Nova survivor dedicates gold medal to murdered friend


v Standing on the podium with the Israeli national anthem blasting out after winning gold at the the Ju-Jitsu International Federation Grand Prix Open in Paris, Nova survivor Yarin Shriki felt both proud and defiant; just a few days earlier the Israeli team had been told to hide where they were from.

Israeli national champion Shriki, 22, dedicated the win to his best friend, Yohai Ben Zechariah, one of five friends murdered at the Nova festival on October 7. This was a rare moment of triumph amid months of heartache.

“This victory was for everybody in Israel because of everything that has happened,” Shriki told the JC. “I wanted to commemorate what happened to my friend but also because there is so much antisemitism in the world it was so important to hear the Hatikvah being played; it was much more important to win than if it had been in Israel.”

Competing in the adult male under 69kg Gi category, he beat two competitors from France and one from Ukraine to win the gold in what felt to him like a hostile atmosphere.

“We had 24/7 security with us, both local and from Israel from the moment we got to Paris,” he said. “We were told not to show our flags or even any sign that we were Jewish. No one from any other country had to keep where they were from quiet. So to go on the podium and have our flag and our anthem playing, it felt like ‘in your face’.

“I think we could all feel hostility around us; I certainly did from the rivals I was competing with. A lot of them were pro-Palestine and didn’t want me to win. I could sense the hatred. So to beat them was particularly meaningful and it showed them, we are Israeli, we are Jewish and you can’t make us hide any more.

“This feeling of hatred wasn’t new – every time there is something in the region we feel it. But it is a different scale now; the animosity felt much bigger.

“That made it all the more important to dedicate it to Yochai. We grew up together since we were babies and did everything together. I won for him, for the world to remember him. It was all for him.”

Shriki was with Yochai, two of his brothers and a group of friends at the Nova Festival on the morning of October 7 when the Hamas invasion started. “We were separated as we ran.” 

He still doesn’t have the full picture of what happened to Yochai: “All that we know is that he was burned, maybe burned alive. His father told us that he was completely burned.”

Shriki and his two brothers managed to get in a car and drove for a mile before getting out and hiding as chaos exploded around them. As night fell, they got back into the car and managed to get to Be’er-Sheva and to safety, learning afterwards that the place where they hid was later the site of a shootout.

He hasn’t fully processed what happened and isn’t part of the wider Nova “community” of survivors. Work is his salvation and, even talking over Zoom, he doesn’t sit still for a second.

“I didn’t have time to mourn, I still haven’t,” Shriki said. “Two weeks after Nova I had championships to prepare for and it is like that all the time. I have to train three times a day; winning is my focus.”

He turned to ju-jitsu to escape crime in his neighbourhood and it dominates his life. As well as preparing for his own success, he trains the next generation of practitioners. There is always the next competition to strive for, his anger and pain fuelling him: “There are more championships and the ultimate goal is to be the world champion and to show my flag and for everyone to hear the ‘Hatikvah’ when I win.”

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