THROUGH THE EYES OF MY ATHLETES
By Leah Matusow
The 21st Maccabiah was an incredible experience; one that, for me, was different from the 2017 Games. In the latter, I was an athlete on the Open Women’s Basketball team and now, five years later, I was one of the coaches of the U16 Girls’ Basketball team. My responsibilities and role might have changed, but what remained the same was my passion for Maccabi USA and embracing everything that this experience has to offer. It is said that participating in the Maccabiah is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was not taking for granted the fact that I had the chance to do it twice. Only this time, I got to see it through the eyes of my athletes…and it was amazing!
Looking back, it’s easy to say that one of the highlights was winning the gold medal. However, we had much more than one gold-medal moment. Our experience was filled with them. From the bonds my team formed with their opponents after the games, the laughs they shared together, the culture they experienced, and the new foods they tried, it was awesome to see them really engage themselves in all that was the Maccabiah. Whether it was introducing themselves to someone new, participating in the B’nai Mitzvah Ceremony, learning the history of the various places we toured, or full team sing-a-longs on the bus, the players stepped outside their comfort zone at some point, and it was awesome to see that happen.
Of course, I couldn’t have done this alone, and I was so fortunate to coach alongside David Weinstein. Together, we navigated practice plans, game preparation, travel schedules, challenging moments and rewarding ones, plus created a team unity and bond in just three short weeks. To say that we found success would be an understatement. I would say we thrived! Not only did we create a team climate and culture that was filled with kindness, respect, love, and gratitude, but we also learned a lot from each other. I came home a better coach, teacher, and mentor by having had the chance to learn from not only Dave and our team, but also the other coaches and amazing people that made up the USA delegation.
I am so grateful for the opportunities created by Maccabi USA to build Jewish pride through sports. I am proud to be Jewish, and to have had the chance to share that with others in Israel this summer was simply amazing. My life has been forever changed for the better because of the people I met, the team I coached and the gold-medal moments I got to experience at the 21st Maccabiah.