Israeli Women Who Led the Way in Sports
A wide array of female “firsts” in Israel have set standards, broken glass ceilings and been instrumental in helping shape the country throughout its first three-quarters of a century.
Is there another Israeli woman who is alive today who made history in some field over the past 75 years that you want to tell us about? We know there are many more female “firsts” out there! Send your suggestions with a few lines about what this woman accomplished to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Yael Arad, Israel’s first Olympic medalist, competed in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, she felt a tremendous sense of pressure to win a medal for her country.
“There was a huge amount of public hope and a lot of cynicism that it wouldn’t happen, once again,” she recalled.
In the end, it was Arad, then 24 and a dedicated judoka since age 8, who earned Israel its first Olympic victory—a silver in the half middleweight judo competition.
Arad, the daughter of two journalists, said her path to judo began in her Tel Aviv elementary school, where she was the kind of kid who loved playing outdoor games and “picking boys up and throwing them on their back.”
It wasn’t until she attended a judo training camp in Austria, at the age of 16, that she realized she had the talent to compete at the highest levels of the sport.
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Arad’s Olympic win went against popular opinion that Jews, and Israelis, aren’t natural athletes. She contends that it was the lack of budgets and investments that had previously kept Israeli athletes from Olympic success, and that applied equally to women and men.
Arad, today 55, has worked in management positions since retiring from judo at age 29. She is currently president of the Olympic Committee of Israel, the first woman in that volunteer role.
“It’s a bonus that I’m a woman in this position, to show women that it’s possible to lead in Israeli sports,” she said. “But it’s no less important to show Israeli athletes that it’s possible for a former athlete to have a great career and transition to something else and be a volunteer in the Israeli ecosystem.”
Bracha “Beatie” Deutsch: Runner
Who she is: First female haredi Israeli marathon runner.
Background: Age 33, grew up in Passaic, N.J., moved to Israel in 2008, married in 2009 and was the mother of four kids when she competed in her first marathon in 2016 in order to get back into shape. She ran the 2017 Tel Aviv marathon while seven months pregnant with her fifth child and then won the Tiberias marathon in 2019.
Little-known fact: Has a black belt in taekwondo.
Recent accomplishment: Running in the Tokyo Marathon with her next goal the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Quote: “It’s a gift from God that I’m a good runner. I never give up on myself.”
Linoy Ashram: Olympic rhythmic gymnast
Who she is: First Israeli woman to win an Olympic gold medal, which she secured in rhythmic gymnastics at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.
Background: Age 23, grew up in Rishon Lezion, one of four kids, began training as a gymnast at age 7.
Little-known fact: Ashram’s trainers didn’t believe she could succeed on the mat, but she says her family and her self-confidence motivated her.
Recent accomplishment: After retiring from competition last year, she began working closely with the Shavot Academy of Self-Confidence, a nonprofit mentoring program for teenage girls.
Quote: “My trainers didn’t think I would amount to anything.”
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Jessica Steinberg is the arts and culture editor at The Times of Israel.