Two religious teenagers, one a convert from India and the other born in Baltimore, have won the world championship in Thailand-style kick-boxing for their weight class.
Officially known as Muay Thai, the combat sport is known as “the art of eight weapons” because of the use of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet.
One might expect that world champs in the kick-boxing sport would be huge gorillas from the Amazon, but two winners in the girls’ championships held in Thailand recently are none other than two religious girls from Israel.
One is Nili Block, who was born in Baltimore and moved with her family to Israel around 15 years ago. The other is Sarah Avraham, whose family was close friends with Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, two of the six victims of the Muslim terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008.
Having already been acquainted with the Jewish religion through their association with the Holtzbergs, they decided to convert and move to Israel after the terrorist attack.
Nili and Sarah train five times a week at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, attacking a punching bag to sharpen their skills under the supervision of a coach. Their rigorous regime paid off in Thailand, where they were crowned champions after Nile defeated her Bulgarian opponent in the flyweight class of 112-118 pounds, while Nili beat her British opponent in the 125-138-pound class.
Nili is an all-round athlete. Before flying to Thailand for the championships, she ran in the 6-mile Jerusalem Marathon in March and win first place in the women’s 16-19 age group, finishing ahead of 500 runners in her category. Later the same month, she won the 10th Amateur-Pro Muay Thai Championships in Bangkok.
“Nili is amazing − slim and tall, she’s built for this sport, and she possesses quite an array of weapons. She can devastate an opponent with her hands, knees and feet, and she has perfect technique,” said Shuki Rozensweing, an Israeli boxer who won the World Muay Thai Association and World Muay Thai Federation unified title in April 2011.
He told the Thai BigChili website, “She is a complete fighter with a high IQ for the sport…. A fight is not only won on strength. Nili won all three rounds against the Bulgarian girl, who was physically stronger, by virtue of her superior technique.”
She is in the 12th grade and has to decide this year whether to enlist in the IDF or serve in “Sherut Leumi,” national service.
The IDF would love to have her in its ranks. She says she is not sure if she wants to miss out serving as a regular soldier and suspend her boxing talents, but Shuki thinks she has a good chance to receive the IDF’s special athletic status, which would allow her to continue to train.
Besides that, let’s see what happens if an Arab terrorist starts up with her.
Nile discovered Muay Thai through her other after the family moved to Israel.
‘‘My mother was at that time a volunteer police woman attached to the Jerusalem police department and she was looking for some kind of martial arts which would be beneficial for her work,” said Nili. “I went with her as she looked for a Muay Thai training camp and I started to train with her. I stopped training for two years while going to school and resumed when I was 13.” Her father, a dentist, supports and encourages her to box.
So much for stereotyped-orthodox families.
The most thrilling moment in the Thai championships was hearing the Israel national anthem Hatikvah two times, once after Nili won her gold medal and the second time when Sarah won.
Sarah’s story is no less spectacular than Nili’s.
Her father is a doctor and was the family physician to the Holtzbergs, who ran the Chabad House in Mumbai.
Sarah was 14 years old when the family converted and then moved to Kiryat Arba, where she learns at a religious “ulpana” high school.
Hevron resident Michael Pollack spotted her talent and put her in touch with Thai boxing coach Eddie Yusopov.
Keeping in mind that Abraham and Sarah were buried in the Patriarchs’ Cave in Hevron, Pollack told the Times of Israel last year, “She draws her strength from where we live in Kiryat Arba. That gives her an inner strength that explodes in the ring.”