|Image credite: Hangvirus.|
With all due respect
Regarding "King for a day," Haaretz Magazine, October 29
In Eli Shvidler's article about Alik Gershon, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky says, "When I came to Israel, they played backgammon here" and "Chess is part of the culture of sport that the mass aliyah from the Soviet Union brought with it." The mention of backgammon to insinuate that sport in Israel existed only at a "primitive" level does an injustice to the people who lived here.
With all due respect to the immigrants from the Soviet Union, chess matches were being held in Israel long before they arrived, even before the founding of the state, and in 1935 and 1938 Israel took part in the Chess Olympics. In 1945, my father, the late Shaul Hon, was a major chess organizer, and after the state was founded called for chess to be included in the education system. In 1958, on the state's 10th anniversary, the first international chess competition was held, and other international competitions have been held in Israel since then.
Aliyah from the Soviet Union did indeed bring many strong chess players, but this began with immigration in the 1970s from the Soviet Union; the infrastructure was in place long before that.
Natan Sharansky's cultural snobbism knows no bounds, and is especially galling coming from someone who bears the title of Chairman of the Jewish Agency. In one stroke, Sharansky erases the glorious history of chess in Israel, which dates all the way back to the British Mandate period.
Sharansky would do well to learn a little more about the history of Israeli chess. A brief overview: ninth place in the 1939 Chess Olympics, seventh place in the 1954 Chess Olympics (including a 2:2 tie against the team from the Soviet Union ), second place in the 1965 Chess Olympics for students. And here are a few names worth remembering: Yosef Porat, Moshe Czerniak, Zadok Domnitz, Raafi Persitz, Shimon Kagan, Dr. Menachem Oren, Yitzhak Aloni. To the best of my knowledge, all are acclaimed chess players and all are Jewish Israelis, even if they weren't born in the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.