The plane approached Santiago, Chile with the giant endless blue sky above, the regal turquoise Pacific Ocean below, and the giant snowcapped Andes Mountains facing us. We were thousands of miles away from the beauty that is Israel and yet in that same moment I felt so closely connected to her. It was in that moment I realized just how beautifully the international Maccabi Games, no matter what country they are held in, unifies some of the world’s greatest Jewish athletes, and Jewish people as a whole.
In the early 2000s, I was participating in the JCC Maccabi Games and in PGA Junior Golf Tournaments. I was introduced to Maccabi USA in 2004 when I was approached to try out for Team USA’s Juniors Golf team at the 2005 Maccabiah Games. After competing in the U.S. qualifier, I made it! This was my first opportunity to compete at the World Maccabiah Games, and the tournament took place at Caesarea Golf Club in Israel. Since that fateful day in 2004, I have participated, both as a coach and an athlete, at the 2005 & 2013 Maccabiah Games, the 2006 Maccabi Australia International Games, and most recently at the 2015 Pan American Maccabi Games. My excitement level to meet, compete, and share/create memories with so many people from around the world while in Chile was the same as it was leading up to Israel nearly eleven years ago.
International Maccabi Games are about far more than Golf, Basketball, Field Hockey, Track, Volleyball, Soccer, Swimming- to name just a few of the large range of sporting events that occur at these Games. They are about introducing the world’s Jewish population to each other and more significantly, introducing the world to the spirit of Jewish altruism. During the recent Pan American Maccabi Games, we spent as much time with our Tzedakah Projects, giving back to the Chilean Jewish and non-Jewish communities by visiting hospitals, supporting local patients with vital supplies and creating food baskets for those in need, as we did competing in our individual sporting events.
During my time in Chile, I realized I am just one of the many thousands of people who participate in the World, European, and Pan American Maccabi Games. There are so many Jews from all over the WORLD sharing their cultures, traditions, and peaceful spiritualism with one another. This past summer the European Maccabi Games were hosted in Berlin, Germany, which I unfortunately could not attend. When these Games commenced, Team USA had played a major role in creating the largest gathering of Jews congregating in Berlin since the Holocaust.
There is no doubt that competing for my country in Israel and Australia and coaching in Israel and Chile hold some of my life’s greatest memories. It doesn’t hurt that I/we’ve been able to win some medals along the way :). That being said, the most meaningful aspects of these life-changing adventures are the friendships that were sparked and the relationships I have developed with so many special people from a wide range of ages and diverse backgrounds. This year in Chile, our Maccabi experience transformed us all from foreign tourists to members of a world community. We saw the beauty of the land, we met the people who lived in this country, some less fortunate than others but all of whom were courteous, and appreciative of our presence.
This was the perfect setting for our Maccabi family of athletes, coaches, and administrators to create lifetime friendships. I am eternally blessed for this experience and to be a part of the Maccabi USA family.