A PERFECT BALANCE
By Molly Tenenbaum
As someone who had never traveled outside of the country before, I could not have imagined a better experience than the Maccabiah. The 21st Maccabiah provided a safe environment for me to explore and learn about the history of Israel and become immersed in the culture while representing my country playing softball.
It was unbelievable how many Jewish people from around the world left their homes to travel to Israel to connect with their heritage and compete. I had never been surrounded by so many Jewish people before; looking around at the ten thousand other Jewish athletes before entering the packed opening ceremony venue was empowering, especially after encountering very few Jewish people at my college the year prior.
I had the opportunity to meet Jewish people of all ages from countries I did not even know had Jewish populations, and even learned about some sports I had never heard of. I made incredible connections with my teammates as well as other athletes staying at my hotel. I had a great time competing against teams from different countries and getting to know them off the field as well. I formed connections with the children maintaining the softball fields and loved seeing their faces light up when our team gave them our equipment after our final game.
Hearing both the United States and our opponents’ national anthems before each game and seeing everyone’s pride in their countries was a surreal experience as we came together to play the sport we love. The Maccabiah provided a perfect balance of interesting educational tours in various cities across the state, fun events and parties, and plenty of time and freedom to further explore the city and go on additional tours.
Some of my favorite parts of the trip, besides the food, included trips to the Shuk, visiting the Western Wall, floating in the Dead Sea, and the Maccabiah rave. Our educators and tour guides gave us recommendations on how to safely navigate the nightlife and make the most of our three weeks in Israel. My team’s community service included taking care of horses and training dogs in Hebrew. My bus’s educators and tour guide gave us insight into what it is like to live in Israel both from an American and Israeli perspective. They gave us information about current events and the struggles of Israelis that are not publicized in other countries.
Returning from Israel, I felt more educated about life in Israel and more connected to and proud of my Jewish culture than I ever had before, and I am very excited to go back!