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By Julia Kerpel

Competing on the USA Junior Karate team at the 21st Maccabiah Games was an unforgettable experience!

I trained for the Maccabiah with my teammate, Ava Brenner – she and I are second-generation black belts at our karate school, North Shore Dojo, in Glenview, Illinois.  Ava’s dad, Dr. Darren Brenner – coach of the USA Junior Karate delegation to the 21st Maccabiah, and my mom, Melissa Kerpel, earned black belts at Dojo.  Our Sensei, Jeffrey Kohn, has been sending competitors to the Maccabiah for over forty years.  The 21st Maccabiah was our time to represent our country and our Dojo.

Our USA Junior team met in New York and flew together to Israel.  It was the beginning of a great Maccabiah experience for our group!  But it was impacted by the previous day’s July 4 parade shooting in my hometown of Highland Park, Illinois.  As the Drum Major for the Highland Park High School Band, I would have been in the parade with the band, had I not been traveling to compete in Maccabiah.  Fortunately, our entire band was safe.  Maccabi USA was aware of this tragic event and immediately reached out to me and offered support services throughout the Games.   With the outstanding support of Maccabi USA, I went on to win a silver and two bronze medals in the 21st Maccabiah.

Courtesy: Daily Herald
Courtesy: Daily Herald

Competing was just one part of the Maccabiah experience.  Our team trained and toured together; we had daily educational (and fun!) excursions throughout Israel.  I met Jewish athletes from all over the world – we traded pins, t-shirts, and our contact info so we could stay in touch.  I met some of my role models, including Marshall Einhorn, Maccabi USA CEO, and Donna Orender, Head of the USA Maccabi Women’s basketball delegation and former President of the WNBA.  After working together on one of his many amazing media projects, Logan Schiciano of Maccabi Media and I connected again.  My family and I hosted him for Rosh Hashanah this year!

The 21st Maccabiah was an experience of a lifetime – the beginning of many wonderful friendships, the realization of my goal to compete and medal internationally, and the continuation of my journey as a Jewish woman in sports.  I was honored to be on the USA Junior Karate team at the 21st Maccabiah and look forward to many more amazing experiences with Maccabi USA.

Join us at the 2025 Maccabiah in Israel (July 1-22, 2025)
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