We recently spoke to two phenomenal female athletes and World Maccabiah Games medal winners—Rebecca Weissbard (above) and Charlotte Gerstenfeld (below)—about their experience with Maccabi USA’s Equestrian team at the World Maccabiah Games. Read below to find out about their preparation for the Games, their most memorable moments during their trip to Israel to compete, and much more.
On Getting Involved with Maccabi USA…
Rebecca: My grandfather has been a part of Maccabi USA for many years. He spoke with my mom on many occasions over the years about it, so when she heard that the Maccabiah was going to have Equestrian she was very excited for me to get involved.
Charlotte: As a grand-daughter of a Rabbi I have always wanted to go to Israel. Due to the never ending unrest, my parents were always afraid to encourage or allow my sister or me to travel there. But with the chance to compete in the Maccabiah Games, how could they refuse? Also, they knew I did not want to pass up the opportunity to train with a true horseman and rider, Neal Shapiro. He not only won two Olympic medals in 1972 but he was also the first American to win Aachen two times in Berlin in 1966 and 1971 on two different horses. And he’s a Jew to boot!!! What an opportunity!!!!
On Pre-Maccabiah Games Training…
Charlotte: To get myself ready for competition I reorganized my personal training program. I started riding a lot more “catch rides” which is when one jumps and competes a horse he/she does not know. And I started learning about Israel.
Rebecca: Because I had very little experience at 1.30 meters, I needed to get ready very quickly. I was fortunate enough to get a position at Redfield Farm with Emil Spadone. He had many talented warmbloods that he imported from Europe and was very generous in allowing me to ride and show these horses at HITS Ocala. Upon completing my time with Redfield, I went to work for the coach of the jumping team Neal Shapiro at Hay Fever Farm. With the help of Neal and his wife Elisa they pushed me forward and made me ready for the Maccabiah.
On the Maccabiah Games Social Experience…
Rebecca: There were lots of events that gave us the opportunity to meet people on Team USA. And I really enjoyed meeting all of the people from the other countries. They were so interesting, and on the Jumping team there were so many great riders. It was amazing just to be around them and watch them ride.
Charlotte: Our team and the other teams from other countries started to become friends, and we all met each others families and friends. When the crowd cheered, they cheered for us all not just their country.
What made this trip to Israel different than any other trip was the people. What I learned from our amazing unbiased Maccabiah tour guide is that Israel is what it is because of the people. The people are filled with a wonderful light, hope, energy, and positive attitudes.
On Sightseeing in Israel…
Charlotte: Touring Israel and seeing the Wailing Wall, and Tel Aviv, and all the other visually tantalizing sites one reads about in all the tour books did not leave me disappointed. They were all amazing and beautiful to see.
Rebecca: My favorite places were the Dead Sea and Masada.
On Personal Highlights from the Maccabiah Games…
Rebecca: My favorite part about the Maccabiah was the first and last classes I competed in out of the five. The first one because I knew that the horse I rode—Duvel—was a horse of a lifetime. I knew he had my back, and he gave me such confidence I felt like I could do anything on him. During the last and final class, there were two of us that had four clear rounds, and I was going last. There was one man who went before me who ended up having five clear rounds, so I knew I had to go fast. As I was approaching the first jump I was so nervous. But after that I remembered I was here to compete. We galloped around the course to the last jump. I saw it in the distance and went for it! I heard the screams and I knew we won so I cantered over to where my family was sitting and gave my dad a high five.
Charlotte: The moments from my time in Israel, meeting the people of the land and then competing as a proud American Jew, has changed me forever. I have come home a stronger Jew both culturally and spiritually, not because of my individual bronze medal or our team silver, and not because I finally received the Bat Mitzvah I always yearned to have. It is because I saw Israel from the inside and I competed for them.
A Recommendation for Future Maccabiah Games Participants…
Charlotte: This experience allowed me to understand more of who I am. I am special to have been born a Jew because being Jewish is not just a religion, it is a culture. Traveling to Israel as a Jew competing for America is an experience that I will pass on to my children, and I highly recommend it to all Jewish athletes who have never participated in the Maccabiah Games.
Rebecca: I would recommend the Maccabiah Games to anyone who has a dream of competing for their country. Even if you’re the underdog, anything can happen.