Maccabi USA Lay Leaders all have very unique paths to the roles they currently hold within the organization. Some are the only one in their family that are involved, for others, like Tonja Magerman, it is a multi-generational family affair that continues to leave a lasting legacy on the organization. Over the last two decades, Tonja has selflessly and passionately devoted her time, knowledge, resources and expertise to Maccabi USA. Her contributions have impacted the lives of thousands of Maccabi USA athletes across all different levels. Whether it be directly on the field as a Head Coach, refereeing at tryouts, chairing a sport, being the General Chair for a set of Games, or spearheading our merit-based scholarship committee for the 21st Maccabiah, Tonja always gives all of herself each time she steps up to the plate. You can count on that.
When did you first get involved with MUSA?
My first experience with Maccabi USA was in 2003. My son Jake played U18 Tennis at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Chile. I went on the Supporters Mission with my in-laws, Alan and Phyllis Magerman. They were both very involved in Maccabi USA and had been trying to get me involved. Traveling to my first Maccabi event was incredible. I was hooked the minute the USA athletes marched into the stadium. My first volunteer role was in 2007 back at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Argentina. I was the Chair for Open Women’s Field Hockey. My daughter Rachel played on the field hockey team and Jake played tennis again.
My involvement with MUSA is one of the most meaningful experiences of my life! It combines all my passions: sports, meaningful Jewish involvement, travel, competition and most importantly making new Maccabi friends from around the world. I had never been to Israel before I got involved with MUSA. When I go in March for the Maccabi World Union Plenum (annual meeting) it will be my ninth visit to Israel. The country and people of Israel are very important to me.
What other roles have you had within the organization?
I have had so many roles within MUSA. I started out as a Chair of Women’s Field Hockey in 2007 at the 11th Pan American Maccabi Games and went on to Chair the sport in 2015 and 2019 for 13th and 14th Games and in 2013 and 2017 for the 19th and 20th Maccabiah. I also coached the Open Women’s Field Hockey team at the 19th Maccabiah and 13th Pan American Maccabi Games.
I continued my lay leadership involvement by joining the Maccabi USA Board in 2013 and Executive Committee. I am now proud to say that I am an Officer and Vice President of Maccabi USA. In 2015, I was the USA General Chair for the 12th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, in the 2017 Maccabiah, I was the Co-Chair for the Israel Connect Program, and in 2019 had the privilege to be the USA General Chair for the 14th Pan American Maccabi Games. I am currently serving as a Vice-Chair for the 21st Maccabiah with Debbie Adams (December 2021 Newsletter Profile), under the leadership of our General Chair, Lou Moyerman (November 2021 Newsletter Profile). One of the many things I love about this organization is that there are so many ways and areas where you can get involved and contribute to our athletes and organization.
What are your favorite memories over the years you have been involved?
I have so many wonderful memories from the Games. My favorite was at the 2007 Pan American Maccabi Games. Both of my children played a sport and I got to march in for the first time under the USA banner with my husband and children. We went to Iguazu Falls as part of the mission trip with Gil Travel. Iguazu Falls at that time was one of the “New7Wonders of Nature.” My mother Phyliss went on the trip because she was the General Chair for those Pan Am Games. She had just finished her last round of chemotherapy sessions and we were all together in this beautiful place.
My other highlights all have to do with my interactions with the athletes. Watching our Men’s Rugby Team win Gold in Chile; my Field Hockey teams; winning a silver medal at the 2017 Maccabiah and in 2013 coaching such amazing young women who I have stayed in contact with to this day! The friendships I have made in the international Maccabi family are truly amazing. My trips to Israel are always one of the most important to me personally. The country of Israel is a wonder. Masada, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the countryside are all experiences that I look forward to each Maccabiah and beyond.
Tell us a bit more about the Magerman Family involvement with Maccabi USA.
The Magerman Family involvement all started with the friendship my parents have with Bobby Spivak. He was a childhood friend of my parents and was the President of Maccabi USA for 20 years (’81-’01). The more my parents got involved, the more their passion grew for Israel and MUSA. My son Jake, daughter Rachel and niece Molly all have competed as athletes for Maccabi USA. I am proud that both of my children are on the Board of Directors for MUSA. My husband, Joel is on the Executive Committee and Endowment Fund. It is truly a multi-generational family involvement.
The significance MUSA has in my family is deeply felt. My mother-in-law Phyllis Magerman (z”l) established an endowment for athletes to support the B’nai Mitzvah program that takes place during Israel Connect prior to the start of the Maccabiah. Our U18 and Open athletes have the opportunity to participate for the first time (if they did not have a B’nai mitzvah) or have another one by renewing their commitment together in the ceremony. It is so moving to experience and see all the love and support from the other USA team members who chose not to participate, but of course there in support to celebrate this joyous event. I’m proud to say that the ceremony is now named in her honor.
What is your wish for the 21st Maccabiah?
My hope for the 21st Maccabiah is that our athletes do get to Israel, compete, bring home medals, bond with fellow USA athletes, experience getting to know Jewish athletes from around the globe, and come home with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world. Our athletes have sacrificed so much to be able to compete. I want them to have this incredible experience in Israel.
My personal goal is to compete as an athlete in the 22nd Maccabiah in 2025. That is the only role I still aspire to achieve!