really fun time too.
The Ukrainian-born Israeli gymnast has been hailed as a national hero for winning Israel’s second gold medal – and her first in artistic gymnastics. But the celebrations were briefly tempered after his mother said in the interview that the country’s authorities would not allow him to marry because he is not considered a Jew under Orthodox law.
“The state does not allow her to marry,” Dolgopyat’s mother Angela told 103FM in an interview on Sunday.
His comments angered some in Israel, which has been perpetually grappling with the balance of religion and state since its founding as a haven for Jews 73 years ago.
Under its “Law of Return,” anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent is eligible for Israeli citizenship. But while Dolgopiat’s father is Jewish, his mother is not. Under the “halacha”, or Jewish religious law, one must have a Jewish mother to be considered a Jew.
This discrepancy has resulted in tens of thousands of Israelis, many of them from the former Soviet Union, living in the country, serving in its military and, in Dolgopyat’s case, representing him at the Olympics, but are stuck in Jewish rituals such as weddings. and funerals.
Israel does not have a civil marriage system, and Israeli law requires Jewish marriages to be performed by a rabbi authorized by the Chief Rabbinate. Christian and Muslim couples must also marry according to their faith.
Those who do not live up to the orthodox standards set by the rabbinate – including same-sex couples, interfaith couples, and Israelis not considered Jews by the halacha – cannot get married in Israel. Instead, they have to travel abroad to get married.
Attempts to legalize civil marriage have repeatedly failed due to opposition from politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties.
Dolgopyat’s mother told the radio that her son and his girlfriend have been living together for three years, “but they can’t get married. They need to go abroad, but they won’t let him go abroad because he still needs to play sports.
The Olympic champion, for his part, tried to minimize the controversy. “These are things I have in my heart, it’s not good to talk about them now,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s Foreign Minister, said on Monday that he “will fight in every way possible for there to be a civil marriage” so that Dolgopyat and others get married in Israel.
He said it was intolerable that someone could win a gold medal for the country and not be able to get married.
“It is unbearable in my eyes that someone can step on the podium, hear Hatikva and get a gold medal on behalf of Israel, and then not be able to get married here,” he said, referring to the country’s national anthem. “This is a situation that cannot continue, and we will fight for change.”