A chess champ, pianist, math prodigy, motocross daredevil… Israeli kids are doing it all. To celebrate UNICEF’s World Children’s Day we’ve put together a list of some of the most accomplished young people under the age of 16 in Israel today. 

Keep your eye on:

LIEL LEVITAN, 7, chess champ

Chess champ Liel Levitan with Lior Aizenberg of the Israeli Chess Federation. Photo: courtesy

Liel was the top winner in the Girls U7 category of the 2018 European School Chess Championship last summer in Krakow, Poland. Liel’s sister Ronit, 14, and brother Yaron, 10, also were among Israel’s 23-child delegation to the event. Ronit had finished third in the World School Championship in 2011, when she was seven.

As an Israeli citizen, Liel initially was told she would not be allowed into Tunisia for next April’s 2019 World School Championship despite being entitled to participate. A letter-writing and petition campaign, “Let Liel Play,” resulted in the World Chess Federation securing a promise from the Tunisian Chess Federation that every qualified contestant, including Liel, will be admitted to the country.

OSHRI BITAU, 10, piano prodigy

Despite having only started piano studies this year, Oshri performed a Beethoven composition at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and three classical pieces at the Municipal Conservatory in his hometown of Nazareth Illit.

But his family could not afford to buy him a piano of his own. When former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak heard about this, he sent them a brand-new Yamaha.

The Youth Futures nonprofit organization worked with the Nazareth Illit welfare department to arrange a scholarship for Oshri at the conservatory.

EYAL ZUSIMAN, 12, math whiz

Eyal Zusiman, 12, with his certificate from Bar-Ilan University. Photo: courtesy

In third grade, Eyal told his parents he intended to finish his bachelor’s degree before graduating high school. Now in seventh grade, the 12½-year-old math prodigy is taking a computer science course through Open University to begin realizing that goal.

At the end of sixth grade, Eyal completed a program at Bar-Ilan University, meant for eighth- to 10th-graders, preparing them to take the highest high school matriculation exams in mathematics. He took two of these tests and received an average score of 90.

Eyal also plays the trumpet in his school band in Hod Hasharon and recently gave up competitive chess to concentrate on his other activities.

AHAVAT HASHEM GORDON, 12; and RUACH HASHEM GORDON, 14, Thai boxing titleholders

Kibedy, Ruach Hashem and Ahavat Hashem Gordon with their father, Azriel. Photo via Facebook

These brothers from Shilo represented Israel at the 2018 IFMA Youth World Muaythai Championships in Bangkok last August. Ruach took third prize in the male 14-15 category.

Ahavat, who placed ninth in the junior 12-13 male category last year, became the youngest European champion in Thai boxing, winning a gold medal in the 36-kg category. At that IFMA European championship competition, Ruach won a bronze medal and their older brother, Kibedy, then 17, won a gold medal, each in their respective weight divisions.

Ruach also won this year’s IFMA Israel Muaythai Youth Championship in Jerusalem.

YOAV LEVANON, 14, concert pianist

Yoav Levanon, Israeli concert pianist. Photo: courtesy

Yoav began learning piano at age three and now studies in the piano program for outstanding young pianists at the Jerusalem Music Center.

He won his first National Piano Competition in Israel at age five, and at age six nabbed his first gold medal at an international piano competition in the United States. He was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall and made his debut as a soloist with the Israel Chamber Orchestra at age seven.

Yoav has performed in many countries, including with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and Ra’anana Symphonette. He received the Sharett Creative Excellence Grant from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation at age 11, and first prize in the Pnina Salzman and Piano Forever competitions. Last year he performed Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a special series for outstanding young pianists.

ANASTASYA GORBENKO, 15, Youth Olympics gold medalist

Anastaya Gorbenko, center, won a gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina. Photo via Facebook

At the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina last month, Anastasya took the gold medal in the women’s 200-meter individual medley. She set a new Israeli record, completing the race in 2:12.88, and was the youngest swimmer in the top 6.

YONATAN FRIDMAN, 15, and NOA KAZADO YAKAR, 14, Youth Olympics silver medalists

2018 Israeli Youth Olympic silver medalists Yonatan Fridman and Noa Kazado Yakar. Photo by Amit Schüssel

In the same Youth Olympics Games in Argentina, this Israeli acrobatic gymnastic duo won a silver medal in the mixed-pair category. Noa, who turns 15 on November 26, and Yonatan are close friends and schoolmates in Tel Aviv.
“We do a lot of things outside the gym. We go to the movies or go out for bowling, for example. Noa really is a great friend for me. She understands me and knows when to push me. I love to work with her,” Yonatan said.

Just in case you missed the amazing – Silver Medal performance by Yonatan Fridman and Noa Kazado Yakar (Acrobatic Mixed Pairs) at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games – here it is! Listen to the commentator – #TeamIsrael is strong and podium worthy in the world of Rhythmic Gymnastics!

Posted by Follow Team Israel on Wednesday, 17 October 2018

NATAN GOLDFARB, 15, social activist

Natan Goldfarb, founder of Tamid, receiving the 2017 President’s Prize for Youth Volunteerism. Photo: courtesy

Natan won the 2017 President’s Prize for Youth Volunteerism by virtue of his volunteer project, Tamid, which collects used computers from organizations, businesses and individuals, tests them and refurbishes them in a lab, and provides them to families that cannot afford to buy a computer.

The Jerusalem teen started Tamid after his sister told him about 15 students in her school who were falling behind their classmates because they lacked a computer. He found computers for each of them and expanded the project from there. An Israeli youth movement agreed to store the donated computers and trained 10 teens to repair them.

RAN YOCHAY, 16, off-road racer

Ran Yochay after finishing the Romaniacs Enduro in July 2018. Photo: courtesy

Last summer, Ran became the youngest rider ever to finish the Red Bull Romaniacs Enduro, a grueling four-day course, riding through mud and rain on her Husqvarna cycle. Only five girls participated and she was one of only three who finished.

Turning 16 on November 21, Ran came in first place among women in the 2017 Israel Motocross League Championship. She won the Supermoto championship in Israel in 2018 for girls and boys of all ages.

“I’ve been riding since I was eight, and I started Enduro one and a half years ago,” she tells ISRAEL21c. “I was always afraid of it so I did the Romaniacs to break my fear. As I trained and got better at it, I started loving Enduro.”

The Moshav Sde Hemed 11th-grader recently came back from a week of training in Greece under an Israeli trainer and now wants to start Superbike racing in Italy and Spain. “I love it because it gives you adrenaline that you can’t get from dancing or playing football. Every time I’m on the bike I break more of my fears,” she says.

AVIV ZEITAK and TOMER LOONSTEIN, 16, bridge champions

Israeli National Youth Bridge Team at the World Youth Bridge Team Championships in China, August 2018. From left, Danny Loonstein, Tomer Loonstein, Yehonatan Sliwowicz, Gal Matatyahou, Aviv Zeitak, Nir Khotorsky and Ilai Baniri. Photo: courtesy

Aviv, of Rehovot, and Tomer, of Tel Aviv, won third place in the 2018 European Youth Pairs Bridge Championships in the under-21 age category.

Two years ago, they were among four Israeli youths who won the world championship for 16 and under (the others were Gal Matatyahou, now 15, and Nir Khutorsky, now 16½, of Haifa). Last year they took second place in the 21-and-under European championship along with Nir and Ilai Ilan Baniri of Petah Tikva (now 18).

All of these young bridge players, along with Yehonatan Sliwowicz of Petah Tikva, 14½, comprised this year’s national team representing Israel at the 17th World Youth Bridge Team Championships in China, where they finished in second place in the “youngsters” category.

Tomer’s father, Danny, who captained the national team, said most of the boys learned the game at their respective schools through a program of the Israeli Bridge Federation. “Bridge teaches them teamwork, self-esteem, mathematics and statistics, and how to deal with pressure and disappointment at an early age.”