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Jewish Athlete of the Month

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April 2017 – Noad Lahat, MMA Fighter

Meet Noad Lahat, Israeli Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter.  When Lahat enters the rings before fights, he does so donning a blue hat with a white Star of David stitched onto the front. Lahat is only the second Israeli ever to make MMA a career.  So, how does an Israeli from an observant Yemenite home in Alfe Menashe, about one mile east of the Green Line, end up making his living in one of the most violent and unforgiving sports in the world?

The first time Noad Lahat told his parents that he wanted to be a professional fighter, well, you can probably guess how his mother, the Yemenite Israeli wife of an Orthodox rabbi, reacted. “She wanted to know what was wrong with me; she thought I lost my mind,” Lahat said. “She was saying, ‘That’s not how you make a living.’ They expected me to go to college and everything. It was a difficult talk.”  Lahat would train two to three times a day. At holiday meals, while everyone around the table was downing heaping portions of challah and other Yemenite goodies, he’d watch his portions so that he could cut weight.  By the time he joined the IDF when he turned 18, Lahat had developed to the point of qualifying for one of Israel’s “Outstanding Athlete” labels, a category reserved for the best of the best.  But Lahat rejected this designation.  “My dad was a general in the special forces, my mom was a general in the intelligence forces, this is what we do,” recounts Lahat. “We all recognize this while growing up, there’s no way around it.”  So, he spent three years in the IDF’s paratroopers unit, but he never stopped training.

Noad-Lahat-interview w-flag

After completing his service in the IDF, Lahat took time off to travel the world.  While in Brazil, he stumbled upon a jiujitsu gym. He became a champion jiujitsu fighter, made his way over to California with a woman he met in Brazil named Stephanie, an Orange County native who would later convert to Judaism, and the two would later marry. Stephanie lived near a famous MMA gym, San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy. Lahat walked in, introduced himself and—just like that—a career was born.

From Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling to LeBron’s stumping for Hillary, today’s athletes have grown increasingly comfortable raising public awareness for specific political and social causes. Lahat is no different. Not only is the 32-year-old one of the few Israeli athletes who regularly competes in the United States, but he’s also, by far, the most vocally supportive of his native country. “You can’t achieve peace without being ready for war,” he said in an interview with CNN about 12 hours after defeating the fighter Steven Siler in an Ultimate Fighting Champion event. “If people are attacking you and they’re not going to stop until you’re dead, then you have to go and fight. There’s no other way.”  So it was no surprise that after a fight in 2014, Lahat boarded a plane for Tel Aviv and joined his unit fighting Hamas in Gaza.

Noad Lahat - CNN

“As a combat soldier, there’s nothing I want in the world more than peace,” Lahat added. “It’s not like he ever planned on being an advocate,” Stephanie said, “He’s just proud to be an Israeli and Jew. This is who he is. There’s no turning it off.”

Last fall, Lahat traveled back to Israel once again.  This time to ply his profession in Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena, where he needed only 3 minutes to dispatch his opponent, Scott Cleve, by pin in a chokehold. Lahat then climbed to the top of the octagon, unfurled an Israeli flag, waved it then jumped into the bouncing, welcoming arms of the fans sitting ringside.

Noad Lahat v Scott Cleve, in Israel

(The information above was gleaned from an article written by Yaron Weitzman for Tablet.com)