Israeli Judo champion visits JDS


Janet Ozur Bass

Ori Sasson presents to the middle school his journey to becoming a Judo champion from Israel.

Tyler Portnoy, Reporter

The Judo arena fills with cheers as Israel’s national anthem blares out from the speakers. But, this is not any Judo competition, this is the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Ori Sasson has just won his second Olympic medal for Israel.

Three years after winning the medal, Sasson visited CESJDS to tell the heartfelt story of his journey to the top to high school Hebrew language teacher and Israel Engagement Coordinator Anat Kaufman’s period six class as well as students in the middle school.

“I thought it was very inspiring,” freshman Julian Goldberg said. “Everybody has sort of an ability deep inside them to pursue their passions.”

Sasson was first introduced to Judo by his brother, who was also a very successful Judo fighter. He fell in love with Judo because of “the values Judo brings, about honor, about respect.”

In Sasson’s career, he hasn’t always faced success like this. In fact, he lost his first ever fight in a matter of seconds, but this loss gave him the mindset to never stop getting better.

“I asked myself ‘why are you here?’” Sasson recalls thinking from his first fight. “And the moment the fight started my opponent threw me to the ground, and I just stared up at the ceiling, and I kept thinking, ‘Why, why did you choose to be here?’. I went home and told myself  ‘Ori, keep training, keep fighting.’”

Then in 2013, Sasson suffered an injury that seemed to mark the end of his career.“I could hear it,” Sasson said, “There was a loud [crack].” After breaking his wrist during a match in the 2013 Rio World Judo Championships, his doctors and friends told him he would never fight Judo again, but his coach reassured him he wouldn’t give up on him. 

Sasson said that during his physical rehabilitation, he underwent a mental rehabilitation as well to help him find a balance between his professional life and having fun, as well as the courage to change and go outside of his comfort zone. During this rehab, he gained self-confidence and adopted the perspective that “even if you are sure you will lose, it doesn’t matter.” 

“Every student takes something from his story, especially the students that say, I’m not good enough or no one believes in me,” Kaufman said. “You just need someone that just gives you that little push and you will believe in yourself and then the sky’s the limit.” 

Sasson went on to win a bronze medal in both the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

“I kept fighting, I kept believing, I grew with the mindset,” Sasson said. “This is a message for all to never give up, and that everybody can find success. I believe everybody can accomplish their own dreams, I really believe it, so do it.”