The Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero officially begin today with the opening ceremonies, and athletes and fans, alike, will stay glued to the television to watch the best of the best compete at the highest level. One year from now, another Olympics will commence – the Jewish Olympics, or Maccabi Games – where the best Jewish athletes in the world go to Israel to represent their countries.
The Maccabi Games are the 3rd largest sporting event in the world – surpassed only by the World Games and the Olympics! In 2017, Team USA for the Maccabi Games plans to send a delegation of 1,300 Jewish athletes and coaches to Israel (to put it in context, Team USA for the Olympics sends a delegation of about 1,000). Imagine what it would be like to represent the USA as a Jewish athlete!
Here at #6PointsCA, two of our Head Coaches (Coach Max and Coach Jerry) and one of our Soccer Assistant Coaches (Lily) have done just that! We decided to ask them some questions about their experience as Jewish Olympians… check it out:
Tell us about your childhood as it relates to your Jewish identity and your involvement in sports.
Coach Max: As a child I attended a Yeshiva in Brooklyn, NY for my elementary school experience for grades K-6. I was not brought up very religiously and we did not belong to a temple but I received an incredible Jewish education from the Yeshiva of Kings Bay in Brooklyn. We celebrated the Jewish holidays with family members. I actually left the Yeshiva because I wanted to play school sports and there was only cheerleading for the girls at the Yeshiva. I loved participating in sports outside of school. As a child I played many sports like softball, basketball, swimming, and of course tennis.
Coach Jerry: I was born and raised in Los Angeles but lived for a year in Israel at age 3 after my father passed away. We attended a Conservative Synagogue in Hollywood called Knesset Israel where I became a Bar Mitzvah. I also attended Wilshire Blvd. Temple where I went to Sunday School and attended Camp Hess Kramer for one session. I became very involved in basketball at a young age and would often play pick up with my older brother at the Hollywood Los Feliz Jewish Community Center.
Coach Lily: Growing up, I attended both religious and Hebrew school and was involved in my temple’s youth group. For 8 summers, I spent 2-8 weeks at URJ Camp Newman up in Santa Rosa, California. Going to Jewish summer camp is what shaped my Jewish identity. As a kid, being part of a community that played and prayed and celebrated being Jewish together allowed me to find my own connection to Judaism. Sports are also really important to my family. Supporting the San Francisco Giants is our second religion and a lot of my early memories are sitting in front of the tv with my parents or grandparents watching them play. I started playing sports when I was 5 years old and never looked back. I played soccer, softball, basketball, and danced as a kid and today I still play soccer as well as ultimate Frisbee.
When did you know you wanted to compete at the next level in college/professionally? What did it take to make your dream a reality?
Coach Max: I loved playing sports and competing. I knew sports were my calling at a very early age. When I started competing in Tennis, I was fortunate to be successful from the age of 13 years old. Once I started achieving regional and national rankings, I realized I could be awarded a college scholarship and play in college at a high level and beyond. I practiced really hard to achieve my success on the tennis court.
Coach Jerry: When I was in high school I played on a very good club basketball team based out of Santa Monica called the Westside Blazers. The coach would always preach the importance of hard work and dedication and how we are working towards getting college basketball scholarships. After playing against some of the best players in Los Angeles, I knew that I wanted to take it to the next level. When I was 16 years old I tried out for the Maccabi Games Open basketball division and was chosen as an alternate. Was very disappointed but it made me work harder to make the team in four years which I did while attending college in 1989. I attended several basketball camps before my senior year in high school and was recruited by several colleges and I found Penn to have the best mix of athletics and academics and social life for me. Penn also had a long history of Jewish basketball players that made me feel proud/comfortable.
Coach Lily: I always intended to continue playing sports in college. Sports are the way that I connect with people socially and soccer specifically is my passion and where I push myself the most. Being an athlete is who I am and, when going off to college, I wasn’t ready for that to change. Playing on the club soccer and ultimate Frisbee teams at UC Berkeley gives me something to focus on and put energy into outside of my schoolwork. To be an athlete at any level it takes dedication and commitment to succeed and continue to excel and at the college club level it has taught me to manage my time well and make smart decisions for my body and my game.
Describe your experience as a member of the USA Maccabi Team.
Coach Max: It was an incredible, life changing experience. First I had never traveled out of the country before so the whole experience was so new and exciting. Caracas, Venezuela was my first Maccabi trip to the Pan American Maccabi games. I think that marching in Opening Ceremonies wearing a USA uniform gave me a lot of pride. One of the most moving experiences was listening to thousands of Jewish athletes from around the world sing Hatikvah in Hebrew all at the same time. There were 40 different countries represented and so many different languages but we all had Hebrew and Judaism in common. It was a very moving experience.
Coach Jerry: I played in the Pan American Maccabi Games in Venezuela (with Coach Max) in 1988 and was then selected to be on the team for the 1989 Games in Israel. The Maccabi Games were a great experience and an amazing feeling to compete among Jewish athletes from around the world.
Coach Lily: My experience as a member of the USA Maccabi Team was the best month of my life. The first two weeks of the trip were training in the morning and touring Israel in the afternoon and evenings. Learning to play on a team with 17 other girls from all over the USA while simultaneously traveling and experiencing Israeli culture was the best bonding experience. We became such a tight group that cared so much for each other and the competition we were about to participate in. Getting to play against other Jewish athletes from all over the world gave me a sense of pride in being both American and Jewish.
What does it mean to be a Jewish athlete?
Coach Max: The reason why being a Jewish athlete means so much to me is because it combines two very important parts of my life… Judaism and sports. I did not realize how much it meant to me until I was on the USA Maccabi Team in Caracas. After that I was hooked and competed on 3 more trips…Australia, Israel and Mexico City. I hope one day for my sons to have the same opportunity of representing the USA at the Maccabi Games.
Coach Jerry: After graduation from Penn in 1990, I flew to Israel and stayed with some contacts I had made while playing in the Maccabi Games. I signed to play for a team in Northern Israel and ended up living/playing in Israel for 11 years as well as serving in the IDF for a year as well as reserves. I was always proud to be a Jewish athlete as there were very few Jewish basketball players, however, basketball is a sport where it did not matter what religion or race/color you are…. you had to learn to work together as human beings, regardless of background, to be the best team on the court.
Coach Lily: Being a Jewish athlete means living out the values we are taught in Judaism on the field or court as well as in daily life. Often I feel like the Jewish parts of my life are kept pretty separate from sports but in moments like playing for the Maccabi USA team or working at 6 Points Sports Academy it makes me realize how interconnected the values are that I’ve learned through both aspects of my life.
What is the most memorable moment in your sports career?
Coach Max: When I was an athlete, winning, gold, silver and bronze medals at the Maccabi Games and as a College Tennis coach, having my players win a national championship. I think they both represent a lot of hard work from all parties involved.
Coach Jerry: Winning the Los Angeles City High school Championship, Ivy League Championship and resulting NCAA tournament, as well as the Israeli League championship with Galil Elion after defeating 30 years of Maccabi Tel Aviv dominance were the three biggest highlights of my basketball career; however, the journey of playing high school, college, and professional ball and the people and places stand out the most.
Coach Lily: My most memorable moment in my sports career is winning the gold medal at the World Maccabiah Games in 2013. We beat Israel in the final 1-0 and it was the most proud I’ve ever been of myself and my team as we accepted our medals in front of the other Jewish soccer players from all over the world.
What lessons have you learned as an athlete and as a coach that you hope to impart upon our campers?
Coach Max: That effort counts! You cannot control how well you play on the courts or fields, but you can determine your effort level. If you go out and play and put it all on the line, then you can walk off the court feeling good about yourself and have a positive attitude and experience, no matter what the outcome was on the court. One of my favorite aspects of this camp is the 6 Points Sports Academy Value wristbands. I really believe in behaving in an appropriate way as an athlete and coach. I think 6 points has a great way of combining the 12 Jewish Values and teaching young Jewish athletes to use these behaviors on the playing fields/courts.
Coach Jerry: Lessons learned for campers include the value of hard work and dedication in whatever you are doing and to always try to challenge yourself to be the best that you can in whatever field you are learning/playing.
Coach Lily: The biggest lesson that I have learned is that with hard work you will be successful. I truly believe that if you put in the work every day to achieve a goal it can happen. I hope that when my campers left 6 Points, they believed in themselves and felt excited to keep pushing to reach their goals.
If you are interested in learning more or would like to tryout for the Maccabi USA Teams, please let us know! We can help connect you with tryout coordinators and regional representatives around the country. Wishing you and your family a Shabbat Sh-Olympics!