70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

Ágnes Keleti

By Bea Kallos - 2018-04-14

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

On the first Seder evening of 2016, at the Páva Street Synagogue, I was seated next to a fragile, old lady. Good-looking, funny Israeli boys surrounded her entertaining her in three languages, and this tiny little lady apparently enjoyed that very much. “Just call me Ági, none of that auntie thing!" she said at the beginning.”I'm Bea,” I answered. “Perfect, A and B in succession! Metzuyan!” she said, winking. I sat next to her. That night, admiring her numerous, deliciously witty remarks, along with her huge smile and charming exuberance, it was not yet clear to me that I was spending my Seder dinner with a legend and that I was refilling the glass of the oldest Olympian in the world. Only later when everyone was gone, my friends told me that Ágnes Keleti was very happy with my company, loved my humor and wished to let me know that she was glad to have met me. It was such a shame that I had no clue at all. I did not know who she was. When I got home I promptly searched the Internet and the first thing I ran into was an English short film about a Holocaust survivor girl born in Budapest under the name of Ágnes Klein; she was hiding with fake papers during the war; she became a multiple Olympic champion winning a total of 10 medals; she established the Israeli gymnastics sport; from 1958 to 1980 she was the Israeli gymnastics team coach;  in between from 1959 to 1960 the coach of the Italian team, and from 1983 to 1988 she worked for Israeli clubs. From 1957 to 1980 she was an instructor at the College of Physical Education in Israel. She has been an international referee, teaching the love of movement and gymnastics to generations; to this day, when you are walking along the beach in Herzlia Pituach, you can meet the 97-year-old Ági (strictly not auntie) as she is walking or doing gymnastics with her caretaker. In 2002 she joined the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.


Then I did not hear about her for a long time. Until December 2017, when she appeared on the TV show Israel Got Talent with her son Rafi. She received a huge applause. As I learned, she had been awarded the Israel Prize in 2017, which was also celebrated by the audience. They had loved her and they still adore her. Because you can’t not fall in love with her sparkling personality and love of life. You simply can’t not adore her.

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