July 4 marked the beginning of the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel. The competition is the third-largest sporting event in the world, bringing together 10,000 athletes from 80 different countries. Team USA has been holding tryouts for many events over the past few years and has selected 1,100 competitors to represent our country in the upcoming games.
The athletes are split into divisions based on age. The youth, junior, master and open divisions compete in their respective sports, ranging from soccer to ice hockey to swimming. The Paralympic division competes in sports such as wheelchair basketball and tennis. Team USA will be participating in most sports including baseball, basketball, lacrosse and ice hockey.
In addition to the many athletes Team USA is sending, Olympic gold medalists Lenny Krayzelburg and Jason Lezak will join the delegation as Maccabi ambassadors. Both swimmers will be participating in an exhibition race during the games. Rick Erlich, Team USA swim chairman, describes their presence as “inspirational,” hoping that their past success will inspire the current athletes to do the same.
Lezak feels that he has that effect and said, “I am excited to go back to Israel for the Maccabiah Games as an ambassador to help other athletes maximize their performance and experience.” His presence will hopefully pay off and result in victories for Team USA in the pool.
Of the 1,100 athletes from Team USA, 17 hail from Great Neck, including Aliza Abramson (open karate), Jamie Behar (juniors girls’ basketball), David Blatte (masters golf), Andrew Fisher (masters cycling), Hayley Flyer (open fencing), Joshua Haberman (men’s open soccer), Leanne Hope (juniors girls’ beach volleyball), Jonathan Lazarus (open ice hockey), Camryn Lessing (juniors girls’ beach volleyball), Ariella Lerner (juniors girls’ lacrosse), Josh Packer (juniors golf), Jennifer Rosenberg (juniors golf), Alec Rovitz (juniors boys’ ice hockey), Corey Rutkin (juniors golf), Jessica Shreck (open women’s soccer), Dr. Paul Wright, a neurologist at Northwell Health (masters judo) and Marc Ziarno (men’s youth soccer).
The games open in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Similar to the Olympic games, athletes will march into the stadium by country. As Team USA has the largest delegation, there is sure to be a loud ovation for the American competitors. The experience is an emotional one and a dream come true for many of the athletes.
For some, the experience begins before the games even start. Team USA participates in Israel Connect, a program for all open, junior and Paralympic athletes that takes them to multiple historic sites in Israel. It allows the athletes to understand that they are not only playing for themselves and their country, but for Israel and the Jewish people as well. Some of the athletes do not have strong Jewish identities going into the games, and come in thinking of Maccabiah as another sports tournament, when it is so much more than that. The experience shows them that they are playing for more than country and self, but for their religion. It also allows them to break off from their event teammates and connect with everyone participating with Team USA. Highlights include visits to the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, Masada and a b’nai mitzvah ceremony.
When the games begin, the players turn their focus to bringing gold medals back home to the United States. One of Team USA’s first events will be on the opening day of the tournament in Netanya against Australia with the open division rugby preliminaries. The next day, Team USA will take on Canada in the first open division preliminary game of ice hockey. The two hockey powerhouses should provide an entertaining matchup.
On July 9, some countries will participate in the Maccabiman Maccabiwoman endurance challenge. This competition is based on the aggregate time of individual competitors in each of the four Maccabiah competitions: triathalon, 30km cycling, 5km swimming and the half marathon. Later that day, Team USA will take on Canada in a softball match and Germany in a game of basketball.
The following day, on July 10, Great Neck’s very own Wright will compete in the judo competitions. On July 11, the Team USA soccer team will play against Israel in what should be an exciting match. Later that week, the games will begin to wind down, finals will begin and the closing ceremonies will formally conclude the 20th Maccabiah Games.
Team USA is thoroughly excited to be sending such a large delegation to Israel to compete in the Maccabiah games. Many wait their entire lives to compete on one of the world’s largest stages in front of friends, family and the Jewish people. It is a way to show the world that the Jewish people are strong and can compete in grueling athletic competitions. A full schedule and descriptions of all games can
be viewed at www.maccabiah.com.
Look for ongoing coverage of the games and profiles of local athletes in upcoming issues.