BEIGING (JTA)—Four Israeli Olympic swimmers (Itai Chammah, Guy Barnea, Tom Beera and Gal Nevo), the Israeli Ambassador to China, the President of Israel’s National Swimming Association and a slew of Chinese and Israeli reporters visited the Shi Jia Primary School on Monday, Aug. 18. This school was assigned Israel as part of a Beijing-wide program of partnerships between schools and Olympic countries. The Shi Jia school put on events over the last two years to teach the students about Israel, how to say “Shalom,” even had its students Skype with a school in Jerusalem. Of course, the school was following the progress of Israeli athletes along with China’s.
Hidden inside a neighborhood maze of alleyways, this 2000-student school is anything but small. The school was founded in 1939, but this site (which used to be a single-story temple style house) was newly constructed in 2004 and only serves the third through sixth grade.
And what service indeed. There was a room filled with rows of electric pianos, next to the hallway of individual music practice rooms that were nicer than the ones at my university. Of course, these were all on the bottom floor right next to the underground parking lot entrance, which reminded me of a United States mall. We also saw a beautiful theater with a superior tech booth, a whole science area that looked more like a kid’s playtime museum exhibit, plus a row of small table-saws that looked rusty and dangerous in comparison, for over 20 students at a time to make wood carvings.
The highlight of the tour for the Israeli Olympians was clearly the visit to the school’s unbelievable sports facilities. An outdoor track was surrounded by green landscaping, windmills and a dormitory with solar panels on the roof. Descending into the gymnasium, which had more equipment than a Bally’s Fitness Club, the fencing lesson seemed to be teaching the well-outfitted youngsters as much about shouting as technique.
Finally, the Israeli men were in their element at the pool, which was pumping various Beijing Olympic theme songs over the loudspeaker. An assorted crowd of boys and girls shivered outside the pool for the athletes’ millionth photo-op of the day, underneath towering photos with the Speedo logo printed on them of swimmers like Michael Phelps.
The kids looked a little lackluster as they posed in their swimsuits, but two of them perked up when someone told them the Chinese names of the Israeli athletes that were standing by their side. The kids’ faces lit up- “We heard of them!” they cried.