In a few short weeks, the world will focus its attention on the best of the best as they compete in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. This year, Israel will send its largest Olympic delegation ever, including one notable Skeleton athlete who calls himself the “Hebrew Hammer.” In real life, he’s A.J. Edelman, an American-Israeli Orthodox Jew originally from Brookline, Massachusetts. For AJ, representing Israel at the Winter Olympics is the fulfillment of both a lifelong dream and a lifetime of balancing his Orthodox Jewish upbringing with his love of competitive sports.

Starting out as a hockey player at age three, AJ was quickly identified as a premier talent and scholarships at top prep schools followed. Turning them down, AJ chose to remain at his Jewish day school and play goalie for his hometown team. Later, after a year at seminary in Israel, AJ returned to study mechanical engineering at MIT, playing hockey for the MIT Engineers while balancing a Shomer Shabbos (Sabbath-observant) schedule.

After graduation, AJ made aliyah. He wanted to help encourage more Jewish and Israeli participation in sports, and to do so, came up with a plan: he’d represent Israel on the world stage. But because Israeli hockey leaves a little to be desired, AJ decided to find new sport in which he could quickly excel. A natural athlete, he first tried speed skating, then the bobsled, before finally taking a test run at Skeleton. Known as one of the more dangerous winter sports, in Skeleton a person rides a small sled headfirst down a frozen track while lying face down, often at speeds over 80 miles per hour. After his first blisteringly-fast run, AJ was in love. And with intense training and dedication, he was recently chosen as Israel’s very first Olympic Skeleton athlete.

At the Games, AJ says he’ll focus not on the medals, but on doing his absolute best, both on and off the track. “My goal is to be the best ambassador of Israel that I can be, and to change the perception of Israelis as athletes,” he says. “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do that.”

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