TEL AVIV - An Israeli Arab teenage girl from the town of Sakhnin became one of the first medalists in this year's Maccabiah Games with a victory in the women's 200-meter breastroke in the Wingate Institute pool, causing a wave of pride in her father, family and community.
Halaj Shahada, proud father of Asala, 17, said there would be celebrations in Sakhnin following her gold medal win.
“The Maccabiah belongs not only to all the Jews, but also to all the Israelis, and I am a proud Israeli,” Asala said
The Arab Israeli town of Sakhnin has known many sporting celebrations, but up until now all of them were connected with soccer: last year’s win of the national cup, this year’s success in surviving the premier league, the vital goal scored by Abbas Suwan for the national squad in World Cup play, and Suwan’s decision to stay in Sakhnin and not “defect” to Maccabi Haifa.
Asala’s little brother, Jamal, plays in the children’s soccer team of Bnei Sakhnin, and her old brother, Avar, is in the youth squad.
“But with all respect to the soccer team, which we all support, today is Sakhnin’s swimming day,” said Sharada, who arrived at the Maccabiah games with his wife, Hanna, and other relatives.
It's true that the Maccabiah record for the 200-meter breast stroke, set 16 years ago, belongs to the U.S.’s Larot Gradotzky, but this does not detract from Asala’s accomplishment.
Gradotzky swam the distance in an outstanding time of 2:40.26, whereas Asala did it in 2:46.93 after a close battle with Lauren Fox (USA), who trailed behind by 21 hundreths of a second.
Hard worker gets her day
The Maccabiah, often called the “Jewish Olympics,” are open to Jewish athletes from around the world, and to all Israeli citizens - whatever their religion.
Asala, who learned to swim in a cistern at the age of 7, trains today at Wingate.
Asala Shahada’s gold medal is another accomplishment in a chain of Arab sporting successes in Israel.
Other examples are Da’a Masrava from Taibeh, who swims for her town’s breastroke youth team, and Doa Saliman-Hativ of Nazareth, who only last week seized a double win in Israel’s Track and Field national championships, taking the 800-meter and 1500-meter races.