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Israeli World Champion and Sabbath Competition

An Israeli teen who is a world champion in fencing struggles over Sabbath competitions.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 6/1/2012, 1:11 PM

Yuval Freilich at 13
Yuval Freilich at 13
Flash 90

Yuval Freilich, 17, is one of the world’s top athletes in his chosen sport of fencing. Frielich, who lives in the religious town of Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion, recently won the World Cadet Championships in Moscow. Last year he won the European Championships, and in Israel he leads the field in every category.

However, despite his impressive accomplishments, the Israel Fencing Association continues to refuse to accommodate his religious beliefs.

Gabi Freilich, Yuval’s father, told Arutz Sheva that Yuval is used to competing on the Sabbath. In Europe and around the world he manages to avoid desecrating the Sabbath by sleeping in hotels near the competition and walking to matches on foot.

But in Israel, Sabbath observance is more complex, because the workers setting up the match are Jewish and their work desecrates the Sabbath, he explained. “Unfortunately, the competitions on the Sabbath are necessary to him: in order to get points toward world championships or the Olympics, you need to compete in Israel,” he said.

In 2008, the family won an unprecedented legal victory. The Supreme Court ruled that the Fencing Association’s practice of holding all matches on the Sabbath was discriminatory, and ordered the group to either allow Yuval to compete on a different day or hand him technical victories for any Sabbath match.

But instead of leading to a change in treatment for Sabbath-observant athletes, the ruling expired after two years and left no permanent change. “This year we had to go back to Sabbath competitions, and every Sabbath we sleep in a different hotel,” Gabi Freilich said.

Gabi said he is pained both by the Fencing Association’s treatment and by the Supreme Court, which refused to intervene a second time. “It’s hard for us that in Israel in particular we don’t have rights as religious people. The state knows how to conscript us and take our taxes, but not to consider our needs,” he accused.

Yuval brings honor to the country, he added. “Every two weeks we hear the anthem, Hatikva, in a new country, in countries like Austria, Croatia, and Australia,” he reported.

The Israel Fencing Association said in response that it has its own protocols for sorting out complaints, and that Mr. Freilich had gone to court without first complaining within the association.

The group argued that “Yuval Freilich takes part in competitions on the Sabbath both abroad and in Israel, as is required of an accomplished athlete.” Competitions in Israel cannot be held on a different day, the group said, because “the Association represents a wide range of athletes and trainers from various sectors of society – students, teachers, combat soldiers… - who cannot compete on any day but the day of rest, which in the state of Israel is the Sabbath.”