Angarag Sandag is first Maccabiah athlete from Mongolia

Regardless of what he accomplishes on the tennis court, Angarag Sandag already has made history: He is the first athlete from Mongolia to compete in the Maccabiah Games.

The 20-year-old native of the country’s capital, Ulan Bator, Sandag learned just a year ago that he has Jewish roots. His paternal grandmother told him that her grandmother, Ida, a native of Latvia who later moved to Russia and then Mongolia, was Jewish.

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Sandag said he owns no Jewish items and knows little about the religion or culture, but hopes Israel enlightens him.

“I’m really new to this. This tournament gives me a much bigger opportunity to learn about [Judaism],” said Sandag, who alone constitutes the entire Mongolian delegation to the Maccabiah.

It’s been a busy summer for Sandag, an environmental engineering student at Mongolia International University. He flew to Israel from Kazan, Russia, where he competed in the Universiade, an international sporting event for university athletes.

The Maccabiah’s tennis competition aside, Sandag said he’s most excited about meeting Jews from around the world.

“My first words to learn are: how to greet each other [in Hebrew],” Sandag said in an interview just before departing Russia for Israel. “I’m not looking forward [most] to playing in the tournament, but to talking to the players.”

Hillel Kuttler in 2011 launched “Seeking Kin,” his now-thrice-monthly column on people searching for long-lost relatives and friends. Hillel also writes regularly for the N.Y. Times, where his features often tackle the nexus of sports and history. Hillel served for 6 1/2 years as The Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief. He has earned national awards for his feature stories on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and on NBA player Omri Casspi.