Written By: Noah Friedman
Gerald Feldman is ramping up for the opportunity of a lifetime. Feldman, 70, of Beverly Hills, California, is competing in the Maccabiah, also known as the “Jewish Olympics”.
The Maccabiah is the largest gathering of the Jewish diaspora in the world and promotes unity and culture through athletic competition. It has been held quadrennially in years following the Olympics since 1953.
Feldman, a doubles tennis player, said he is looking forward to being in Israel and having the chance to compete on a big stage.
“It just seemed like a really cool thing to do,” Feldman said. “Whether we medal or don’t medal is just going to be a wonderful opportunity. That is my motivation.”
Feldman attended college outside of Boston, graduating from Brandeis University in the 1970s. While there, he went to Israel on a semester study abroad program. Feldman learned about the politics, culture, and history of the only democratic region in the Middle East.
He had a passion for playing sports, including tennis, since he was five years old. After exploring the Hiatt Institute in Jerusalem, he came across a cracked clay tennis court that had a broken net.
“There was a guy there who wanted to play,” Feldman said. “I had played tennis a little bit before that. It wasn’t that I discovered it, but I rediscovered it.”
Years later, Feldman was a member of what is now known as the Griffin Club in Los Angeles. He ran into his old classmate from Brandeis, Julie Davis.
She introduced Feldman to her husband, Steve, who was the best tennis player at the club.
“I had seen him play in the club championship,” Feldman said. “We became friendly and started playing some. He was better, but eventually, I caught up to him.”
Over the past three decades, Feldman and Davis formed an impenetrable partnership.
“Steve is a trial lawyer. He’s ultra-competitive,” Feldman said. “Winning is really important to him. He plays with a great intensity, especially on critical points. In a good match, (that) is usually what it comes down to.”
They won multiple trophies at the club and were looking to take their talents outside the tennis grounds. That’s when the idea of Maccabi came to be, and the moment started creeping closer and closer.
Feldman started training for the Maccabiah five years ago after approaching his doubles partner. Davis represented the United States in the 2013 and 2017 Maccabiah, winning a bronze medal in the singles competition his first time around.
“When it came up (in 2017), Gerald said he’d be interested,” Davis said. “I was going to do it again and it turned out he couldn’t try out.”
Feldman’s withdrawal from tryouts was due to a knee injury. Through the wear and tear of athletic competition over the years, he had to take action once he knew something was wrong.
“The knee gave out and eventually I had to replace it,” Feldman said. “I knew I couldn’t compete with the knee the way it was.”
While Feldman was not available for the 20th Maccabiah, Davis has a work conflict and is unable to attend next month’s Games.
“Anything can happen with litigation and lawsuits and scheduling, especially in the area of COVID,” Davis said. “The judge said he had five other cases that were delayed and that my case was at the back of the line.”
Even with the adjustments, Feldman’s priority is stepping on the tennis court, whether Davis is with him or not.
“I can play doubles with anybody because you’re going to play the same way,” Feldman said. “But there is a certain chemistry that people know where they’re going to be at different times or you just have a feel for each other.”
Beyond playing in the 2022 Maccabiah, Feldman is excited to reconnect with Israel, a place he has only visited twice. Aside from the study abroad program, he also went to the Holy Land for his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in 1998.
“Israel has changed a lot and I’m excited to see what [the country] feels like today versus back then,” Feldman said. “It’s really the spirit of the place and just wanting to reassociate with that again.”
Feldman will be in action at the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center as the 21st Maccabiah kicks off in July.