By Noam Watt
I was part of a team of 14 students who made up the inaugural Maccabi Media Program at the 21st Maccabiah. Upon arrival in Israel on July 6, we spent the first week touring the country as part of our Israel Connect program. While the athletes of 42 different sports in the Maccabiah balanced the touring with early morning training camp practices, the media team was hard at work writing stories and producing videos about the day trips. On the Saturday of Israel Connect, I reported from the lowest point on earth at the Dead Sea and then atop Mount Masada.
On one of the first days of competition, we were on site at 6 a.m., setting up for an 8:30 a.m. broadcast of Open Men’s soccer between the US and Belgium. We learned on the fly how to set up a three-camera broadcast equipped with monitors, intercom headsets, and cables galore. The biggest challenge? Finding internet access in a foreign country. Also, none of us spoke Hebrew. Nevertheless, we managed to find our way onto the air, and the Americans found their way to the back of the net – seven times in a 7-0 win.
That night, we celebrated the Opening Ceremony at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, where I was tasked with filming the event. That came with the perk of being at the front of the pack, even in front of our flag bearer, Stuart Weitzman. It was a feeling of excitement, energy, and Jewish pride, as our 1,300-member delegation gathered together. Chants of “U-S-A” rang through the summer air as our delegation entered the stadium, to the delight of a packed stadium.
The next day, we were back at work, telling stories of athletes like Ethan Zohn, the winner of Survivor: Africa and a goalkeeper on the 45+ Masters Men’s soccer team. His team volunteered at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv.
As the competitions continued, there were big wins, close losses, and miraculous moments, too. On July 19, our team was covering Wheelchair basketball. With seconds left on the clock and the United States trailing by two, the US got the ball to Allon Doronn, who pulled up from halfcourt and nailed a game-winning buzzer-beater.
Doronn, an amputee on his left foot, saw his shot quickly go viral, being featured on NBC Sports, ESPN, and countless other sites.
Adaptive sports are especially important to me because they were an avenue for my oldest brother Aaron to play sports. Aaron, who has significant disabilities, played adaptive soccer and basketball growing up. To see Doronn’s shot go viral was a validation that adaptive sports matter.
I grew personally and professionally during my three weeks in Israel. The feeling of being surrounded by so many Jewish people was a profound, welcoming feeling. And while I wasn’t competing for gold in the Maccabiah, I was doing what I love in a country that is a second home to me. For now, reporting from back home in the United States, I’m Noam Watt, Maccabi Media